A narrative of Eve: constructing alternative realities in postmodernismAuthor: Ilze Neethling
Problems are socially constructed within relationships. In narrative therapy, people live by ways of stories or scripts, and have the choice to select and build alternative life stories.This story of Eve allows us to take a closer look at the underlying principles of social construction and narrative approaches to therapy.
Eve knew what to do when she finally stood outside the Eden. Even from outside it looked like a paradise, with high trees throwing plush shades and invitations of rest and well-being. A friendly place. A nice place. The beauty of it tugged painfully at her heart strings. She radiated loneliness and forlornness as she stood there gazing back on the place of love and innocence and happiness. A place where she felt she belonged no more.
Though it was barely a couple of days since she had eaten the apple presented to her by the snake, it was enough time to think and to understand. She sat down and bitterly wept for what had happened, and for what lies ahead.
'What\'ss up, doc? ' A voice hissed behind her. 'Iss all the tearss really neccessssary?'
Still sobbing, Eve looked back through her tears. 'O what have I done?' she wailed. 'What is to become of me now? I will bear my children in pain and discomfort, I will have to work for a living, the animals won\'t be my friends anymore, and even worse, for the rest of my life I am to be the slave of Adam!'
The snake snorted. 'Ssayss who? I was under the impressssion we all play an active role in our own livess?'
Eve cried even more. 'The Bible! It will be written in the book of life that Adam will be the ruler, and that women will for eternity be punished for my sins by being inferior to men!'
'Goodnesss me!' the snake smiled. 'Didn\'t you know the bible iss written by humans? And in particular, by men?'
'So what is that supposed to mean?' Eve tearfully, but hopefully, asked.
'Quite elementary, my dear girl!' the snake replied. ' It iss a book ssocially consstructed by a few people in charge (who probably appointed themsselvess I might add) by thosse who have the knowledge and power to convincce otherss to do or believe thingss they don\'t really want to. Or becausse they lack the knowledge to! Power iss always pressent, wherever you look. My friend Foucault would have ssaid that thesse people write and interpret the bible ass it ssuitss them ssimply becausse it benefitss them to.'
'Socially constructed?' Eve asked. 'Foucault?'
'Don\'t you know anything?' the snake sighed. 'Ssoccial consstruction ssimply meanss that it iss consstructed by people themselves. And Foucault wass a French intellectualisst whosse interesst wass to deconsstruct prominent ssocietal disscourssess that hass the power to influencce people\'ss livess negatively.'
Eve glared at him through her tears. 'And what, I pray, does discourse and deconstruction mean?'
'Of all the tin jointss in the world…' the snake rolled his eyes. 'Ssoccial consstruction meanss that you can be what or whomever you want to be. Life and therefore realities, are consstructed by people themsselvess. There iss no one fixed reality or truth out there applicable to everyone, rather a multiversse of different oness. And discoursse referss to ssocietal beliefss generally conssidered to be ‘truthss\' while deconsstruction meanss to throw thosse beliefss open to sscrutiny. To change them where necesssary. Doess that ansswer your quesstionss?'
'But that still doesn\'t solve my problem!' Eve cried out. 'I still have to be Adam\'s slave for the rest of my life! I am to blame for what had happened; I even seduced him into eating an apple with me! And now I have no choice but to succumb to this stupid punishment!'
'There it goess again, 'the snake muttered. 'Alwayss the map, the map iss conssidered the territory. When will people realizze there iss more than one map? We live in a multiversse of mapss! Okay,' he sighed. 'You only have to be hiss 'sslave' ass you so ssuccinctly put it, if it suitss you. You do have a choicce.' The snake hissed. 'And I don\'t ssubsscribe to that part where you are to blame, where you have to be conssidered the problem, either. I don\'t believe people are the problem, the problem iss the problem.'
'Please explain further,' Eve asked, still sniffing, but less, now. 'You are really confusing me!'
'Firsstly,' the snake sighed, 'you are what you are according the relationshipss and culture you are in. People have lotss of different facess, or wayss of being rather, depending on their passt and pressent relationships. That alsso meanss that you don\'t have to be only Eve, Adam\'ss sslave, but you can choosse who you want to be. For that matter, you don\'t have to be hiss sslave at all.'
'So, I am Eve of different faces?' Eve asked.
'Oh, to be or not to be!' The snake hissed. 'Rather, you are a lot of relational Eve\'ss! And you have the local power and knowledgess to choosse an alternative life sstory if you are not comfortable with the one you live in!'
'Explain again!' Eve demanded, the tears all forgotten now.
'Patiencce, patiencce, where are\'t thou? ' the snake sighed, exasperated. 'Look at the animalss in Eden!' He gestured with his tail. ' Look at how they are able to live together in harmony. Issn\'t there alsso ssome sstory that the lion will eat the lessser animalss, and that they all have ccertain insstinctss they cannot esscape from? Ccertain inherent animossity and primal killing lusst towards each other?' Well, nothing of that ssort in thiss casse!'
The snake sorted. 'They didn\'t like the part of living in consstant war and eating each other, sso they chosse different sstories to live in!'
Eve looked. And saw. She looked back at the snake. 'So, the punishment that I will kill you when I see you, and that you will strike me whenever you can, does not have to be true either?'
'Dependss…'the snake answers. 'Maybe, maybe not. But I rather prefer to believe we can negotiate and co-consstruct an alternative reality between the two of uss sso we can live together in peacce. That would be the ethical thing to do. Everything in life hass conssequencess and killing each other will be detrimental to the whole creation! Ssince even if I might be a danger to you and your offsspring, I am alsso a very necesssary part of the ecological chain.'
Eve smiled. 'And the relationship with nature is very important to me! We are all part of one big creation and we have to watch out for one another. Okay. So you leave me in peace where I live and I leave you in peace in your assigned ecological spot. We don\'t impede on or subjugate each other\'s realities. Each one is true and valid. Now this is what I call participatory negotiation!'
'True, true,' the snake smiled. 'Just remember that if you threaten me in my sspot, I might still sstrike you. Protection, you know. And I do kill for a living, remember. Now that goess…'
'...for me too. You stay out of my home'. Eve smiled (almost) affectionately at the snake.
'But what about your punishment for seducing me, so to speak?' Eve asked. ' Sailing on your stomach in the dust?'
'A quesstion of punctuation,' the snake grinned. ' No ingrown toenailss, no bunionss, no sshoe sshopping problemss! And ssailing on my sstomach offerss me the ability to climb treess, to ssail in water, and to move exxtremely quickly when neccesssary. You call thiss a punishment?' The snake snorted. 'It dependss on how you look at it!'
'There is one more matter before you go…' Eve said.
'What?' the snake asked.
'If life, or realities, is socially constructed…'
'It also means problems are socially constructed…'
'Yess, yess?' the snake asked impatiently. 'Frankly, my dear, I don\'t give a damn, but why do you think I\'ve ssaid, you are not the problem!'
'So what is the problem in my story?' Eve asked.
'Nooo…!' The snake hissed incredulously. 'Ssurely not me!?'
Eve smiled with relief. 'Yes, exactly… you are the snake in the story!'
The various sayings the snake make use of, aims to demonstrate how what we think, speak, and act is socially constructed within relationships. The sayings have been selected from different stories as well, to shape a ‘relational story.\' Some examples:
- What\'s up doc – Bugs Bunny, Walt Disney
- Quite elementary, my dear girl (old chap) – Sherlock Holmes
- To be or not to be – Hamlet, Shakespeare
- Of all the tin joints in the world – Humprey Bogard, Casablanca
- Patience, patience, where are\'t thou? – Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare (Romeo, Romeo, where are\'t thou?)
- Frankly my dear, I don\'t give a damn – Clark Gable, Gone with the wind
('Shrek' is for instance, a beautiful example of a postmodern, socially constructed story).
Relationships in this case refer also to relationships with literature, films, and so on, and not only with people.
The snake in the Bible is also socially constructed. Feminists view the snake as an assistant of the goddess (Goddess religion) while several other interpretations show the snake as the assistant of Satan (thus interpretations as socially constructed within relationships as well), whereas in other interpretations, the snake is considered to be Lillith herself, the claimed first wife of Adam.
The idea of 'Eve of different faces' comes from Multiple personality disorder, a DSM-iv psychological concept/diagnosis; also the title of a book/life story on a woman suffering from this disorder. This serves to demonstrate how during the modern era we were seduced into psychological labels unwittingly by the power/knowledge discourse. In contrast, in postmodern and narrative approach, there would not really be anything wrong with having 'different faces' since this relates to the idea of relation selves instead of one fixed personality residing ‘inside\' us.
The snake is the problem (does not matter who he or she is) not necessarily with referral to the original story of Eden, though it could be, but also because of his superior/expert attitude [of power] towards Eve (an attitude the narrative and participatory approach try to move away from.)
The story can also be seen as a ‘chapter\' in the narrative process (externalising) where Eve is starting to see herself as separate from the problem.
The negotiation between Eve and the snake aims to illustrate an acceptance of difference (or different realities) as well. I believe we can negotiate difference in dialogue. And in some cases we can agree to disagree. If we ignore others\' realities, we also ignore the relationships and people they are constituted in. We ignore their actual ‘being\', so to speak. The reality of snakes are, they will strike at humans/animals when threatened, while (most) humans will kill snakes when the latter invades the sanctity of their homes - and we have no option but to accept that realities (unless somebody wants to deconstruct the discourse regarding snakes striking, with the snakes themselves…)
The concepts are demonstrated by ways of a story, in order to demonstrate that we are living our lives by ways of and in stories. The 'map' does not necessarily have to be the 'territory', as humans have the ability to draw up new 'maps' for living.
Some wording has been chosen to illustrate humor and creativity in narrative therapeutic practice, and the slight bit of 'difference' however that might manifest.
The attempt at a 'twist in the tail' with regard to the ending underlines the hope and positive belief that people possess themselves the abilities and local knowledges to see/identify problems on their own, and dó possess the skills to stand up against their problems. It also removes Eve from the problem, or, the problem from Eve, indicating that the problem is not inside the individual but an 'external' social construction. (Externalising a problem, however, does not mean that people cannot be held accountable for the problems as they are always responsible for their relationship with the problem, and hence the choices they make with regard to the problem.)
So, what wil, or should, Eve do with the snake (her problem)…?
Ilze Neethling is a registered Psychological counsellor as well as Psychometrist in private practice, Limpopo, South Africa. She is also the author of various self-help tools available at http://www.goodpsychology.net.
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