Accessing the memory of lived experience.

An explicitation interview always deals to a lived experience; it is conducted a posteriori. Correspondingly, an essential element of this technique consists in accessing the memory of the lived experience. The possibility of talking about a lived experience, of describing it with precision in every single moment and in all its different phases is therefore based on the activity of recalling in a specific recalling mode that I have called “evocation”. However, being confronted with the task of recalling what we have lived can be a source of stress: “will I remember?” “It seems to me I can’t remember … however …” 

Experiencing astonishment  in remembering live experience

(Translation of an Excerpt from : Explicitation interview and awakening of the passive memory, surprises, discoveries, and astonishment. Vermersch P. 2014, Surprises, découvertes, étonnements. L’entretien d’explicitation et l’éveil de la mémoire passive. Education Permanente, p 69-79)

Here we have a complex theoretical structure that links memory and awareness. But is it possible to account for the subjectivity of the astonishment and maybe understand the reasons for this astonishment?

First of all, we constantly mix up what we are aware of and the totality of what we take into account (without being aware of it). In other words, even though we have theoretical knowledge of this, the very fact of consciousness permanently masks all that we are not aware of and which is yet dynamically within us (which can be awakened, which reacts, which makes associations). And when we experience the presence of these unconscious contents by becoming aware of them, we are surprised: “what?”, “that’s me, and yet I didn’t know!”

This first description occurs on a daily basis; it is commonplace. But with an explicitation interview, the surprise may increase with the fact that someone is asking us to access obviously unknown, forgotten, unavailable memories. I use the concept of “fright” to describe the subjective reaction to a question which leads to the immediate intimate answer “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember”, I don’t want to know”.

And the surprise may appear because we are discovering, as we are progressing in being accompanied through the interview, that we are able to provide an answer, that we remember, that what we are describing really and truly belongs to our lived experience, that we recognize it, and yet we were sure of having forgotten it! The fact of being able to answer the question can turn out to be astounding for some, can greatly change the perception that the person has about himself, as if a door, a possibility had opened up, revealing potential unknowns.

To better understand this surprise, it might be interesting to examine by contrast the simplicity of the practical process that is used. I have already somewhat outlined it: the goal is to have the person build a “bridge to the past”, usually through a sensorial element. The important point consists in triggering an involuntary act of evocation (always with the person’s consent).

The magic sentence !

I am using the term “triggering”, but it means something very simple. For instance, the interview will start this way: “If you agree, I propose that you take the time to let come back a moment when…”

 Let us now break down the sentence:

  1. If you agree signals a request for consent from the interviewee and reflects common courtesy and a pledge of respect from the interviewer;
  2. I propose is a clear and simple introduction which is not a direct order and which positions the other to await a proposition;
  3. that you take the time implies that what is solicited will happen at its own pace, without precipitation, without pressure;
  4. to let come back implies a passive internal act which will be guided by the final proposition that will follow but, above all, the wording “let come back” comes in contrast with “to look for”, “ to remember”, “to make a memory effort”; it invites the person in welcoming what will come to light;
  5. a moment when ‘you showed competency in your work’(for example); here, a target is given to the unconscious; it is an arrow that is meant to awaken the retentions that will become conscious without the person having chosen them specifically. The interviewee will discover them.

This breakdown is typical of an analysis of perlocutionary effects i.e. of an analysis of the effects produced by words on the other person, knowing that these effects are not mechanical, that they are at best channelling and an incentive.

However, this sentence can also be indicative of the biggest obstacle to triggering an evocation, and that obstacle is the effort made to recall! As soon as the person makes an effort to recall, the involuntary access to his/her past that constitutes evocation is cut off. As soon as an inept interviewer induces a memory challenge (such as “Do you think you could try to remember what you said?”), evocation becomes blocked. The usual recalling mode based on an effort of memory, on a reconstruction is antagonistic to the recalling mode which is suited to evocation and which is a spontaneous, involuntary act that paradoxically may easily be solicited in an indirect fashion. All in all, astonishment therefore comes from the fact that what is obtained is done without any voluntary effort.

 * * *

 I reiterate that this does not mean a priori that we will uncover the totality of the lived experience the way we would if the evocation were based on a mechanical effect.

The important point is that we have access to much more information on lived experiences than what we knew how to obtain until now and that, for practitioners, this easily opens up huge possibilities for learning about the process used by students, professionals and practitioners, but also for helping all these people become aware of what they have accomplished. Moreover, in the field of research, this brings the possibility of studying subjectivity from the point of view of the person who is living this subjectivity i.e. from a point of view in the first person. It is time for Research to learn to integrate the study of subjectivity in its analyses.

 

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An explicitation interview always deals to a lived experience; it is conducted a posteriori. Correspondingly, an essential element of this technique consists in accessing the memory of the lived experience. The possibility of talking about a lived experience, of describing it with precision in every single moment and in all its different phases is therefore based on the activity of recalling in a specific recalling mode that I have called “evocation”. However, being confronted with the task of recalling what we have lived can be a source of stress: “will I remember?” “It seems to me I can’t remember … however …” 

Experiencing astonishment  in remembering live experience

(Translation of an Excerpt from : Explicitation interview and awakening of the passive memory, surprises, discoveries, and astonishment. Vermersch P. 2014, Surprises, découvertes, étonnements. L’entretien d’explicitation et l’éveil de la mémoire passive. Education Permanente, p 69-79)

Here we have a complex theoretical structure that links memory and awareness. But is it possible to account for the subjectivity of the astonishment and maybe understand the reasons for this astonishment?

First of all, we constantly mix up what we are aware of and the totality of what we take into account (without being aware of it). In other words, even though we have theoretical knowledge of this, the very fact of consciousness permanently masks all that we are not aware of and which is yet dynamically within us (which can be awakened, which reacts, which makes associations). And when we experience the presence of these unconscious contents by becoming aware of them, we are surprised: “what?”, “that’s me, and yet I didn’t know!”

This first description occurs on a daily basis; it is commonplace. But with an explicitation interview, the surprise may increase with the fact that someone is asking us to access obviously unknown, forgotten, unavailable memories. I use the concept of “fright” to describe the subjective reaction to a question which leads to the immediate intimate answer “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember”, I don’t want to know”.

And the surprise may appear because we are discovering, as we are progressing in being accompanied through the interview, that we are able to provide an answer, that we remember, that what we are describing really and truly belongs to our lived experience, that we recognize it, and yet we were sure of having forgotten it! The fact of being able to answer the question can turn out to be astounding for some, can greatly change the perception that the person has about himself, as if a door, a possibility had opened up, revealing potential unknowns.

To better understand this surprise, it might be interesting to examine by contrast the simplicity of the practical process that is used. I have already somewhat outlined it: the goal is to have the person build a “bridge to the past”, usually through a sensorial element. The important point consists in triggering an involuntary act of evocation (always with the person’s consent).

The magic sentence !

I am using the term “triggering”, but it means something very simple. For instance, the interview will start this way: “If you agree, I propose that you take the time to let come back a moment when…”

 Let us now break down the sentence:

  1. If you agree signals a request for consent from the interviewee and reflects common courtesy and a pledge of respect from the interviewer;
  2. I propose is a clear and simple introduction which is not a direct order and which positions the other to await a proposition;
  3. that you take the time implies that what is solicited will happen at its own pace, without precipitation, without pressure;
  4. to let come back implies a passive internal act which will be guided by the final proposition that will follow but, above all, the wording “let come back” comes in contrast with “to look for”, “ to remember”, “to make a memory effort”; it invites the person in welcoming what will come to light;
  5. a moment when ‘you showed competency in your work’(for example); here, a target is given to the unconscious; it is an arrow that is meant to awaken the retentions that will become conscious without the person having chosen them specifically. The interviewee will discover them.

This breakdown is typical of an analysis of perlocutionary effects i.e. of an analysis of the effects produced by words on the other person, knowing that these effects are not mechanical, that they are at best channelling and an incentive.

However, this sentence can also be indicative of the biggest obstacle to triggering an evocation, and that obstacle is the effort made to recall! As soon as the person makes an effort to recall, the involuntary access to his/her past that constitutes evocation is cut off. As soon as an inept interviewer induces a memory challenge (such as “Do you think you could try to remember what you said?”), evocation becomes blocked. The usual recalling mode based on an effort of memory, on a reconstruction is antagonistic to the recalling mode which is suited to evocation and which is a spontaneous, involuntary act that paradoxically may easily be solicited in an indirect fashion. All in all, astonishment therefore comes from the fact that what is obtained is done without any voluntary effort.

 * * *

 I reiterate that this does not mean a priori that we will uncover the totality of the lived experience the way we would if the evocation were based on a mechanical effect.

The important point is that we have access to much more information on lived experiences than what we knew how to obtain until now and that, for practitioners, this easily opens up huge possibilities for learning about the process used by students, professionals and practitioners, but also for helping all these people become aware of what they have accomplished. Moreover, in the field of research, this brings the possibility of studying subjectivity from the point of view of the person who is living this subjectivity i.e. from a point of view in the first person. It is time for Research to learn to integrate the study of subjectivity in its analyses.

 

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