Re-Membering Bordeaux, a Masterclass with David Epston

What happened in Bordeaux from March 19 to March 21, 2014? And how did happen what happened? And what did we see David doing differently so that what happened could happen?

David Epston encircled the essence of narrative work in showing us „how to be a jazz musician“, as Michael White once suggested. In a flaneur-like style he eschewed the center and preferred meandering along the margins of a discipline, which “has no ownership on anything”, as he emphasized. Knowing with every breath, that if you focus on the essence, you sacrifice the presence.

It was a „tour de force“ through narrative history and a continuous encouragement to explore new ways and conversations; to use the narrative maps to „explore the unmapped.“ But it was never just a lecture, it was full of stories and life condensed in anecdotes. Stories, stories, stories – from Kirsten Hastrup to Jose Luis Borges, from Victor Turner to Erving Goffman, from Primo Levi to Arthur Frank, from Emil Durkheim to Marcel Mauss, from Eduardo Galeano to Michel Foucault, from Zygmunt Baumann to Jaques Derrida, from Jay Ruby to Paul Watzlawick, from Barbara Myerhoff to David Rosenhan, from David Epston to Michael White and back.

a while ago

Michael + David a while ago

David performed what narrative practice genuinely is – an anti-methodology, a detour in itself, knowing that hidden meanings don`t appear in the center but in odd places, randomly. Like fishermen we are searching for sparkling moments in our clients lives. And if we don´t find them in the past, we are heading for the future, searching for the hopes and wishes. The whole timeline is ours.

It was about the art of questioning and how to raise questions which are strange enough to open new windows to the possibility land and not too strange to not drive your client into a corner and fixing him there. Narrative is a verb. Narrative is movement. There is no such search for a single truth because there is no singularity in narrative practice. The more possibilities you have, the better. Narrative practice is often confused with storytelling. But actually, it marks a turnaround where the story is triggered through raising questions and the client becomes the teller of the story.

It was about giving and taking – and the rules of hospitality. You give me your problem and I pay back in providing the conditions that you can find a solution. I give you my questions and you pay back in re-gaining authorship over your story and letting me grow through you. Which I, in return pay back in witnessing your ownership and collecting the jewels of your story.

What is a good story? A story that leads the problem talk into a new conversational direction and instigates new actions. Like Kirsten Harstrup, the Danish anthropologist, said after watching a screenplay about her life and finding herself „being not her and not not her“ at the same time: „I saw my life as never seen before and did things which I never thought before that I can do it.“

Narrative is an adventure. A permanent “studying up” and “questioning yourself”. Instead of digging deep we are “reflecting surfaces”. Or, as Michael and David co-formulated it in their two sentence manifesto from 1992: “We invent ourselves in practice and then go stealing for ideas to explain ourselves.”

Bordeaux was like entering a spaceship back to the future. A continuous re-imagining and re-thinking of narrative work. A “movement of thoughts“, a constant process of mixing and re-mixing that made clear, that narrative practice is anything but rigid and pure. It is wild. It is diverse. And it is always dialogue. Co-Constructing. When David talked I once caught a glimpse on Michael on his bicycle passing by. And the sentence from Simone Weil came into my mind: “The absence is just another way to appear.”

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