Narrative Foreclosure

So on the syllabus, in an asterisked note, Beth included that there are multiple meanings of the word “foreclosure,” explicitly stating that it can be applied to narratives/storytelling. This sparked my interest, so I decided to do some research on the term narrative foreclosure. I found this article (which I am linking here, but to view the full article you must first write a short written request to the institution it belongs to), in which they quote Psychologist Mark Freeman, who coined the term and defines it as “the premature conviction that one’s life story has effectively ended.” By ‘effectively ended,’ Freeman is implying that the ending of one’s life is seemingly already known by that person. In the instance of a narrative foreclosure, the individual neglects to create further meaning in their life through experiences or goals, and they cease to enjoy the reliving of events in their life through story or nostalgic thought because it is now too late to make changes.

It’s a pretty interesting article and I suggest that you guys read it if you have the chance, because I’m not going to spend this whole post summarizing it. But I do want to relate some ideas about narrative foreclosure to The Old Man and the Storm, the documentary we watched in class. The article states that humans are hermeneutical beings, denoting that “we make meaning to live and we need meaning to survive.” The authors center mainly on the presence of narrative foreclosure in elderly people, as many older adults, as they continue to age and come to the inevitable ending of their lives, hold to the idea that it is too late to live meaningfully and, as Freeman puts it, “become stripped of new possibilities, emptied of new opportunities for self-renewal.” This quote reminded me of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and how as their homes, families, and livelihoods were physically torn apart, the potential for ‘new possibilities’ and ‘opportunities for renewal’ vanished for many of them. The documentary stated that the suicide rate multiplied by three times after the event of the storm, which is not surprising to me, as many people probably saw no hope for renewal. For the victims of the storm, everything meaningful in their lives had suddenly disappeared, and thus, without meaning or the hope for future meaning, their lives were essentially already over.

The article states, “Narrative foreclosure is thus characterized by a strong wish to rewrite one’s past or change one’s life direction, yet at the same time, by the realization that one does not really know how.” I don’t remember what her name was, but a woman that had relocated herself and her children after the storm spoke in the documentary about her initial thoughts on what to do after the disaster. She knew that her only option was to start over, so she asked herself, “What’s the first thing you do to start over?” She then realized that she did not know the answer to this question. ‘Rewriting the past’ was obviously not an option, but ‘changing her life’s direction’ after losing everything she owned was almost as impossible as the former.  

I wanted to write a post about this early in the semester because I think it will become a common theme in the context of this class. The 2008 Foreclosure Crisis was given this name (among many others) because of the common definition of ‘foreclosure,’ relating to mortgaged property and a failure of the mortgagor to make necessary payments. But, as exemplified by the victims of Hurricane Katrina, narrative foreclosure is equally relevant when everything one possesses is taken away, hope of renewal is absent, and the story of one’s life as they know it has essentially ended.

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