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Intellectual Narratives

Theory, History and Self-Characterization of Social Margins in Public Writings

Alex Ching-Shing Chan

This book aims to study the intellectual lives of three Hong Kong intellectuals by narrating their lives as self-reflections on theories related to social margins. Drawing on insights from Paul Ricoeur, Hannah Arendt and Zygmunt Bauman, the author analyses their narratives through in-depth interviews. Their stories point to an interpretative understanding of the works they had cursorily read when creating their historical narrations of Hong Kong from the 1970s to 2003. These stories of individual intellectuals, together with their interpretations of what they have individually read about various western theories, challenge theoretical prescriptions of historical contingent events in their narration. Such narration unfolds self-characterizations of intellectuals the author interviewed, and represents a neglected social marginal which demands that immediate attention in the public through their intellectual writings.


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6. Emplotment, or Refl ection on History, and Intellectual Self 99


99 CHAPTER 6 Emplotment, or Refl ection on History, and Intellectual Self Theory and Emplotment: The Discovery of the Social Marginals We now turn to another pivotal point of analysis: reading is an attempt, through imagination, to transcend the boundaries of the present and the social in which a reader moves around between the past and the present. Reading is a purposeless activity unless the reader has an intention for doing it; in my research on intellectual narratives, the reader’s intention is to learn what constitutes his or her intellectual identity from historical experiences in which one or more social margins have been discovered. My contention is that reading as a human inquiry of social margins in the context of their historical specifi city and life contingencies brings every- day issues that have been experienced and recollected in historical events back into intellectual narratives, and thus reading is the springboard for projecting an intellectual identity. Theory is not just empty talk in aca- demia; it offers practical references in relation to the explication of the social margins encountered in everyday life. The choice of an intellectual tradition, as represented in public writing, is indicative of the sorts of his- torical experiences that are constitutive of intellectual self-identity. Reading, as I indicated in the last chapter, is not an antecedent of identi- fying particular social margins in an intellectual’s own historical experiences; conversely, for the purpose of stimulating academic and public discussion, an intellectual has to extend his or her life...

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