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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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7. Plots or Distinctive Personal Characters Acting forthe Social Margins 121


121 CHAPTER 7 Plots or Distinctive Personal Characters Acting for the Social Margins As I have elaborated in Chapters 1 and 3, the narrativist approach to history explores the narrated historical events that constitute differ- ent temporalities of the social margins in their narration; it thus differs from how mainstream academics narrate history as linear progress. In this approach, an intellectual, as the narrator, organises these historical events according to his or her intuition and interpretation, or muthos, so as to construct a distinctive character that accurately represents the social margin it represents. Such a creation also projects the plotted character of the narrator, who embodies himself or herself in the actions of an identifi ed social marginal, through which a narration follows a theoreti- cal interpretation from different schools of thought. Theory in this sense is not the Platonic foundation of science, certainty and clarity; rather, it goes back to Aristotle, who denoted theory as a guiding practical concept of poiesis – something that we make ourselves or something we make by setting our sights on achieving it.1 My ethnography of the intellectuals that I interviewed confi gures two aspects of this creative thinking based upon theory (in the Aristotelian sense) and creative action (praxis). First, as I found in their narrations, the intellectuals I interviewed imitated the persona acted (in most instances, the authors of treatises) using a con- textual background similar to the one they had encountered in history and in their real lives. Second, pointing to a...

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