The Basics of Formation of Consciousness of the Experiencing Autobiographer: Emotion and Cognition (Based on “My Adventure” by Akaki Tsereteli)

  1. Introduction


The autobiographical genre plays an important role in the history of European literature. Therefore, its research has a longstanding history.[1] Three periods are distinguished. According to the modern theory of autobiography, creation of a factual autobiography reflects the hemeodynamic needs of a narrator autobiographer [Eakin, 2008; Schacter,  1997][2]. Taking into account the above-mentioned, it is considered that in the text of this type the past of an autobiographer is construed in the process of writing, the emotional stability of a narrator autobiographer is achieved by means of semantization of his past life. In this way, a conceptual integrity is achieved.

The scholars who study autobiographical texts from the perspective of cognitive narratology [Eakin, 2008, 2014; Olney, 1998; Löschnigg, 2006; Nalbantyan, 2003] agree that in order to correctly perceive autobiographical texts, it is necessary to observe the formation of consciousness of an experiencing autobiographer. With this purpose, we should study the sequence of the perspectives of the suffering and narrating autobiographers as well as the verbal thoughts of the experiencing autobiographer. No thorough studies have been carried out until now regarding the role of emotion in the consciousness of an experiencing autobiographer. It should be noted that the verbal thought of an experiencing autobiographer is not represented in a factual autobiography. Therefore, the emotion made precise by a narrator’s protocol points to the changes in the dynamics as well as consciousness.

The aim of the given paper is to define the role of emotion in the functioning of consciousness of the experiencing autobiographer. With this aim, I have observed the process of semantization of the information recalled by the narrator autobiographer. The issue has been studied based on the autobiographical text “My Adventure” by the 19th century Georgian classical writer and poet Akaki Tsereteli. The paper focuses on one episode  in which Akaki changes his place of residence from the village Savane to the palace.  The reason for the selection of the text of the given epoch is that the verbal thought of the experiencing autobiographer is not represented. Hence, we should define the textual features that provide information to a reader regarding the formation of a personal experience of the experiencing autobiographer. The formation of such experience gives grounds for pertaining a text to the autobiographical genre [Löschnigg, 2006].


2. Theoretical Background


The given paper is based on the theory worked out by Alan Palmer [Palmer, 2004], based on the works of J. Searle, an outstanding representative of cognitive philosophy [Searle, 1992]. This theory aims at the study of consciousness of characters of fiction texts.  Two features of Searle’s taxonomy – coherence of consciousness and recognition/identification are of a special importance for the research. The above-mentioned taxonomy has not yet been applied in the research of autobiographical texts. Observation of coherence of consciousness of the experiencing autobiographer and the process of perception of events (recognition/identification) helps to identify how the narrator autobiographer achieves semantization of the recalled events. [3]

The attitude used in the process of research excludes the perception of a factual autobiographical text as an informative text -  the storage/container of biographical details. Thus, the motive of recalling the events described in the text and the degree of subjectivity should be defined by the homeostatic needs of the narrator autobiographer and the markers given in the text should be identified by a reader.




2.1. Coherence of consciousness

Coherence  denotes a peculiarity of functioning of consciousness which is of utmost importance for the study of an autobiographical practice. Coherence is a synonym of experimentation (experience). Palmer shares Searle’s opinion that in the absence of coherence of consciousness a person loses the sense of a personal experience [Palmer, 2004: 99-100]. In an attempt to achieve coherence, mental processes take place in the vertical and horizontal directions. The vertical line of mental processes is drawn by previous experience of a person, whereas the horizontal mental processes imply the creation of mental images characterizing the event, which is to be identified in the consciousness. If we take into account the fact that the functioning of consciousness is related to a person’s homeostatic needs [Damasio, 2000],  we can define the function of two vectors of consciousness (horizontal and vertical) as follows: the vertical line enables a person to decipher and identify the actual experimental context, whereas the horizontal line forms grounds for homeostasis and homeodynamics: the new experience should be compared to the person’s current identity model. A person’s identity is renewed in case the identified society is valuable, yet, the old model of identity does not enable integration in this society:

The next feature is unity […] conscious state comes to us as part of a unified sequence. Without a sense of unity, we could not make sense of our experiences […] Vertical unity is the binding of disparate elements into a unified column: I have simultaneous experiences of various separate things as part of one and the same conscious event. Horizontal unity is the remembered present, the organization of conscious experiences through short stretches of time: I am aware of the beginning of the sentence that I am now finishing [Palmer, 2004: 99-100].

In the process of the analysis of autobiographical texts, the principle of integrity of consciousness yields an importance methodological tool for a scholar: the motive of an action of an  experiencing autobiographer should not be searched only in an actual situation. Instead, an autobiographer’s concrete actions should be analysed in the same way as it is analysed when studying the consciousness of a living person: dramatization of the development of an autobiographer in the process of identification of an actual situation is caused by the activation of the cognitive narrative [Palmer, 2010].


2.2 Recognition/Identification

One of the most important characteristic features of human consciousness is the ability to identify events. The importance of this feature is proved by the fact that this ability is not equal to memorizing. According to Palmer, Searle views coherence and recognition separately, yet, they represent parts of the same taxonomy and are closely interlinked: the index of recognition is increased under the influence of the vertical vector of coherence. Due to such flexibility of consciousness, external changes in the events do not lead to signals that might affect the mechanism of homeostasis[4]:

One of the most pervasive features of ordinary conscious awareness is the aspect of familiarity. […] the prior possession of an apparatus that is sufficient to generate organized consciousness automatically guarantees that the aspectual features of conscious experience will be more or less familiar. When I walk down the street, objects are familiar to me as trees, houses, and so on. Perhaps most important of all, I have an inner sense of what feels like to be me, a feeling of myself. This aspect of familiarity makes possible much of the organization and order of my conscious experience. Consciousness involves categorization, but the categories have to exist prior to the experience because they are the conditions of possibility of having the experience. They enable us, to varying degrees, to assimilate our experiences, however novel, to the familiar [Palmer, 2004:101].

In the process of analysis of autobiographical texts, observation of the functioning of recognition defines the methodological basis for the identification of the motives leading to the actions of an experiencing autobiographer. The merit of the research is to identify the nuances of functioning of the homeostatic mechanism of an experiencing autobiographer. The change of the physical context does not mean the beginning of identity crisis. On the initial stage, the text describes the process of identification of a new context by an experiencing autobiographer. In such cases, a suffering autobiographer tries to find qualitative similarities between the old and new experiences. If an autobiographer fails to find such similarities, the homeodynamic process comes into action. Correspondingly, in this part of the text, the actions of the experiencing autobiographer are aimed at overcoming the homeodynamic challenges. The experiencing autobiographer tries to adapt to the new environment.



3. The Practical Part

3.1 The first day in the palace: the stages of formation of emotion caused by the fear of starting a new life

The mental processes leading to the destabilization of identity of the experiencing autobiographer may be summarized as follows: the experiencing autobiographer has no experience of facing challenges; the signal of destabilization of identity is given by the negative information accumulated around the pillar of identity (the person who brought him up): the experiencing autobiographer has to leave his nanny. The nanny herself suffers this fact and this aggravates the feeling of danger in the experiencing autobiographer. The fear increases as the autobiographer’s move to the palace is identified with the story of the hawk seizing the chicken. The final factor, envisaging the risk for the experiencing autobiographer, is not related to his experience but activates his innate instincts.  This fact aggravates the emotional tension. The emotions related to the nanny were acquired by the experiencing autobiographer based on the minimal experience of a social life. The fear in the face of an absolutely alien environment does not activate mental images in the consciousness of the suffering autobiographer, instead, it reveals the instinctive attitude to the event. The lack of the experiencing autobiographer’s social experience is proved by the fact that, despite identifying a serious threat, he does not make any plans. He goes to the palace without any strategy of dealing with the expected risks.

Based on the above-mentioned conclusions, a reader should take into account the fact that the experiencing autobiographer, who has moved to the palace from the village, is internally tense. The emotion based on the feeling of threat, in its turn, forms grounds for the mobilization of attention: “I had been in the palace many times before, yet, when I arrived, I felt that many things were alien to me“ [Tsereteli, 2015: 19].  The focused perception of the environment by the experiencing autobiographer as well as the focus on alien details are caused by his emotional tension. On the background of his internal agitation, he suffers the additional discomfort as the guests in the palace are unusually active (the guests embarrassed me to a great extent) [Tsereteli, 2015: 19].

For the further analysis of the episode, we should take into account the fact that the experiencing autobiographer does not reveal any tension when talking to the adults: he answers the questions freely and willingly. At one glance, this fact contradicts the internal tension of the experiencing autobiographer. The episode under analysis contains the information proving that the previous cognitive narrative of the suffering autobiographer is still active when he talks to the adults. In confrontation with the new reality,  two emotions coexist in the experiencing autobiographer. How can we explain his cheerfulness?

As it has been mentioned, the experiencing autobiographer perceives the reality of the palace as something unusual and alien (“many things seemed alien to me”). This detail proves his internal tension. The main factor for the mobilization of attention is the activation of the emotional regulator. Besides, the text contains certain information proving the internal agitation of the experiencing autobiographer: However, as they asked me about the village life, I was ready to chatter till evening“ [Tsereteli, 2015: 20]. These words prove that the experiencing autobiographer feels alien in the new environment. Moreover, this environment is to become his permanent residence. The words however, as prove the intensity of emotion: the experiencing autobiographer is willing to return to his native context and  he is assisted by the sweet memories of the village. The importance of this fact is also revealed in that the experiencing autobiographer tries to show his abilities to the guests. Therefore, he tells the stories of the village life so emotionally. In order to fully perceive the mental processes of the suffering autobiographer, we should take into account both motives of his action: using the words, however, as  the narrator autobiographer points to the non-verbal unconscious thought of the experiencing autobiographer. The latter misses his native context. His move to the palace is accompanied by the emotional tension. The need for socialization forces him to demonstrate his knowledge and experience. The instinct of adaptation is activated by the experiencing autobiographer’s homeodynamics.

The following paragraph focuses on the rules of the social behavior causing the experiencing autobiographer’s willingness to demonstrate his knowledge..

As the experiencing autobiographer arrives in the palace, he is surprised at the agitated behavior of the guests (the guests embarrassed me to a great deal) [Tsereteli, 2015: 19]. The experiencing autobiographer must have been warned beforehand that a grand reception was arranged in his honor. Thus, the motivation of the guests’ behavior should have been clear to him. However, apart from the rational grounds, the external side of the event had an importance of its own in the formation of the new impressions in the alien context. This fact is of an extreme importance, as the experiencing autobiographer has to establish links between various details of a social behavior. In this process, the emotional side of perception of events is more dominant than the pragmatic side. In order to understand the dynamics of formation of impressions of the experiencing autobiographer, we should take into account the following: although he knows that the grand reception is being held because he is a prince, he is unaware of the importance of being a prince. Due to the lack of an epistemiological competence, the experiencing autobiographer initially perceives the palace etiquette and the earnest attitude of his parents as one whole. He is unable to see a qualitative difference between the two. At the same time, his impressions, in the form of unrealized thought,  are classified as the features of a new life.

The following flow of impressions is related to the behavior of his father – Rostom Tsereteli, who stops the fuss of the guests, explaining to his son the reason for the guests’ special attention to the little boy: „Hey, you, village boy!“ – called my father  - now you should get accustomed to behaving like a prince. Do as they tell you, or, if you show disobedience, I will lock you up, as I have locked up that little boy“ [Tsereteli, 2015: 19]. The form of address -Hey, village boy - is related to the experiencing autobiographer’s amazement at the guests’ behaviour: for Rostom Tsereteli, this amazement is the sign of a village boy’s behaviour. By urging his son to get accustomed to behaving as a prince, the father points out to the experiencing autobiographer that he should take the veneration of his subjects as a norm. As for the threat to lock the boy up, it is not conditioned by the context and is not related to the experiencing autobiographer’s attitude to the guests. Simply, a sense of humor is Rostom  Tsereteli’s characteristic feature. However, the experiencing autobiographer perceives his father’s joke as a typical behavior of the society, as, at this stage, he is unaware of his father’s character. Thus, the boy thinks that his father jokingly explains the peculiarities of his new life.

The experiencing autobiographer understands that father is joking (I started laughing). The motive of the joke points to the social requirement: he must become a prince i.e. he must acquire certain new skills. On the next stage, the mother talks to the experiencing autobiographer. According to the text, this is the longest conversation. The duration of narration, without taking into account other data, may be considered as the focus of the experiencing autobiographer: his mother is especially dear to him that is why he offers a vast description of the conversation. This conclusion is wrong. It interprets the perspective of the experiencing autobiographer incorrectly. In fact, the reason is as follows:

If a reader considers this episode as the expression of the boy’s special attitude to his mother, then, either the autobiographer is an unreliable narrator or the text has stylistic shortcomings. The autobiographer, who has recently arrived in the palace, has no personal links with his parents. Therefore, he cannot identify his parents’ personal traits based on their behavior. As it was mentioned, at this stage everyone has equal status: they represent the society gathered at the palace. All of them are related to the new reality - the start of a new life by the experiencing autobiographer.

In order to see the dynamics that accompany the perception of the experiencing autobiographer, we should pay attention to the remark of the servant, which precedes the experiencing autobiographer’s conversation with his mother: “as the saying goes, like a father, like a son“ [Tsereteli, 2015: 19]. The words of the servant make the experiencing autobiographer think that he, as a future prince, is being examined. In order to understand the perspective of the narrator autobiographer, we should focus on the structure of the episode: it is developed, on the one hand, on the background of revealing the society’s objective features and ways of behavior, and, on the other hand, it creates a systematic contrast with the experiencing autobiographer’s restricted epistemological competence and childish efforts.

The episode of experiencing the suffering autobiographer’s reception at the palace (the first day of his arrival) is structured by the narrator autobiographer in the way that it reveals all the features of the society that are vastly described later. This shows the perspective of the narrator autobiographer. At the moment of the creation of the text, the narrator autobiographer regrets the controversy between the experiencing autobiographer’s internal readiness for development and the social context in which he has to live. This regret is aggravated by the fact that the transfer from one micro-society to another was accompanied by the change in the rules of behaviour. The experiencing autobiographer made his utmost efforts to master the new rules. However, at every new stage he had the feeling of being inexperienced, because whatever he had acquired earlier, failed to function in the new context. [5]

The remark made by the servant with the aim of praising the experiencing autobiographer was not earnest. This is proved by the mother’s action: „it seemed the servant had much more to say, but my mother interrupted him. She called me and began to ask questions“ [Tsereteli, 2015: 19].  The interference of the lady is interesting from two viewpoints: a) she knows that the servant wants to flatter, so she interrupts him; b) unlike other people in the palace, she truly wants to get acquainted with the inner world of her son (his interests and readiness). It is the mother who has to take care of the experiencing autobiographer’s upbringing. The experiencing autobiographer’s answer to his father’s joke gives sufficient grounds for the following conversation between the mother and the son. Numerous questions asked by the mother point to her interest in her son i.e. the lady’s questions point to her own inner world and not that of the narrator autobiographer. In the given episode, there is an interesting contrast between the etiquette-based behavior of the people in the palace (including Rostom Tsereteli himself) and the behavior of the hostess, who does not interfere in the general fuss, but influences the processes taking place in the palace. With regard to the experiencing autobiographer’s behavior, a special attention should be paid to the fact that he answers his mother’s and father’s questions with equal willingness i.e. he has a similar attitude to each resident of the palace.

According to the episode under analysis, we can summarize the mental processes of the experiencing autobiographer as follows: upon arrival in the palace, he knows that he has to start a new life, although he is unaware of  its content. Besides, the start of a new life in the palace is accompanied by the inner tension. Therefore, the experiencing autobiographer is agitated and his attention is mobilized to the utmost extent. The experiencing autobiographer forms his impression regarding the rules of behavior of the society based on the actions of the people gathered at the reception. The experiencing autobiographer is aware of the fact that he has to live in this society. Therefore, homeodynamics is involved in the mental processes: the boy does not passively observe the society; he tries to adequately respond to the social challenges. The unusual activity of guests in the palace and the father’s joking threat is the first impetus for the experiencing autobiographer’s social adaptation: without verbal thinking, subconsciously, the experiencing autobiographer realizes that, in conditions of his new life, he is requested to turn into a prince. This, in its turn, requires new skills. Therefore, he is eager to respond to this social challenge by showing his skills and experience. The mother’s questions are perceived by the experiencing autobiographer as a form of realization of a general social demand. At this stage, he does not establish a personal communication with his mother. He simply tries to adapt to the new society.


4. Conclusions

According to the modern theory of autobiography, the creation of an autobiographical text is conditioned by a narrator autobiographer’s homeostatic needs. The aim of the given paper was to identify the role of an experiencing autobiographer’s emotion in the description of the functioning and formation of consciousness.

Analysis of Akaki Tsereteli’s autobiographical text has proved that the functioning of the experiencing autobiographer’s consciousness is revealed in the text by means of the emotional regulator. The verbal thought of the suffering autobiographer is not described in the text under analysis. Hence, the reader observes the formation of the experiencing autobiographer’s consciousness based on the observation of the sequence of the experiencing autobiographer’s emotions.

The research has also proved that it is possible to define the function of emotion as the monitor of consciousness taking into account the so-called cognitive narrative. For the purpose of coherence of the experiencing autobiographer’s consciousness, in the process of identification of the new reality, the emotional regulator informs the experiencing autobiographer’s consciousness as to what extent the situation is favorable for him. Based on this information, the experiencing autobiographer’s homeostatic or homeodynamic needs are activated.

In the analyzed episode of „My Adventure“, at the initial stage (when the experiencing autobiographer forms his first impressions of the people in the palace), the homeostatic actions of the experiencing autobiographer are described. As soon as the experiencing autobiographer realizes the perspective of integration in the new environment, his actions become homeodynamic.

Finally, based on the research, it should be mentioned that the narrator autobiographer describes the processes occurring in the experiencing autobiographer’s consciousness mostly by means of protocol.



[1] However, in the Georgian scientific literature, despite the diversity of texts in the given genre, there is no tradition of research of autobiography.

[2] The term  Homeostasis is taken from Antonio Damasio’s work (2018). It implies the mechanism of regulation of a human life, which ensures stability in the situation which contains the element of danger. Only preservation of stability is not enough for a human’s salvation. Homeostasis, when directed at the autobiographic Self (Damasio, 2010), at the same time implies another mental process: A person is not only capable of retaining the autobiographic ego (model of identity), but he is able to update it based on the needs. This is classified as a homeodynamic process.

[3] For the narratological basis of research of autobiographical texts, see Löschnigg, 2010.

[4] Emotion performs the function of monitoring. It informs the brain about the person’s state, so that the action programs are automatically activated in the brain and the person behaves adequately [Damasio, 2000].

[5] The lack of social competence of the experiencing autobiographer is also underlined in later episodes. By means of hypothetical focalization and protocol, the narrator autobiographer points out that the main challenge for the functioning of consciousness of the experiencing autobiographer was related to the lack of experience.


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