Category Archives: story

The need for stories

We all find in others, as we find in ourselves, certain moments of being unreal, of floating free, of not getting to grips. In some people we find it as a whole affliction, someone detached at the very root of existence. We recognise them in the workplace as people with vast schemes that never come to fruition; in relationships, as those who won’t commit to one life path over another. From the parents’ group to the football club, such people, after a period of assessment, are quietly worked around. It is part of the continuous whole-personality assessments we all make of each other, building models, revising them. The fact that we can be “wrong” about someone is a demonstration of the process.

We build such narratives of character all the time. We build them in art, in high culture and popular, and we can go back and forth between the great and the small. As well as the rule of England, Shakespeare’s Henry VI is obviously about the running of a small theatre company – you can hear Shakespeare’s bitching about how hard it is to bring it all together all the way through. The Office, a bitter plaint at the life wasted by time commodified, is about the failure of democratic socialism, from Harold Wilson to the coming of Thatcher.

People have been doing it about Malcolm Turnbull for months now, making stories that explain him out of the things they know. Turnbull is the wanker from head office, the bloke who sold them a timeshare, the guy who seems to have an agenda, teeth-clenched, bearing all before him.

Guy Rundle, Character actors, The Saturday Paper, November 18-24

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The happy ending of fairy tales

I suspect our continual attraction to fairy tales, especially the classical Grimms’ stories, is based more on something adults repress and are afraid to talk about, something the Grimms knew 200 years ago but also repressed. I mean child abuse, neglect and abandonment, and not only the kind experienced at the hands of strangers but that meted out by parents themselves. Perhaps the most therapeutic aspect of these stories is the reassurance they give parents that children survive the horrors they impose on them with good will and the desire to lead a different life.

Fairy tales have always expressed an adult viewpoint on family relations and power. We tend to forget it, but adults were the ones who first told them, wrote them down and circulated them. Though the stories may ultimately defend the rights of children and underdogs, they do so only by ration-alizing the actions of the adults, who want to make certain their children are socialized to forget the abuse they have suffered.

I do not mean to exaggerate and argue that fairy tales completely rationalize abusive attitudes and behavior toward children, or that all parents abuse their children. To a certain extent these stories were told and written to reveal the shame and guilt adults feel at even fantasizing about cruelty to their children. More than anything else, I believe, they reveal what the psychoanalysts Alice Miller and James Hoyme have identified as the ambivalent feelings parents have about their children, their desire to abandon them and the shame they feel when they actually abuse them. . . . 

Children know better than adults that it’s certainly not the happy ending that counts.

Jack Zipes: Children’s Books: Child Abuse and Happy Endings  (from here) 

 

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The lure of the happy ending

The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on. The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.” Darwin: They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds—nothing that ended unhappily. If he happened on something like that, enraged, he flung the book into the fire. True or not, I’m ready to believe it. Scanning in his mind so many times and places, he’s had enough with dying species, the triumphs of the strong over the weak, the endless struggle to survive, all doomed sooner or later. He’d earned the right to happy ending, at least in fiction, with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last.

Annie Proulx

(from here) 

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Story :The genesis for a novel

About eight years ago a girl in distress came to my door, a stranger, and asked me for help. Said she needed money – so I gave it to her. Later I found out that it was probably a scam of some sort. A lot of questions followed from this in my mind. Was the girl really desperate? Was I a fool to give her the money? But wouldn’t you have to be really desperate to come up with such a scam? The episode, tiny as it was, stayed with me. It became a fruitful sort of problem – connecting with ideas I’d had for a long time about class and desperation and ethics – and eight years later a whole novel sprang from it.

Zadie Smith Thursday 1 August 2013 The Guardian (from here) 

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The risk of self-mythologizing

As an artist, Avedon told the truth about lies, and why we need them or metaphors to survive, and how people fit into their self-mythologizing like body bags, and die in them if they’re not careful. Look at his portrait of Marilyn Monroe in “Nothing Personal,” perhaps one of the most difficult pictures in the book. In an interview, Dick said Monroe had given a performance as Marilyn Monroe earlier in the shoot, laughing and giggling and dancing. But then the shoot was over, and where was she? Who was she?

Hilton Als, Richard Avedon and James Baldwin’s Joint Examination of American Identity, November 13 2017 The New Yorker

(from here) 

 

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Invented stories as truth

“There’s this strong belief, almost a dogma, that novels are finished and reality’s outstripped fiction and therefore the only true literary form is the literary memoir, because you can only describe what happened to yourself . . But really, we’re constantly imagining and reimagining who we are. Most of what we choose to recall is selection and invention. I liked the idea of taking some facts from my life and creating a complete invention around them and in that way questioning what a memoir is.

“I wanted to reinforce the necessity and power of invented stories, because what’s happened isn’t that reality’s outstripped fiction. It’s that fiction has outstripped reality. From the claims of climate-change denialists to the £350 million per week that the Brexiteers were going to get back from the EU, to Donald Trump’s claims of the size of his inauguration crowds, none of these things were reality. They were fictions designed to bolster power and deny people the fundamental truth of the world. The fiction you get in novels speaks to that truth. Lies are a pernicious form of fiction, while novels are a liberating form of fiction that we need more than ever. In a way, my book is an argument for the necessity of novels.”

Richard Flanagan on his new novel,

Malcolm Knox The Age 27 Sept 2017 After the Booker: why Richard Flanagan isn’t playing safe

(from here) 

 

 

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How do we understand another person?

Some years ago, reading a book of systemic psychology, I came across the idea of “the enigmatic episode.” The idea is simple enough. Two people from quite different backgrounds meet and become involved in a relationship. Attracted erotically perhaps, each fascinated by the other, they become good friends. Then something occurs—meeting the other’s parents perhaps, participating in a political movement, contemplating some particular sexual activity—that reveals to them that they have quite different outlooks on life. Not just that they don’t agree, but that they don’t, as we say, understand where the other is coming from; the other person’s position is inexplicable, perhaps threatening.

In her book Semantic Polarities and Psychopathologies in the Family, the Italian psychologist Valeria Ugazio draws on two characters in Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being to explain the idea:

[Franz and Sabina’s] relationship is marked from the very beginning by enigmatic episodes: Kundera calls them “words misunderstood” and develops a short glossary of them…

 

Sabina asked Franz at a certain point: “Why don’t you sometimes use your strength on me?” Franz replied: “Because love means relinquishing strength.” And Sabina realized two things: firstly, that Franz’s words were noble and just; second, that with these words Franz disqualified himself in her eyes as a sexual partner.

 

Franz often told Sabina about his mother, perhaps with a sort of unconscious calculation. He imagined that Sabina would be attracted by his capacity for faithfulness and thus would have been won over by him. Franz did not know that Sabina was attracted by betrayal, and not by faithfulness.

 

When Sabina told him once about her walks in cemeteries, Franz shuddered with disgust. For him, cemeteries were “bone and stone dumps,” but for her they provided the only nostalgic memory of her country of birth, Bohemia.

 

Franz admired Sabina’s homeland. When she told him about herself and her Czech friends, Franz heard the words prison, persecution, tanks in the streets, emigration, posters and banned literature, and Sabina appeared even more beautiful because behind her he could glimpse the painful drama of her country…. Sabina felt no love for that drama. Prison, persecution, banned books, occupation and tanks were ugly words to her, devoid of the slightest romantic intrigue.

 

For Franz and Sabina to go on being a couple beyond the first phase of intense erotic attraction, each will have to open up and change, learn to see the world differently. But since, as Ugazio, points out, not everyone is eager to step outside the positions they have grown up with, many relationships will founder on the hazards of “words misunderstood.” So Franz and Sabina eventually break up. Yet that is not quite the end of the matter. After they have parted, Sabina begins to miss Franz. In the Montparnasse Cemetery she suddenly finds herself able to see, perhaps even to feel, cemeteries the way Franz did. To understand where he was coming from. Then she wishes she hadn’t been so impatient with him. The enigmatic episode has prompted a moment of growth.

Tim Parks, The Books We Don’t Understand, The New York review of Books , August 15 2017

(from here) 

The Books We Don’t Understand

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The desire to be seen

The deer stood at the edge of the forest and was miserable. He felt like there was no point in anything, like he might as well give up. I walk around here, day in and day out, the deer thought, and there’s no one who sees me. Am I invisible, or what? He didn’t think so. I walk around here and could change people’s lives if they could only see me, but no one sees me. Here I am, a hart, and no one cares. The whole point is that I am supposed to be difficult to see, I know that, I am supposed to roam around in the forest and not be seen. But it’s the very premise of my life that is now making me miserable. I want to be seen. So here I am at the edge of the forest. I am open to being seen, to being shot. If someone doesn’t see me soon, I’m going to do something drastic, I mean it. Right now it feels like I’m trapped in deerness. Oh, I would love to change everything, be someone else, something completely different.

Gunnhild Øyehaug

(from here) 

 

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Keeping a secret

[ The writer was raped  when she was twelve by a pack of boys, one of whom she loved. She  told no-one.  She  began eating and eating.]

Even as I became more and more withdrawn, my family remained strong, connected in these intimate, indelible ways. I have no doubt that my parents noticed the change in me. They would continue to notice, to worry over me, for the next twenty years and longer. But they didn’t know how to talk to me and I didn’t let them in. When they tried, I deflected, refusing to take the lifelines they offered me. The longer I kept my secret, the more attached I became to keeping my truth to myself, the more I nurtured my silence.

Roxane Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body        

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Story

. . . As I came near the Latin Quarter, a girl appeared in the crowd, walking alone. She wore a tight white crêpe dress, much whiter than flesh and she had a small, fluffy white mink stole around her shoulders and her bosom. She was very slim, and she walked like two snakes, while her hemline slithered around her knees. She was much too clever to wear a very short dress. She showed her knees, and left the rest to her audience, to us — to all of us. We all looked. Her dress was more than very tight. It was extremely tight. Nobody looked at her knees. Everybody looked at her lap. Her hair was gold and it glittered, and so did her slippers, which were of transparent plastic edged with gold. She carried a small handbag, also of transparent plastic edged with gold, but it contained nothing except a gold lipstick, which rolled about like dice. I thought at first she must have some money tucked away in the tops of her stockings or somewhere, but as far as I could make out she had nothing at all under her dress. We all stared at her, in our different ways, and from our attention she drew the air of indifference which made her a star. She cast swift glances right and left to show us how she despised us all, and then she vanished, leaving us but nothing to look at but ourselves.

Maeve Brennan, The Long-Winded Lady, Maeve Brennan (1917 –1993)[1] was an Irish short story writer and journalist. She moved to the United States in 1934 where she wrote a column for The New Yorker, The Long-Winded Lady

(from here) 

 

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