Archive for January, 2013

☞ This article is on vegan empowerment, but much of it has to do with narrative as a shaping device. One of the ways by which the process of empowerment or disempowerment could be viewed is by seeing it through the eyepiece of narrative. In this light, empowerment is the attempt to ensure that the dominant narrative that suppresses a person or group of persons is subverted and replaced by a narrative that views the person or group more favourably. The article views the narrative that substitutes the dominant narrative as the “true” narrative. It is of course “true” from the perspective of those who stand to benefit from it. From a more value-neutral perspective, what can be seen here is the dynamics of narrative in the dialectics of empowerment and disempowerment, where a group uses a dominant narrative to perpetuate its power, whilst another group tries to subvert this for its empowerment by introducing an alternative narrative. 

✲ “History is shaped not by weapons, or tyrants, or rebellions. History is shaped by stories. Beneath every oppression and every revolution are narratives that guide them: we cannot invade and take up arms against another without first believing the story that the other is our enemy who must be conquered, just as we cannot stand together in protest of violent invasions without believing the story that the war is unjust.

Dominant narratives are the stories told by the dominant culture; they define our reality and guide our lives like an invisible hand. And when the dominant culture is oppressive, so, too, are its narratives. Such narratives are fictions, constructed to delude people into supporting the dominant way of life even though that way of life runs counter to what they would otherwise support, and to silence the voices of people who seek to tell the truth. Thus, social change is made possible by those who challenge the dominant narratives, replacing fictions with facts by bearing witness to and speaking out against oppression. Revolutions that change the course of history are made possible by those who speak truth to power.”

✲ “Stories shape our lives, and our world, for better or worse.

When women believed the stories told by the dominant, sexist culture – when they looked at the world through the eyes of (sexist) males – they believed that their own personal deficiencies, rather than external power structures, were to blame for their lower social status.

Stories can be fiction or fact.

The dominant story of sexist culture – that women were inferior because they were overly emotional, weak, and irrational – was based on gross distortions of the truth about women’s true nature and experience. It was a fiction. True stories, on the other hand, reflect the authentic truth of our experience.

Widespread stories reflect (and reinforce) a widespread belief system, or ideology.

The story that women were inferior to men did not come out of nowhere; it reflected the widespread ideology of sexism. And the more men and women alike bought into this fiction, the more they reinforced the sexist system, playing out and thus confirming the stereotypes of dominant males and submissive females.

When we change our stories, we change our lives, and our world.

As vegans, we are largely aware of the fictions spun by the dominant, animal-eating culture; our advocacy is organized around providing alternative, truthful stories. But there are some dominant stories that many vegans remain unaware of, and these stories can cause us to feel disempowered and despairing and they can seriously undermine our advocacy. When we become aware of these stories, though, we can rewrite them, and transform our despair into inspiration and empower ourselves and our movement.”

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☞ Giving more details of one’s narrative is always a tricky issue. In any narrative, details must be minimal: one must give only as much as is needed for the narrative, and no more. Too many details would bog down the narrative, and make it slow and meandering (at least for those parts of the narrative where the details were given). But too few details may leave the narrative hanging in the air, and the respondent would not be able to fully understand what is going on in the narrative. As Holly Robinson says in this article, the novelist is presenting a world in his or her novel. One of the ways to adequately present this world is to resort to a back-story (or back-stories). But how much of this should be given?

‟Most of us become novelists because we don’t envision moments. We envision worlds.

Novelists must fully inhabit those worlds to write about them. We don’t just need to know what our characters are doing right now. We must understand who these people were before facing the conflicts we throw their way. But that doesn’t mean our readers have to suffer through reams of back story or flashbacks (the events that happened before your novel opens). In fact, the less back story you have, the better your novel will flow.

This doesn’t mean skimping on character development. Even if you’re writing a plot-driven mystery or an engineer’s wet dream of a science fiction book, you want your characters to develop beyond the paper doll stage. You know their eye colors, the way they walk, the slang they use, and their favorite cocktails. If you’re clever, you’ll even give your bad guys a few good qualities and your heroes some flaws to keep things real and 3D.”

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by Holly Robinson in The Huffington Post 
Author of Sleeping Tigers and
The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir

☞ Authenticity appears to be a more important issue, thus far, on my Cinematic Narrative blog. The following article, on brand storytelling, highlights its general importance. As we have seen on the Cinematic Narrative blog, the issue of authenticity is not only confined to narratives that purport to be non-fictional, such as Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, but it might also be an issue in some fictional narratives, such as Tarantino’s Django Unchained. It is therefore an issue that applies to narrative in general, especially if the narrative touches on some contentious concerns of the real world.

“One thing that all good stories have in common is authenticity; the ability to portray characters and plotlines in a way that give them both longevity and a very real impact in our lives, whether fictional or based on true life experience.

So, why shouldn’t storytelling transcend to today’s fast-paced, always-connected world and more particularly play a crucial role in the way a brand engages people?

Enter the narrative and its ability to convey and establish a brand that rings true to its consumers. Based on the fundamentals of storytelling it can play an invaluable role in the way creatives develop and deliver communication messages and campaigns that go beyond the clutter in today’s flooded marketplace.

Explains Ricardo Rocha, executive creative director at Etiket, an Irene-based, multi-award winning advertising agency: “A brand should be seen as a person that has a story to tell. People build their personalities through context which is the direct result of narrative that develops through their past, present and future.””

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☞ A WordPress article, from which the following extract is taken, touches on an issue that was presented on my blogpost on Philip Zack’s “Narrative as scaffolding” (references and links are given below). It argues that not only is our perception of reality mediated through narrative, but goes a step further, by claiming that the mind itself is narrative. As I see it, the mind has a natural predisposition towards arranging any information it receives in terms of narrative, and our perception is thus influenced by this. The term “homo narrans” also appears in another blogpost on this site: Robert Bidinotto’ s “Are We “Homo Narrans”?”

“My first proclivity towards theories about the narrative mind came from writer Anne Forest in her book, God in The Machine. It was that book’s first chapter, ‘re-creating ourselves’ where I originally came across the term, “Homo Narrans,” which definably serves to classify our species as the evolutionary story-teller. I had originally purchased and read the book based on the assumption that it would describe “what robots teach us about humanity and god,” and instead came out with an entirely new outlook on humanity and its narrative mind. Prior to Anne Forest, I had read some Jung (Man and His Symbols), and Campbell (Hero With a Thousand Faces), but it was not until Anne Forest’s book, where the issue of robotics served more metaphorically for me then topically, that I began to pursue this new found discourse for spirituality: the narrative mind.

The narrative mind is defined solely by realizing that the mind as a constructed space is in actuality a man made narrative. In agreeing with Matthew Alper in his book, The ‘God’ Part of the Brain (one that I have renamed “The ‘Narrative’ Part of the Brain”), I would offer the same as him in saying there is a dichotomy between the brain, as an organ, and the mind as a perceived space. However, to say that the mind is a narrative is not necessarily to claim that it is illusionary or that its narrative is fiction, but rather the construction of the mind becomes described as a narrative within the realms of its allegorical function. For the mind really only is a metaphor to describe the dimensions of our “felt” metaphysical selves. To disregard the mind as fantasy, or to deny its truthfulness, is to disregard the fact that the “god/narrative” part of our brain not only exists as a proven neurological function, but also that it serves it purposes evolutionarily as well. For the purpose of remaining concise, I will forward Matthew Alper to describe what exactly this purpose is. For my more inclined viewership I would also forward you to Carl Jung.

To discover the narrative mind is to also accept that the ability of perception is also part of this narrative. The narrative I am referring to is of course the acceptance that any of our senses (not just the big 5) is not an immediate perception, but rather a process as dictated by our brains and realized within our minds.”

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A master digital storyteller:

“1. Understands the need for all humans to connect and bond.

2. Knows the importance of putting a face on a story (the human factor).

3. Shares many aspects of the brand, culture, employees, C-suite, investors, customers, and community.

4. Travels deep into the multiple layers of stories he or she is surrounded by and confidently uses available social channels to create cohesive and compelling content for internal and external communications.

5. Appreciates the opportunity to drive and influence mass numbers of people to bring them a transparent and balanced story — without the media.

6. Weaves images, video, audio, graphics, and other social tools to make stories pop and impact people.

7. Keeps his or her news radar and antennae up at all times knowing that there are stories, profiles, pictures, video clips, blog posts, and interviews just waiting to be developed and shared.”

from: “7 secrets of a master digital storyteller

☞ How much of the above apply to other types or approaches to storytelling? It is clear that most of the points above apply to digital storytelling (or the particular type of digital storytelling discussed in the article) and may not apply across the board. But still, an interesting formulation of what this particular type of digital storytelling entails and what is needed to make it effective.

☞ In an earlier post, where I quoted from an article titled “Narrative as scaffolding” on this blog, Phlip Zack argues that political perception cannot be immediate, as perception itself is mediated by narratives. I also mentioned that in the previous American Presidential election, Obama understood the importance of storytelling, and made good use of it in his campaign. Romney, as a contrast, did not, and in fact criticised Obama for believing that he should have engaged the people better through more effective storytelling in his first term as President (see Romney, RNC react to Obama’s comments on his biggest mistake). Romney’s failure to devise an effective narrative for himself was one of several factors that eventually led to his defeat. But would a future Republican Presidential candidate have a more effective story (or set of stories) to help him in his campaign? Jon Ward thinks that there is one, in the person of Marco Rubio, who, like Obama, appreciates the power of narrative in political engagement.

“Let us count the ways that Sen. Marco Rubio is already better positioned to be a competitive presidential candidate in 2016 than Mitt Romney ever was.

Marco Rubio - Caricature

Marco Rubio – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Rubio (R-Fla.) is younger. He’s Latino. He gives a good speech. But less remarked upon: Rubio understands the importance of talking about himself.

In other words, Rubio, 41, gets narrative.

For much of the last year, the Republican Party apparently did not. And the GOP’s self-examination in the wake of Romney’s loss has prompted many to say that the party needs to convey a more compelling, inspiring vision to American voters.

“The number one rule of competitive politics [is that] your story has to be rooted in lives of people. Having a narrative is really important,” said former president Bill Clinton.

Narrative has become an overused cliché in everyday political parlance, but as a concept it is as crucial as ever for any national politician. President Barack Obama paved his path to victory in 2008 by telling his own story in a 1995 memoir. And Obama’s longtime trusted adviser David Axelrod centered the 2008 campaign message firmly around the candidate’s biography.”

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☞ Narrative is not only confined to literature and mythology. It is a very important means through which we perceive reality. Indeed, arguably, reality itself is not only perceived through, but created with, narrative. Narrative is certainly important in politics, as we have seen earlier on this site, in the case of Obama, who understood the importance of narrative and storytelling better than his Presidential opponent, Mitt Romney. With a view towards explaining the importance of narrative in politics, Philip Zack argues, as seen in the series of quotations below, that it is something that we cannot escape from. The perception of raw sensory data is meaningless to us, unless it is mediated by narrative. In this light, narrative plays an active and domineering role in perception, and in the construction or reconstruction of perceptions in the realm of politics.

Change happens in any field because someone offers a different story of how and why things are or could be. We’ve achieved change by stepping into the world of a different narrative and making it real through our words and deeds.❞

Vase

Photo credit: Sunil Photos

✽ ❝Everything we know begins as raw sensory data, a pattern of light and color, perhaps. We make sense of that data by fitting it into a story — that the pattern depicts an object, in this case a vase. What happens next is important: we remember the vase, and discard the pattern.❞

✽ ❝There are all sorts of stories: static ones such as what that vase looks like from different directions, dynamic ones such as imagining pouring water from the vase, and complex ones such as having our medical bills paid for by insurance provided by the company that paid us to make a thousand of those vases. Some of these stories are our own creation, but most of them come from other people in the form of memes, or contagious ideas. The world as we know it is a dynamic ecosystem of interlocking stories, some of which are built on top of other stories. And like the animals and plants in biological ecosystems, some kinds of stories can only survive by dominating others, while other kinds of stories are able to coexist and even support one another.❞

✽ ❝Thinking of stories as living things — which is a meta-story you may not have encountered before — gives us a way to evaluate the relative merits of competing stories such as these. Set them down in front of you and see how they behave, how they interact with other storiesin the narrative ecosystem. Stories such as those with arcs about gaining dynastic power at the expense of others thrive by destroying competing stories that are not of benefit to them. Their objective is to be the last story standing, as it were. They do not make good neighbors. In contrast, stories such as those in which people benefit through collaboration are strengthened by building larger stories in which our personal stories have a stake.❞

✽ ❝Politics in the US has become a contest between competing stories describing what our nation is about, what the role of its government ought to be, and what is important in life. Thesestories, however, do not exist in a vacuum, because the narratives have been manipulated, and the raw data that we attempt to fit into these stories has been intentionally filtered and curated to appeal to our desire to associate it with a particular story so we can forget the data itself and go about our business.❞

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