Saturday, March 21, 2009

Telling the Same Story

"... at times, one might almost believe that from the first dawn of consciousness throughout the ages, mankind has constantly been telling itself the same story, though with infinite variations, to the rhythm of its breath and pulse."
--Ivo Andric, Nobel Prize acceptance speech

I just learned from Darwi about the author Ivo Andric, the Bosnian recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1961 (the year I was born).

I am endlessly interested in writers discussing writing--why do we do it? What's the point? And what is it, anyway? 
(We bloggers discuss this as much as any writer, I think.) Andric's speech has some good stuff on this topic.

What he says sounds a lot like what Doris Lessing said in her Nobel speech * . They say eloquently and unabashedly what I fumble toward expressing --hesitantly, sometimes, because it's so much more romantic than the cool academic criticism I was taught:

That we write because we are human, and that to weave words is human, like dancing. And while some of the stories will encourage fear and ignorance, others will help us endure the devastation arising from them--I don't say overcome or even, alas, avoid them, though one can hope. And try. 

The strands of stories are woven together, and we're not wise enough to censor them, so it's best not to. We need the rope.

I can imagine, like Doris Lessing, a scraggly group huddled around a fire on the continent of North America, after some possible future horror (god forbid). 
Someone will be telling stories about, say, how we used to immerse ourselves any time we wanted in tubs full of hot water. And how we worried about eating too much. And bought pet toys. Some will sigh, some will laugh, the children will disbelieve, and we'll all carry on, scratching in the dirt with sticks.

While I suppose it will be stories as much as anything that get us into the mess--stories we tell ourselves, for instance, that we can turn anything we touch to gold--it will be stories that comfort us afterward--eliciting laughter or sadness or wonder, or other true things--when we sit among piles of golden rubble, chewing on our shoes.

More importantly, because we are a short-sighted species, stories matter because they address the everyday horrors of our individual lives. 
Who gets through life without breaking what we love, or being broken? And everyday hopes happen too, one hopes. When we read old stories, we see the breakage and the longing look the same as ours, though with infinite variations, and the stories do too.

While this can be disheartening--do we have to keep doing this stuff over and over?--it's cheering too. 
If something good survived this, this fall of empire, this broken heart, this plague, maybe I, maybe we, can too. Or maybe our stories can.
Or, if the stories don't survive (blogs without electricity don't exist), so what?
People will tell new ones, and--funny thing--they'll sound the same.
* Doris Lessing Nobel Lecture:
"The storyteller is deep inside every one of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is ravaged by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise. But the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us - for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative."


PaulD said...

This,fresca, is not one for skimming. Very good observation and insight. I struggle too with these same issues that you articulated so well. The stories do get told over and over, and as they're learned, they're re-told.

Synchronicity strikes again! I've recently been commenting to myself on how these (Ed Hoagland, & "Best Essays of 1999) accomplished (published & paid)writers seem to obsessively write about writing. Till I noticed it, I thought it was only my unresolved peculiarity.

Other than "broken", its my notion that we get worn & frayed; but still, we write on. Do, please.

poodletail said...

Yes. Do, please.
Sometimes the "so what?" part is frustrating. Today, on this beautiful day of spring it, along with your photograph from last night, helps me feel the fullness of time.

bink said...

I think it is comforting that the new stories people will tell are the old stories retold without trying.

I do often lay in the tub and wonder if--with water shortages looming off the horizon--I will get to have such luxuries when I am older.

momo said...

In a book in my office, I have a wonderful poem by Ursula K Leguin about why people tell stories, but for now here is a link to her words about writing to a young writer:

fresca said...

Paul: "Frayed and worn" is a GREAT way of putting it! Thanks for your encouragement.

Poodle: Yeah, my saying "so what" seems a bit flippant, maybe, but I know you know I don't mean it that way. The reality of it is indeed "frustrating," to say the least! But yeah, some days I get it all in perspective and cay see the "fullness of time," as you and Andric say.

Bink: Hot baths... I hope we don't live to see their end! I too think the parade of stories is comforting.

Momo: Thanks for the link! Cool: Writers too are saying the same things over and over!

Nancy said...

We tell stories because it is the way we teach each other to survive.

fresca said...

Nice, Nancy.