(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘stories

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world”*…

Shortly after 335 B.C., within a newly built library tucked just east of Athens’ limestone city walls, a free-thinking Greek polymath by the name of Aristotle gathered up an armful of old theater scripts. As he pored over their delicate papyrus in the amber flicker of a sesame lamp, he was struck by a revolutionary idea: What if literature was an invention for making us happier and healthier? The idea made intuitive sense; when people felt bored, or unhappy, or at a loss for meaning, they frequently turned to plays or poetry. And afterwards, they often reported feeling better. But what could be the secret to literature’s feel-better power? What hidden nuts-and-bolts conveyed its psychological benefits?

After carefully investigating the matter, Aristotle inked a short treatise that became known as the Poetics. In it, he proposed that literature was more than a single invention; it was many inventions, each constructed from an innovative use of story. Story includes the countless varieties of plot and character—and it also includes the equally various narrators that give each literary work its distinct style or voice. Those story elements, Aristotle hypothesized, could plug into our imagination, our emotions, and other parts of our psyche, troubleshooting and even improving our mental function.

Aristotle’s idea was so unusual that, for more than two millennia, his account of literary inventions existed as an intellectual one-off, too intriguing to be forgotten but also too idiosyncratic to be developed further. In the mid-20th century, R. S. Crane and the renegade professors of the Chicago School revived the Poetics’ techno-scientific method, using it to excavate literary inventions from Shakespearean tragedies, 18th-century novels, and other works that Aristotle never knew. Later, in the early 2000s, one of the Chicago School’s students, James Phelan, co-founded Ohio State’s Project Narrative, where I now work as a professor of story science. Project Narrative is the world’s leading academic think tank for the study of stories, and in our research labs, with the help of neuroscientists and psychologists from across the globe, we’ve uncovered dozens more literary inventions in Zhou Dynasty lyrics, Italian operas, West African epics, classic children’s books, great American novels, Agatha Christie crime fictions, Mesoamerican myths, and even Hollywood television scripts.

These literary inventions can alleviate grief, improve your problem-solving skills, dispense the anti-depressant effects of LSD, boost your creativity, provide therapy for trauma (including both kinds of PTSD), spark joy, dole out a better energy kick than caffeine, lower your odds of dying alone, and (as impossible as it sounds) increase the chance that your dreams will come true. They can even make you a more loving spouse and generous friend

Recurring story elements that have proven effects on our imagination and our psyche: “Eight of Literature’s Most Powerful Inventions—and the Neuroscience Behind How They Work.” (Excerpted from Angus Fletcher’s Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature.)

* Philip Pullman

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As we noodle narratives, we might send a combo birthday and St Patrick’s Day greeting to Catherine “Kate” Greenaway; she was born on this date in 1846.  Creator of books for children such as Mother Goose (1881), Little Ann (1883), and The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1889), she was one of the most the most accomplished illustrators of her time– and the inspiration for The Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the U.K. to an illustrator of children’s books.

Greenaway’s illustration of the Pied Piper leading the children out of Hamelin; for Robert Browning’s version of the tale.

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“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world”*…

 

Grace

Before dinner the Reverend Newman said grace: “Heavenly Father. What kind of a heel do you think I am? How dare you talk to me like that! Don’t give me any of your back talk, smart-ass. It’s been an  of a week. I sinned and brought shame down on us. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no big deal. You don’t know dick about this—you haven’t a clue! I suppose you believe that rubbish about vampires. The allegations were false, do you understand me? Baseless allegations. I believe in ghosts. Too bad, but that’s the way it is. Why don’t you leave me alone? Go on, get lost! I’ll get mine, you get yours, we’ll all get wealthy. Amen to that!”

More stories composed entirely of example sentences for the New Oxford American Dictionary at Dictionary Stories.

* Philip Pullman

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As we channel our inner Tristan Tzara, we might recall that  it was on this date in 1937 that George Allen & Unwin published J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.  Widely critically-acclaimed in its time (nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction), it was a success with readers, and spawned a sequel… which became the trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

Cover of the first edition, featuring a drawing by Tolkien

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it…”*

Today we revisit James– “DawnPaladin” on Deviant Art— and his handy reference for readers, viewers, and listeners: The Periodic Table of Storytelling.

Click here for James’ explanation, again on the image there for a larger version; and click here for the source material at our old friends TV Tropes… which has been materially updated/expanded since our last visit.

* Hannah Arendt

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As we prepare to tell tantalizing tales, we might send pious but modern birthday greetings to Laurence Sterne; he was born on this date in 1713.  An Anglican clergyman known in his own time for his published sermons and memoirs, Sterne is surely best remembered these days for his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.  

Tristram Shandy was roughly received in England on its publication.  It parodies accepted narrative form, playing with narrative time and voice, and includes a healthy dose of “bawdy” humor– which led to its being largely dismissed by the likes of Samuel Johnson as being too corrupt.  But it was a hit on the Continent; indeed, Voltaire declared it “clearly superior to Rabelais.”  That said, Sterne’s real influence had a longer fuse.  As Italo Calvino observed, Tristram Shandy is the “undoubted progenitor of all avant-garde novels of our century,” one that, in its challenges to the formal concept of the novel, had powerful influence on Modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and more contemporary writers like Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace.

Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Sterne (1760)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 24, 2013 at 1:01 am

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