There is a reason for the existence of clichés: the easiest stories to tell and to listen to are the ones that everyone knows already, the ones that reinforce the listeners’ beliefs. The less sophisticated the listeners are – the younger the children – the less likely they are to tolerate change or ambiguity. A bedtime story about Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Richard will drive a three-year-old slightly bananas if she knows anything at all about The Tale of Peter Rabbit. (Parents: try this at home!)Aqueduct Press will be releasing Narrative Power: Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles, ed. by L. Timmel Duchamp, on March 15, 2010.
Adults, as a rule, also like to hear the same stories, although they prefer that the stories have some differences – the human brain loves to detect differences. The popularity of familiar stories that reinforce the status quo is not limited to television and popular literature: historians repeat themselves.
Horatio-Alger stories thus become the narrative for male public figures who rise to success from poverty; for women, the story is more problematic, because female public figures are anomalous. In either case, the politics of the narrator inform the story being told. In narratives about women, as Joanna Russ has pointed out in her classic How to Suppress Women’s Writing, the narrator may simply deny that the woman actually accomplished anything worth noting. —from Eileen Gunn's introduction* to Narrative Power
It is commonly said that history is written by the victors: the narrator chooses the events that will be part of the story, and the narrative explains their meaning. In fiction, narrative conventions and clichés make writing and reading familiar stories easier, but also impede writers’ efforts to tell unfamiliar stories. This volume asks: Is narrative inherently dangerous? Empowering? Or even liberating? A mix of established and new writers join several scholars in considering the politics of narrative manifested in fiction, history, and science.
*Eileen's full introduction has been reprinted in the Winter 2010 Aqueduct Gazette, available here.
Table of Contents
1. Going to Narrative: Introduction by Eileen Gunn
Part I. Narrative and History
2. Carolyn Ives Gilman, “Telling Reality: Why Narrative Fails Us”
3. L. Timmel Duchamp, “Lost in the Archives: A Shattered Romance”
4. Ellen E. Kittell, “Patriarchal Imperialism and the Narrative of Women’s History”
5. Rebecca Wanzo, “The Era of Lost (White) Girls: On Body and Event”
Part II. Narrative Politics
6. Lesley A. Hall, “Beyond Madame Curie? The Invisibility of Women’s Narratives in Science”
7. Wendy Walker, “Imagination and Prison”
8. Lance Olsen, “Against Accessibility: Renewing the Difficult Imagination”
9. Alan DeNiro, “Reading The Best of A.E. Van Vogt”
10. Andrea Hairston, “Stories Are More Important Than Facts: Imagination as Resistance in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth”
11. Susan Palwick, “Suspending Disbelief: Story as a Political Catalyst”
12. Rebecca Wanzo, “Apocalyptic Empathy: A Parable of Postmodern Sentimentality”
Part III. Narrative and Writing Fiction
13. Samuel R. Delany, “The Life of/and Writing”
14. Nicola Griffith, “Living Fiction and Storybook Lives”
15. Eleanor Arnason, “Narrative and Class”
16. Rachel Swirksy, “Why We Tell the Story”
17. Claire Light, “Girl in Landscape: How to Fall into a Politically Useless Narrative Rut and Notions of How to Get Back Out”
Take it from me, there are some really fascinating essays by some really smart people in this book. If you're at all interested in how stories work, this book is for you. And guess what? Following our usual practice, you can purchase copies of Narrative Power for the special pre-release price of $16 until April 1 (through Aqueduct's website only).