Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Theory or Narrative?

In the midst of my preparations to fly off to AAASS (the gigantic Slavic conference), I stopped to check my email. One email informed me that the discussant for my panel won't be able to attend, which was decidedly not welcome news.
A rather more agreeable item was Rob Breszny's take on my horoscope for the week:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Stories interest me more than beliefs. I'd rather
hear you regale me with tales of your travels than listen to you recite your dogmas. Filmmaker Ken Burns agrees with me. He's worried about the increasing number of people who love theories more than stories. "We are experiencing the death of narrative," he told the *San Francisco Chronicle.* "We are all so opinionated that we don't actually submit to narrative anymore. That's the essence of YouTube: Abbreviate everything into a digestible capsule that then becomes the conventional wisdom, which belies the experience of art." Your assignment, Leo, is to help reverse this soul-damaging trend. Spout fewer opinions and tell more stories. Encourage others to do the same.

I like this. While I have plenty of opinions, I don't think they're as interesting as a good story (though a good story can be wrapped around an opinion). And I certainly don't think theories are, as a rule, as interesting as stories. Some theories, yes. Not all. And who wants to hear "I'm going to tell you a bedtime theory..."?
The scholarly world often prefers theory to narrative, when actually it needs both. Narrative with no analysis is usually just raw material, but theory with no narrative quickly becomes indigestible. I suspect that's true even in the sciences.
As a primarily story-telling animal, I always imagine that it will be hard to inject the required amount of analysis into the work, but usually I find that if I tell enough story and get in enough description, the analysis follows in a surprisingly natural fashion.
Of course, it might be that this horoscope is really a call for me to write more fiction. That might be a bit difficult to do during a week in which I'm mostly exploring a major academic conference and maybe glancing over a dissertation chapter or two on the plane, but you never know.
At the moment, I'm mainly hoping not to get real laryngitis. I can talk, but my throat has that ominous laryngitis-feeling. That would be bad for both my panel and for storytelling with my various Slavic-specialist friends.

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Anonymous scorpio said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

November 16, 2007 1:53 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

Stories for me too, hands down.

November 18, 2007 9:27 AM  
Blogger Princess Haiku said...

In general I would prefer a ghost story to a critical exploration of some sort. But not alway...

Princess Haiku was last seen floating in the direction of the Leonid meteor shower..

The sparkles of color from the meteors flashed through her, as she attempted to catch them with her fingers.

November 18, 2007 10:49 PM  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Sounds like a communist plot to me.

November 26, 2007 9:01 PM  

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