CB 106.1: ”Narrative and Stories,” as described by Marc Maron, Jesse Thorn, Errol Morris, Lawrence Weschler, and others.
Returning briefly to the idea of this tumblr account as a repository of my random, disconnected thoughts; on Monday’s WTF Marc Maron discussed in his opening monologue (before he proceeded to be somewhat of a condescending dick to Andy Daly) a quote from Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, an oft-mentioned Maron favorite. He repeated it like a mantra, ”People create the reality they need in order to discover themselves.” This triggered something in me, something likely familiar to anyone that listens to too many podcasts or reads too many random articles and eventually loses track of where ideas originate. It’s when one independent idea merges with a vaguely related idea from your recent past and starts a flow of thought, like one bead of condensation merging with another and accelerating.
Becker’s quote on creating our own subjective reality dovetailed with another conversation I’d listened to on the overwhelming human desire for narrative. The reality we carry in our mind, our own story line or narrative, is just that—something of our own creation, and not an objective reality shared by all. And to carry that a step further, the narrative we create individually and collectively as a society can become more powerful and persuasive (perhaps dangerously so) than the objective reality it’s attempting to describe. Before I inject too much of my own commentary, I want to track my initial train of thought which was from Maron on Becker to Jesse Thorn on Errol Morris. A few months back I was listening to the Bullseye podcast on which host Jesse Thorn was interviewing acclaimed documentarian, Errol Morris. They were discussing Morris’s new film, “Tabloid,” and the topic turned to the tabloid medium itself:
Jesse Thorn: Yes, and tabloids are about story-telling above all else. Depending on the tabloid, they have various degrees of grounding in the truth.
Errol Morris: Simplified story-telling. Story-telling almost in the abstract. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the tabloid idea is, if you can’t hook somebody four or five or six words in, game over. You’ve got to work fast, you have to be succinct. You might call tabloid story-telling story-telling ground zero. It’s the essence of it. I do something a little bit different, I hope I’m not confessing to something that’s going to get me into trouble. It’s really as you described, I’m very much interested in how stories are constructed. I like tabloid stories, but I also like sneaking a peak behind the curtain of looking at how tabloid stories come to be, how they’re manufactured. It’s a way for giving us perspective on narrative, on stories, on the relationship between, and this is one of my fiends, certainly something that interests me, the relationship between stories and the truth. Do stories blind us to the truth? Do they help us see the truth? Do we really need stories in order to survive? What would life be without them? How would we ever navigate the chaos of reality without some way of taking all of these crazy experiences and details and making sense of them?
They returned to the subject of narrative again shortly:
Thorn: Well, “This American Life” is a show that is more dedicated to the narrative form than basically anything ever. Another one of my favorite public radio shows is a show called “On the Media.” When I listen to those, one of the things that is always coming up in my head is wondering about how that human craving for narrative shapes the world – shapes the way we, not just process information, but what information we process.
Morris: In countless ways that we can’t even imagine. Stories are so powerful that we exclude informational evidence because it doesn’t conform to the story that we have in mind, the story that we feel most comfortable with, the story that we wish to believe. Stories may even be more powerful than the world around us.
Thorn: That’s serious stuff you’re rolling out here, Errol Morris.
The conversation seemed so vital at the time and has remained on my mind. In a year that will include both the summer olympics and a presidential election, we’re inundated with competing story lines. Sport and politics. Two subjects which can be exhausting precisely because they’re rife with a desperate need to narrativize.
Also, it struck me for the first time in my life I feel I’ve lived long enough to really tell a story and create my own narrative when someone asks me “Where did you come from?” or “What led you here?” I find myself injecting all the traditional elements of storytelling: a beginning, personal problems and controversy, heightened action, overcoming adversity, and a soft landing in the present with a happy conclusion. In the end the story I told, while being completely truthful, will often not really resemble my life in the least, but it’s convenient and so it becomes necessary, I suppose.