Sunday, May 08, 2005

Story as Knowledge

One of the great benifits of working on the Walter J. Ong Archives is the things I come across and the time I have to look at them. One such treasure, for me at least, was Kevin M. Bradt, SJ's Story as a Way of Knowing. In the introduction, Bradt writes:

"In story, both listener and teller imaginatively 'leave' the constituted self to enter an alternative story world constructed from different hypotheses, assumptions, presuppositions, and possibilities. This imaginative journey concludes with the return to the self, but now a changed self, a self changed in and through the cocreative interaction of storying with another. This storying and restorying is what ultimately makes healing and hope possible.

"Unlike the language and method of science, story does not claim to 'represent' reality; instead it seeks to explore it, to consider its possible meanings and significances. This is possible in a world where reality is open, unknown, indeterminate, irreducible, where it is always 'more,' 'other,' 'different,' in short, mysterious. Mystery invites inquiry rather than definition, erotic participation rather than geometric proof, relationships rather than reason, pursuit rather than purchase. Therefore, we will also examine storying as that way of knowing which views reality as a coevolving mystery and a dialogue partner in the making and remaking of meaning.

"The technologies of writing and print, however, encouraged other modes of knowing, modes that drastically changed the relationship between the knower and the known. Print-based technologies -- from books to computers and word processing software -- were eventually dubbed 'modern' and accorded normative status. Knowledge was now derived from interacting with a text, not another person. And that text was the product of one person writing in isolation in one particular moment in time. Texts broke loose from their original contexts and from the immediacy of interpersonal relationships. The printed word acquired a primacy and power that the spoken word never had nor could have" (ix-x).

I want to overlook the problematic "product of one person writing in isolation in one particular moment in time" (I'm thinking in particular of Karen Burke Lefevre's Invention as a Social Act) and focus on the idea of stories loosing authority with the advent of print. Reading this, I thought about what T.A. Shippey calls the "Grimmian Revolution" brought about by the Grimm brothers comparative philology and mythology. Jacob Grimm turned to "spinster-women" and "old wives" for stories and dialect speech, and he was attacked for using such non-academic sources. This is, not surprisingly, a minor theme in The Lord of the Rings.

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