Thursday, 24 September 2009

780 - Memory and Storytelling - Quotes

Two, from Jay Griffiths (Pip Pip: A Sideways Look At Time, 1999), then Frank Kermode (Palaces of Memory, 2001), linking the creation of stories and the recollection of events in complementary ways:

The Diana-story, like all great stories, was structured in time itself, to make a meaningful pattern out of casual time. Born in full summer, married in full summer, died in full summer.... At the day's noon, she was on top of the world, more alive than ever, and at its midnight she was dying, underground, in a tunnel.... Like all subjects of great myths and fables, Diana never chose her meaning; she was the silence at her own storytime.... George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, said of Diana that she 'combined the ordinary and the extraordinary'. And that was what happened to time, that week. The ordinary time of usual life met the extraordinary time of myth.... The mythic moment is where the profane present meets a sacred eternity.
(pp. 42-4)

As [Barrett J.] Mandel expresses it, the author [of an autobiography] is saying to the reader: 'My life was as this tale I am telling.' This is a satisfying formula, and it implies a claim that in this form... it will have power to indicate landmarks and confer meaning on what would otherwise be mnemonic trifles.
(p. 10)

What interests me is what these insights have to offer to the intentional storyer, the man or woman who sets out to introduce a story element into their life from here on in. Both are about what it takes to create a story out of life-events after they have happened. Griffiths and Kermode suggest that a winnowing is necessary: what is remembered is what it takes to convey a (probably pre-selected) narrative meaning to a life, 'making meaningful pattern out of casual time', 'indicating landmarks and conferring meaning on... trifles'. The rest is allowed to become background, through forgetting and the passing of time.

Griffiths also suggests that the application of meaning lifts an event out of ordinary and into mythic time. You could turn that into an equation: by the application of mythic time, an event might become meaningful. How then to reverse engineer the winnowing process? Storying must either be about pre-selecting the events one enters into, or achieving a sense of meaning that embraces everything that might randomly occur to one, so that no winnowing need occur, or some combination of the two.

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