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June 10, 2007

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How true! Our imagination, empathy articulation and connection to the past and future, are all stimulated by telling, reading and listening to stories.

I recently read Reading Lolita in Tehran. I didn't like the book too much. But author, Azar Nafisi makes similar points about fiction. In her case and in those of her students and contemporaries, it was also about keeping one's sanity in a familiar world which had suddenly gone insane.

You state this well - and I don't think it's limited to fiction. I once wrote an essay about this in which I talked about how people seem to need to tell stories about their experiences in the wilderness in order to enjoy it or understand it, and I've since decided that the same thing is essentially true of nonfiction, as well - in both fiction and nonfiction, we use rhetorical devices to order our experience and perceptions and present it to others, usually with the intent to persuade them to see things our way -- our experience, or our point of view.

Thanks for your thoughts. I do strongly believe that stories are essential to the human experience on many levels. In fact, I'd actually go father than either of you (and perhaps even Azar Nafisi, whose book I haven't read but have been intrigued by) and say that I believe we really can't understand anything at all without first making it into a story that we can tell ourselves. Not just in terms of fiction or non-fiction, but our entire experience of the world: literally who we are and how the world works.

Benjamin, I enjoyed your nature piece—especially the part about bears!

Thanks for reading it, Usha - and I would agree that story-telling is how we process things. I do wonder, however, how learning styles affect one's story-telling. For example, my wife is an extremely visual learner - she designs gardens for a living, and even when someone's yard is ripped up and there's nothing there but mud, she can see what it will look like, in 3-D, through the seasons. I can't. But I can sure *talk* about it, or *write* about it. When she's tired, she can't hear very many words before she overloads - whereas, I think if I simply keep talking, I'll get through. So I'm wondering if the stories she tells herself to make sense of her experience are primarily visual ones. --I'd ask her, but I'm not sure she could tell me.

That's an interesting point you raise about the visual processing of information, and that it is likely a different kind of story-telling. Story-telling to one's self (within one's own head) need not be strictly verbal—although, it seems likely to me that the ability to do it is probably still tied to verbal ability. And, ultimately, when we convey our understanding to another person, we usually have to make it a verbal story.

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