Friday, September 07, 2007

Story Time

Goldilocks Story
I suppose that 'story' and 'narrative' are two of the most well-known features of post-modern thinking. But they still give me a lot to think about. The excerpt below comes from John Piper's 'Desiring God' blog. From a fairly conservative theologian it is interesting to see such a post-modern concept.
"One of the less obvious ways that our artistic utilitarianism shows itself is the impulse to reduce art to propositions about art. This is the only way that many people know how to interact with art—or at least the only way they trust. If we can say what a story means, for instance, and we've summed up this meaning in a statement about truth that we agree with, then we think it's a good story—good art. And if a story resists summary or does not distill into a statement we believe, then we have no use for it—it's bad art." Click here for the whole article.

I know that I need to get the hang of letting a story speak for itself, but I nearly always end up with 'what it means'. It's partly my training, I guess. Yet I know for 100% sure that a story speaks to people far more forcefully than any argument. And I encourage myself by saying that I could argue or explain the same point logically and in fact will have done in my preparation. It makes me scared that people will trust me. That they will hear what I say without needing to be convinced rationally.

Sometimes post-modernism takes it (in my mind) too far. If I understand 'deconstruction' correctly, neither the story-teller, nor the story communicates truth, but rather the hearer discerns his own truth in the story. The Piper article appeals to me in that the story cannot be reduced to morals, but nor is it just a vehicle for the hearers' preconceived ideas. There is truth in the story, to be discovered by those who listen. And hopefully the Holy Spirit, in the Christian context, is also involved in interpreting the story to the needs of the listener.

This got a bit more complicated than I intended! Sorry for over-simplifying some of the positions!


Grant Hillebrand said...

I don't think the brain can absorb anything without some form of context - abstracted rationalism, or generalised story. We sometimes weave ideas into our web of thoughts more easily when they are rational 'distilations'. But as a teacher, I find that "real" context - story - often helps us integrate thoughts more richly and completely.

I think it also depends on how honest we are with ourselves - rational, modern or post-modern - delusion is still a huge trap to being honest with our own learning

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Thanks for the comment! I'm not sure that I completely understand you. But I agree that it helps to have some sort of pegs in the ground that give you an indication of how you are expected to interpret the story. And maybe most of us are actually still quite happy with a 'modern' way of thinking. That must also be taken into account when teaching and preaching, I guess. If you wanted to expand on your second paragraph I'd be interested to understand what you mean?

David Barbour said...

I belong to a book club and I often sit and listen to people's interpretations of their books. I get annoyed when they don't find meaning other than the story line. I believe each story regardless of its authors intentions will hold some truth for us as we interact with it. It will widen my view of he world and myself.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Thanks David! I agree with you. But the other side of the story is that if I write something (presumably with a point in mind), I do hope that people will hear what I am saying and not just a rehashing of their own thoughts. It becomes scarier, I think, to let one's thoughts loose when people are free to interpret them as they please!