We are stories


I was recently led to write an “artistic statement” in which I had to define the artist I am /am becoming. I wrote somewhere in there that “telling (and being told) stories is one of the best ways of being alive and making the best of our lives – as individuals and as communities. Stories allow us to learn about the world, question it, play and engage with it”.

I strongly believe this, but I think that my own quote about the importance of storytelling is rather bland. So I set out to find more insightful views on this matter.

The French essayist Alain Finkielkraut says the following: « L’œuvre a un lien avec le monde et nous avons besoin de ce détour pour mieux comprendre ce qu’il en est de nous dans ce monde. » The story is connected to the world; we need to take a detour through the story in order to understand where we stand in this world. (He is referring to books but I believe it is not abusive to apply it to any kind of storytelling).

For Paul Ricoeur, the French philosopher who extensively contributed to narrative theory, the function of fiction is to reveal and transform our daily praxis. It reveals because it sheds light on hidden aspects of our experience; it transforms because examining life is akin to changing life. Here is the (prettier) original quote: « La fonction de la fiction [est] (…) révélante et transformante à l’égard de la pratique quotidienne; révélante, en ce sens qu’elle porte au jour des traits dissimulés, mais déjà dessinés au cœur de notre expérience praxique; transformante, en ce sens qu’une vie ainsi examinée est une vie changée. »

The French (script)writer Jean-Claude Carrière has often talked about the « storyteller » (le conteur), seeing himself as one. The storyteller is the one who provides others with words. She carries the unknown, the mystery that we as communities strive to understand. In this interview to L’Express, he details the possible links between the storyteller and her audience. Number 1 – the storyteller tells a story that the audience already knows. It’s all about form; it’s the way of telling the story that provides the insight. Number 2 – the storyteller tells a story that the audience doesn’t know. She is taking the audience into another world. Number 3 – the storyteller tells a story that she herself doesn’t know. This is what I often do with my son to get him to brush his teeth – and suddenly blue lions enter the bathroom only to be taken away by an evil sorcerer, and I’m as much in awe as he is. This is also what happens when I write a script. Number 4 – the storyteller tells a story that she herself doesn’t know to an audience that knows. Puzzling? An accurate description of the potential and potentially transforming bond between storyteller, story and audience.

Wasn’t it wonderful when we were children to read those adventure and fantasy books? And what about “The Goonies”? The impact of these narratives on the construction of the person I am is undeniable. Each of those moments spent reading or watching was an opportunity to take the world in, research and experiment the person I wanted to become. Learn about the world, about myself, go places in space and time. Projection is perhaps the word that better captures it.

As an adult, I do feel though that my relation with fiction is of a different kind. Grown-ups are still in motion, becoming themselves until they die, but well, there’s a threshold we’ve crossed, that thing called loss of innocence, which can happen in many chapters. When I see a film or read a book nowadays, I feel the closest to it when it takes me in, not out. In, deeper, deepening the vocabulary of my own imperfection and the imperfection of the world. Enriching and structuring my longing and my disenchantment.

“Books, which we mistake for consolation, only add depth to our sorrow.” (Orhan Pamuk)