From diarists and novelists, to playwrights and translators, a great many of the texts that we have studied this term deal explicitly with the role of storytellers in society. In some cases, writing has been depicted as an act fraught with danger, a powerful undertaking that can be destructive if it is not tightly disciplined. In others, the act of writing has been seen to work as a form of resistance to a hierarchical system that is self-sustainingly white, middle-class, and male. Elsewhere, writers and storytellers have sought shelter in, and forgiveness from, the stories they tell. Discuss the power and/or transformative function of writing and/or storytelling. You may wish to explore instances of textual resistance, cautionary tales about the power of writing, meditations on writing as a redemptive act, or a combination of the above.
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Some of my favorite storytellers aren't novelists. They're stand-up comics.
A number of really great comics have said that their breakthrough moment came when they realized that audiences respond best to an honest confession of shameful moments. This is, perhaps, the definition of catharsis - finding relief in the expression and communication of pain.
For the audience, there is an opportunity to silently connect to a community of sufferers. No longer is that guy in the audience the only one who pulled into the drive-through lane while trying to talk himself out of it, finding himself driven there, not by will, but by habit.
Are we also not intrigued with the variety of expression of the human experience? There is something that feeds the soul of the reader as he/she reads the interpretation of life by another kindred soul. The poet gives words to our own unformed thoughts, the playwright dramatizes our own inner struggles.
For me, part of the appeal of reading almost any kind of "literary" writing (that is, writing that makes us notice the actual writing, not just the content) is simply the chance to see what can be done with words. Shakespeare sometimes makes my jaw literally drop when I hear in my mind's ear what he is doing with the manipulation of sounds and rhythms, the playings with subtle variations on meaning, etc. The ways sentences are structured and phrased can be at least as fascinating as what they say. For me, the "power" of great writing has always been very closely connected with the actual details of the writing, and less with the paraphraseable meaning the writing conveys. There are few really original ideas, but there seem to be almost an infinite number of ways to express ideas in fresh and striking ways.
I don't know if you have studied this, but one of the best texts I have ever read about storytelling is by Mario Vargas Llosa, called The Storyteller, and analyses the function of orality and storytelling as part of ethnic identity. It is a study of how stories form the central kernel of identity, especially for ethnic minorities who may not be literate.
Examples of the "cases" your assignment mentions come to mind. In the first case, "fraught with danger," one thinks of the Elizabethan era during which Anonymous was so prolific as upper class and nobles who might like to write had to do so in a way as to protect their standing at court. The film Anonymous (2011) delves into this dangerous world in relation to the Shakespeare authorship question. Ben Jonson, from the same era, had very different views from Shakespeare regarding the moral requirements of comedy that exemplify the case of "destructive if it is not tightly disciplined." You might explore works from eras and writers who exemplify the different cases to build your discussion of "the power and/or transformative function of writing and/or storytelling."
Life is quite messy. It does not happen in a structured narrative, so we need stories, to impose some point or structure that helps us to reflect, to learn, to grow. We can see things through a microscope or a wide-angle lens, peer into another world, or look within ourselves in a new way. As you think about the texts you have read, think about what kind of order and purpose the writer had to give his or her readers. The example through the feminist lens is a good one, and there are no doubt many other lens to talk about.
This prompt is designed to encourage you, as you read or reread texts assigned in your class, to examine how those texts may have affected the societies in which they were written.
For example, if you read a work that portrayed women in a primarily subordinate position, you should examine (1) how that portrait, by reinforcing social stereotypes is complicit with patriarchy and (2) how images of women unhappy in such situation might subvert patriarchy by causing readers to understand how the system itself harms social relationships.
The particular areas you should interrogate for this prompt include race, class, and gender hierarchies. How does subaltern literature give voice to the marginalized, evoke sympathy, and create hope for its readers both of oppressed and oppressor classes?
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