To be a self, one must also be nothing. To know oneself, one must be able to know nothing. The asomnics know the world continuously and immediately, with no empty time, no room for selfhood. Having no dreams, they tell no stories and so have no use for language. Without language, they have no lies. Thus they have no future. They live here, now, perfectly in touch. They live in pure fact. But they can’t live in truth, because the way to truth, says the philosophers, is through lies and dreams.
Ursula K. LeGuin, “Wake Island”, Changing Planes, New York: Harcourt, 2003, pp. 164-165
Illustration inspired by an Inuit drawing
As a small child [Edith Wharton] had a curious practice of what she called ‘making up.’ Before she could read she would sit for hours with a book in her lap and pretend she was reading a story from it. The blacker and denser the print the better. She would walk up and down rapidly and enter into a sort of ecstasy of spoken composition; once her mother tried to take down what she was saying but couldn’t keep up. When a child came to pay a call, she asked her mother to ‘entertain that little girl for me. I’ve got to make up.’ Later, when she learned to read, her delving into real texts continued to parallel these obsessive inventions.
Edmund White, “The House of Edith”, New York Review of Books, 26 April, 2007, p. 39
Illustration inspired by the credits of the TV series Game of Thrones
Stories are the houses we live in. They are the food we set on the table, consume, and absorb into the blood. Stories do not exist fully, however, except in the physical presence of those who tell them. Later, mysteriously, they maintain this physicality when they well up to our inner eyes and resound in our inner ears in the process we call memory. Storytellers are thus the architects and masons of our universe. They build arcs of invisible stone that span huge banquet rooms. They also build the commonplace rooms that shelter us routinely. Whether in grand or humble style, storytellers serve us the spiritual food we live by, both the plain truths and the more delicious lies.
Who are the storytellers, then? … [In fact,] we are all both storytellers and story hearers. We must be both these things if we are to navigate the world in which we live, each part of which … is partly our own making. Barring some terrible trauma, these twin faculties of storytelling and story hearing are inalienably ours from a very early age. Throughout life these faculties remain at the core of our intelligent being, shaping our thoughts, calling us back from error, and guiding us incrementally toward whatever our future may hold.
John Niles, Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999: 64-65
Illustration inspired by the logo of the Kalevala Society
It is true that storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it, that it brings about consent and reconciliation with things as they really are, and that we may even trust it to contain eventually by implication the last word which we expect from the ‘day of judgement’.
Hanna Arendt, “Isak Dinesen, 1885-1962”, in Isak Dinesen, Daguerrotypes and Other Essays, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, p. xx; Arend’s essay on Dinesen was first published in 1968.
Illustration based on a Buddhist image.
Fairy tale: indicating to us the possibility of impossible occurrences under possible or impossible conditions. (Goethe)
Translated by W. Mieder in “Fairy tale allusions in modern German aphorisms”, in D. Haase (ed.), The Reception of Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions, Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1993, p. 150.
Illustration based on a mix animal from the imaginary of the ancient world.
Stories are like genes, they keep part of us alive after the end of our story, and there is something very moving about Scheherazade entering on the happiness ever after, not at her wedding, but after 1001 tales and three children.