In this blog we offer excerpts on the presence and forms of narration, both oral and written.
The excepts come from the most varied places, periods, imaginations and peoples.
The entries intend to offer to those that love it wherever it is present, a handful of curious, estrange, shocking, interesting, controversial traces of storytelling.
If this contributes to enlarge the view one may have about human beings as narrative creatures, and is an encouragement to tread new and old paths and ways of telling, with think objective we strive for will have been accomplished.
And if, in addition to this, the story of this blog tells us something new, beautiful or unexpected, we will feel rewarded, because telling without listening is an impossibility.
About the concept of homo narrans
As far as I know, the concept of homo narrans (“the human being that tells stories”) was introduced by the great German folklorist Kurt Ranke (1908-1985) in a paper presented in Prague in 1966 and published the following year. In the words of his student, Albrecht Lehmann, for Ranke the telling of stories was “a basic human need … to perceive the world in the fullness of its contents and functional dimensions in order to be able to tell about it. Every narrative research has to start from this universal human precondition”. For Ranke, any study of narration should start with this universal human precondition. Hungarian folklorist Linda Dégh (1920-2014), when referring to the newly-coined term in her classic study Folktales and Society (first published in German, 1962, English edition in 1969), said that it expressed “the sum total of Man as narrator and tradition bearer who shapes the different basic forms of narration by expressing desires, dreams and fears common to mankind”.
After this, in 1999, American Medievalist and folklorist John Niles gave the title Home Narrans to a book which, as its subtitle indicates, deals with “the poetics and anthropology of oral literature”. This work combines chapters about the Old English epic Beowulf with others about the history of folklore and the contemporary tradition of ballads and narratives of the Scottish Travelling people. Of special note is the second chapter, a profound reflexion on storytelling and the human condition. This book, which I read when I had already begun independently my own research about storytelling as a human need, gave me a great push. I quoted extensively from Niles’ book in the lecture I gave in 2000 at the Storytelling Marathon in Guadalajara, titled “Paying the storyteller”, and that was published, although not as I would have liked, the following year in the journal Lazarillo.
Two years after this, on 19 January, 2002, I was intrigued to see the words Homo narrans as the title of a short article published by the Spanish writer José María Merino in the books supplement of the Spanish newspaper El País. In this short text, Merino uses his own experience as reader and writer to develop a reflection about storytelling as a human trait that crystalized when our ancestors began to use language to tell stories, thus “giving sense and order, by means of fictions, to the incomprehensible and hostile chaos” that surrounded them. Merino articulates and develops this idea in some of the essays he gathered in his book Ficción continua, published in 2004.
Of course, it was not my intention to offer a complete history of the avatars and uses of the term homo narrans, but I hope I have conveyed the story of how it reached me and has provided this blog with a name.
-Albrecht Lehmann, “Cultural anthropology and narratology”. In Perspectiva antropológicas: Herramientas para el análisis de las sociedades europeas / Anthropological Perspectives: Tools for the Analysis of European Societies. Ed. by Klaus Schiewer and Salvador Cayuela Sánchez, Murcia: Ediciones de la Universidad de Murcia / Münster: Waxmann, 2014, p. 76
-Linda Dégh, Folktales and Society: Story-telling in a Hungarian Peasant Community, translated by Emily M. Schossberger. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1969, p. 377, note 2.
-John Niles, Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.
-José Manuel de Prada-Samper, “El precio de un cuento”. Lazarillo, segunda época, No 4, 2001, pp. 9-21.
-José María Merino, ‘Homo narrans’. El País (Babelia), 19 January 2002.
-José María Merino, Ficción continua. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 2004.