Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More on Telling Ourselves Stories

Speaking of history and how our stories change over time, I don't know why but this from Stephen Elliott's almost daily email resounded after yesterday's bout with Israeli confirmation bias...(FYI, unless you subscribe to his email via therumpus.net, you can't see Elliott's email; it's worth the time to subscribe; it's worth the time to hang out on the site (of which Elliott is the editor)):

In our round table yesterday I tried not to say things I've said before, but I failed. It's so easy to fall back on stories you've already told. I remember seeing Lawrence Wechsler and someone asked him about Ryzsard Kapuscinski and whether you were allowed to lie when writing history. Lawrence began to tell this story about Kapuscinski, how when he was writing about Iran he was actually writing about Poland, and Josh whispered to me that it was the same story Lawrence told years ago when Josh took his class at Columbia. And I thought, just answer the fucking question. And now I think you build up the stories, little connections. Occasionally you add a new one, like "I feel like I'm married to someone else's pornographic fantasy" or "honesty is bordered by self-knowledge." The new one goes on top of the pile and when you're asked a question you go to the bin and retrieve the best story you told last time. You tell yourself these stories too and occasionally something big happens, like you fall out of love, or a friend dies, and a whole bunch of these stories, which are really fragile as twigs, snap in half, and you have a lot more room, and you fill the space with more stories, more connections, start again.

I don't want to stretch this metaphor, this bin and these sticks, but I do think the point at which you can just reach into your past and give an answer you've already given no matter what the question is the point at which you've truly grown old.

I.e., no more 'something big,' no more new stories, perhaps just another way of going senile. The same story over and over.

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