Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Planet Full of Narrators

I am reading an essay by Karen Brennan called "Dream, Memory, Story, and the Recovery of Narrative." (from Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life, edited by Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi)

Basically, it's about what Brennan has learned about the importance of narrative since her daughter's traumatic brain injury, which affected her daughter's memory. And not just her memory, but her ability to connect one moment to the next: "I did this, and because of that, I did this next." Something I never realized was so important. It's what writers do all the time, of course, but more than that, it's what human beings do in order to function.

What I'm taking from it is that stories are essential-- and actually, instinctual. We're hard-wired to create narratives. What does that mean for writers? I have no idea. I'm going to let it all percolate. But here's a good quote from the essay:

Memory, according to Bergson, occupies the space between mind and body. It conveys mind to body and body to mind. It gives us our quality of life—makes possible, in other words, the narratives that keep our lives going forward to the next thing. If the thing is not next it loses its richness—isolated and unlinked to a history, it becomes meaningless, even ridiculous. Biologically and neurologically, we are creatures of context, of narrative.

Consider, for example, the activity of the neurons or brain cells. Unlike the body’s cells, which divide and multiply, microcosmically illustrating the propagation of the species, neurons are systems of communication. Their most salient features are a clutch of dendrites, which branch out to receive information across the synapses between cells, and a long, single axon, which reaches to the synapse—literally the space between neurons—through which chemical and electrical information are conveyed to the next cell.

By nature, then, the activity of the neuron is narrative, metonymic, associative. The information conveyed by each neuron accumulates along a complex circuitry of neurons and produces a thought, a corresponding action in the mind-body.

Oh! And also, this one's pretty interesting too:

Memory is always configured on a gap-- to re-member suggests the forgetfulness, the loss upon which it is founded.


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