Narrative Gravity: Conversation, Cognition, Culture

Narrative Gravity: Conversation, Cognition, Culture

Narrative Gravity: Conversation, Cognition, Culture

Narrative Gravity: Conversation, Cognition, Culture


In this elegantly written and theoretically sophisticated work, Rukmini Bhaya Nair asks why human beings across the world are such compulsive and inventive storytellers. Extending current research in cognitive science and narratology, she argues that we seem to have a genetic drive to fabricate as a way of gaining the competitive advantages such fictions give us. She suggests that stories are a means of fusing causal and logical explanations of 'real' events with emotional recognition, so that the lessons taught to us as children, and then throughout our lives via stories, lay the cornerstones of our most crucial beliefs. Nair's conclusion is that our stories really do make us up, just as much as we make up our stories.


The Rigveda is one of the world's oldest texts. In it, the goddess Speech, personified and self-reflexive, speaks :

I move with the Rudras and the Vasus, with the Adityas and all the gods. … The one who eats food, who truly sees, who breathes, who hears what is said, does so through me. Though they do not realize it they dwell in me. Listen … what I tell you should be heeded … I gave birth to the father on the head of this world. My womb is in the waters, within the ocean, I am the one who blows like the wind, embracing all creatures. Beyond the earth, beyond the sky, so much have I become in my greatness. …

Three thousand years on, our intuitions about the mysteries of speech, its infinite range and great power, appear to have changed very little. What perhaps has altered more radically is our speech about Speech, the conversations we hold about language and the narratives we tell ourselves about its locus and origins. Most people interested in the relation of language to the world no longer subscribe to the view that speech 'embraces all creatures' or 'moves with the gods'. De-divinized and de-natured, speech is today indubitably a human-centred faculty, located within. Neither Noam Chomsky, nor Jacques Derrida, nor John Searle, all otherwise pulling in very different philosophical directions,

Translated by Doniger O'Flaherty, The Rig Veda, 1981, p. 63. O'Flaherty annotates the phrase 'Listen, you whom they have heard…', which, according to her, means 'literally, one who is heard, or who is famous; a triple pun on the common root 'hear' in 'listen', 'they have heard' as well as 'heeded'. Such a pointed reference to 'famous' addressees, embedded in this pun, seems to offer evidence of a certain linguistic sophistication.

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