The Politics of Storytelling: Violence, Transgression, and Intersubjectivity

The Politics of Storytelling: Violence, Transgression, and Intersubjectivity

The Politics of Storytelling: Violence, Transgression, and Intersubjectivity

The Politics of Storytelling: Violence, Transgression, and Intersubjectivity

Synopsis

Hannah Arendt argued that the 'political' is best understood as a power relation between private and public realms, and that storytelling is a vital bridge between these realms -- a site where individualised passions and shared views are contested and recombined. In his new book, Michael Jackson explores and expands Arendt's ideas through a cross-cultural analysis of storytelling that includes Kuranko stories from Sierra Leone, Aboriginal stories of the stolen generation, stories recounted before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and stories of refugees, renegades, and war veterans. Focusing on the violent and volatile conditions under which stories are and are not told, and exploring the various ways in which narrative re-workings of reality enable people to symbolically alter subject-object relations, Jackson shows how storytelling may restore to the intersubjective fields of self and other, self and state, self and cosmos, the conditions of viable sociality. The book concludes in a reflexive vein, exploring the interface between public discourse and private experience.

Excerpt

This book is an anthropological exploration of Hannah Arendt's view that storytelling is never simply a matter of creating either personal or social meanings, but an aspect of “the subjective in-between” in which a multiplicity of private and public interests are always problematically in play (Arendt 1958:182-184). Power relations between private and public realms imply a politics of experience. While storytelling may help us reconcile fields of experience that are, on the one hand, felt to belong to ourselves or our own kind and, on the other, felt to be shared or to belong to others, stories may just as trenchantly exaggerate differences, foment discord, and do violence to lived experience. For every story that sees the light of day, untold others remain in the shadows, censored or suppressed.

In The Human Condition Hannah Arendt speaks of the public realm in two closely-related ways. Phenomenologically, the public realm is a space of appearance where individual experiences are selectively refashioned in ways that make them real and recognisable in the eyes of others. Sociologically, the public realm is a space of shared inter-est, where a plurality of people work together to create a world to which they feel they all belong (Arendt 1958:50-52, cf. Duby 1988:4). For Hannah Arendt, the private realm denotes a conglomeration of singular and reclusive subjectivities “deprived of the reality that comes from being seen and heard by others.” In so far as privacy suggests confinement to “the subjectivity of [one's] own singular experience,” it spells “the end of the common world” (58). Two different senses of privacy are entangled here, for while the res privata defines domestic space – the domus, subject to the authority of the pater familias, a world within four walls – it also connotes the hidden, reserved, clandestine field of the personal in which certain thoughts, intentions, and desires are masked because they are not considered compatible with the res publica. Accordingly, privacy should not be equated with individuality, for the term may be used of any . . .

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