Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Narrative Cultures, Situated Story Webs, and the Politics of Relation

Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Narrative Cultures, Situated Story Webs, and the Politics of Relation

Article excerpt

As Thomas King afffirmed in his 2003 Massey Lectures, "the truth about stories is that that's all we are" (2). This is why I am genuinely excited about this new journal, Narrative Culture, and find myself responding somewhat foolheartedly to its editors' call for an opinion piece.1 What is the scope of narrative culture? What are some of the challenges and opportunities the framework of narrative culture poses to specific disciplines? What in this framework can the place of folk narratives and folk-narrative scholars be? The stories about stories I tell here in answer to these questions can only be informed by the stories-experiential, historical, imaginative, place-based, and scholarly-I know. The stories about stories I hope to read in Narrative Culture would move us to engage with "narrative cultures" in the plural as situated and interrelated practices where knowledges, desires, and conflicts are negotiated within and across worldly storytelling networks.

As the editors' "Introduction" in the first issue suggests, narrative culture invites interdisciplinary approaches to all kinds of narratives circulating in and adapted to a wide range of contexts and media: "By widening the scope from narrative to narrative culture, we acknowledge that narrative informs and reigns supreme in a large variety of cultural phenomena" and that narrative culture encompasses more "than, for instance, folk narrative, oral literature, popular narrating, or narratology" (Marzolph and Bendix 1). Significantly, the editors also remark on wanting "to foster exchange and learning across boundaries of learning," boundaries that are not simply disciplinary, but rather result from economic as well as geopolitical imbalances. Knowing that location has a strong impact on scholarship as narrative culture, the editors "seek to honor . . . the diffferent points of departure taken for granted or simply available to scholars in diffferent locations" (Marzolph and Bendix 6).

From my own location, I take the journal's offfering of a scholarly forum for narrative culture across disciplines and media as well as sociohistorical boundaries to deploy culture, a much-contested term, in specific ways. Narrative culture is a set of practices concerned with the production, exchange, and consumption of shared meanings-narratives, in this case-that depend on the work of representation and circulate in competition with one another.2 One of the challenges, then, of contributing to the study of narrative culture is to construct and engage scholarly tales that decode not only the workings of narrative texts as discourse and story, récit and histoire, in relation to one another and as performances to their storytelling contexts, but also the workings of power and knowledge that permeate the representational, conceptual, and material practices and efffects of these narrative texts.

While this is a specialized and relatively recent understanding of culture,3 it informs a widening range of approaches to narrative, and it helps to clarify how weighty King's claim actually is. The first Massey lecturer of Native descent, Cherokee fiction writer and theorist King tells stories about family, literature, and history as well as a creation story about Charm, a woman who fell from the sky (10-21). In retelling this Earth-Diver creation story, King highlights its principles of curiosity, balance, and cooperation. He comments on how such a story is entertaining but easily forgotten in North America where the legacy of "Genesis" dominates (21). Then he asks, "What kind of a world might we have created with that kind of story?" (28). Because we live by stories and in stories, he challenges his audience to take action: "Take Charm's story, for instance. It's yours. Do with it what you will. Tell it to friends. Turn it into a television movie. Forget it. But don't say in the years to come you would have lived your life diffferently if only you had heard this story" (29). Stories construct our worlds and us at the same time, emerging from actual negotiations with and in these worlds. …

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