Academic journal article Generations

Section 1: The Importance of Stories

Academic journal article Generations

Section 1: The Importance of Stories

Article excerpt

Many authors in this section, The Importance of Stories, emphasize what sociolinguists and ethnographers refer to as the "observer's paradox," as described by William Labov in Sociolinguistic Patterns. Our authors have commented upon the changes that take place when they attempt to observe or interview people. In many instances, the interviewee unconsciously wishes to please the person asking the question. Aware of this problem, Robert Kastenbaum remarks that storytelling involves a triangle of "the storying process, the narrator's attitude or perspective, and the listener's own rising tide of memories and images." In reviewing the sometimes unexpectedly positive reminiscences of ex-slaves found in the interviews the Federal Writers' Project conducted during the 1930s, Kastenbaum offers useful hypotheses. His suggestions might also help explain the tendency of some centenarians-who were interviewed by National Public Radio's reporter Neenah Ellis and later analyzed with affection and insight by Terry Mills-to elegize their youth as a lost golden age.

Instead of discussing individual stories, Jaber Gubrium and Anne Basting describe co-creative group activities. Individual Alzheimer support groups, Gubrium argues, may impose narrative style and interpretations on their members. In contrast, according to Basting, Alzheimer's patients can display unexpected sources of creativity if given the chance to invent a story based on a visual image. The grammatical constructions of their narrative are much simpler than those of a corresponding group of patients with AIDS-related dementia. But even participants with dementia relish the opportunity to use their imagination and empathy rather than their impaired memories. Like many of our essayists, Gary Kenyon describes the essential role that empathic and flexible story listening can play. …

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