". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Narrative Power: Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles edited by L. Timmel Duchamp

Aqueduct Press (03/15/2010).

I want this book.

Adults, as a rule, also like to hear the same stories, although they prefer that the stories have some differences – the human brain loves to detect differences. The popularity of familiar stories that reinforce the status quo is not limited to television and popular literature: historians repeat themselves.

Horatio-Alger stories thus become the narrative for male public figures who rise to success from poverty; for women, the story is more problematic, because female public figures are anomalous. In either case, the politics of the narrator inform the story being told. In narratives about women, as Joanna Russ has pointed out in her classic How to Suppress Women’s Writing, the narrator may simply deny that the woman actually accomplished anything worth noting. —from Eileen Gunn's introduction* to Narrative Power __

It is commonly said that history is written by the victors: the narrator chooses the events that will be part of the story, and the narrative explains their meaning. In fiction, narrative conventions and clichés make writing and reading familiar stories easier, but also impede writers’ efforts to tell unfamiliar stories. This volume asks: Is narrative inherently dangerous? Empowering? Or even liberating? A mix of established and new writers join several scholars in considering the politics of narrative manifested in fiction, history, and science.

Table of Contents
1. Going to Narrative: Introduction by Eileen Gunn
Part I. Narrative and History
2. Carolyn Ives Gilman, “Telling Reality: Why Narrative Fails Us”
3. L. Timmel Duchamp, “Lost in the Archives: A Shattered Romance”
4. Ellen E. Kittell, “Patriarchal Imperialism and the Narrative of Women’s History”
5. Rebecca Wanzo, “The Era of Lost (White) Girls: On Body and Event”
Part II. Narrative Politics
6. Lesley A. Hall, “Beyond Madame Curie? The Invisibility of Women’s Narratives in Science”
7. Wendy Walker, “Imagination and Prison”
8. Lance Olsen, “Against Accessibility: Renewing the Difficult Imagination”
9. Alan DeNiro, “Reading The Best of A.E. Van Vogt”
10. Andrea Hairston, “Stories Are More Important Than Facts: Imagination as Resistance in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth”
11. Susan Palwick, “Suspending Disbelief: Story as a Political Catalyst”
12. Rebecca Wanzo, “Apocalyptic Empathy: A Parable of Postmodern Sentimentality”
Part III. Narrative and Writing Fiction
13. Samuel R. Delany, “The Life of/and Writing”
14. Nicola Griffith, “Living Fiction and Storybook Lives”
15. Eleanor Arnason, “Narrative and Class”
16. Rachel Swirksy, “Why We Tell the Story”
17. Claire Light, “Girl in Landscape: How to Fall into a Politically Useless Narrative Rut and Notions of How to Get Back Out”

This book sounds essential, as well as fascinating. I've been thinking particularly, lately, of the area of narratives and women as discussed in the TOC #6, "Beyond Madame Curie? The Invisibility of Women’s Narratives in Science.”

This has been provoked by reading Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (2009).* Among the figures given a great deal of text in what the author himself declares a 'narrative' history, is Caroline Herschel, the 'comet sweeper,' sister of one of the founders of modern astronomy, William Herschel.

Caroline's early story, in the bosom of a denying, cold family, who, with the exception this brother, evidently chose her to be the in-house slave and scrub, makes one's heart sore. Particularly, considering how many Caroline Herschels there had to have been, who didn't have the eventual comfort and rescue by a loving brother.

* Which is a most fortunate fiction - non-fiction pairing with my endless audio book listening that is Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. O'Brian wrote a well-received biography of the 18th century natural philosophy and botonist, Joseph Banks, who is also featured in Holmes's The Age of Wonder -- Joseph Banks: A Life (1987).


T. said...

I took an undergrad writing class from Joanna Russ way back in the day. Haven't thought about her in ages.

Foxessa said...

She's getting frail. She's been suffering for years from various ailments of the joints and skeletal systems, and has a great deal of pain.

She not so recently moved into an assisted living space.

She is very much alive, beloved and an influence within the intersecting feminist, glbt sf/f writing and reading worlds.

Love, c.