Saturday, 13 April 2013

Storytelling is Power

Trigger warning: suicide, sexual assault, bullying.

A few different articles about the connection between storytelling and suicide have come to my attention lately.

Lucia Lorenzi in her post "People as Pixels, Daughters as Data: Thoughts on the Tragedy of Rehtaeh Parsons' Suicide" discusses how the bullies that harassed Rehtaeh Parsons following her rape disempowered her by taking away her ability to tell her own story. This narrative hijacking is a common thread among the young woman who have recently taken their lives after rape and repeated bullying. The theft of authority over one's own life is a form of secondary traumatization, Lorenzi argues.

Dianna E. Anderson in her post "Other People's Reasons and Our Narratives: On the Appropriation of Suicide" discusses the way in which the stories of a person's suicide can be appropriated by other people to serve ends which do an injustice to the deceased. She critiques Emily Wierenga's post "The lost art of servanthood," in which Wierenga simplifies and thereby misrepresents the story of her grandmother's suicide in order to illustrate her point. Anderson argues that, by assigning motives to her grandmother that her grandmother almost certainly did not have, Wierenga denies her grandmother real personhood.

Doing literary criticism & theory has not usually been this politically charged or personally tragic for me, but one of the reasons I insist that narrative/text/story/language must be studied and taken seriously is for reasons like those above. When we communicate our lives, and so when we communicate ourselves, we do so through narrative. But in so doing we always necessarily cast those we know as characters in those narratives, and so we control their stories, too. These are deep problems, maybe intractable ones, but certainly ones that deserve our attention.

(This is also why I get cynical when people are gushy about "storytelling." Storytelling is an exercise in power. Having fun is permissible, yes, but take it seriously, too.)

Assigned readings: Giving an Account of Oneself, Judith Butler; The Truth about Stories, Thomas King.

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