Reading a review, today in the New York Times, of Salman Rushdie’s memoir, I came across, not surprisingly given his life experience, the question Who shall have control over the story? Who, it went on, shall have the power not only to tell the stories with which, and within which, we all lived, but also to say in what manner those stories may be told? The reviewer asserted Rushdie’s right to pose such a question, particularly in the light of the many humiliating years of surrendering his story to other people, most of whom transformed it for their own purposes.
Stories, who tells them and who listens, is a matter of great interest to me, for I believe it touches on the very core of our lives and our understanding of motivation and purpose. As I wrote previously on this blog (Oct/11), incarnation is the ultimate narrative. We are made up of a multitude of stories. Every life is a story, with plots, crises and complicating sub-plots, and when we tire of living out the enervating details of our own, we thrill to the twists and turns of others.
The storyteller, whether a mother, a tribal elder, singer of ballads, punch throwing puppets, book wielding authors or film enthralling directors, is always a revered figure. We look to them for entertainment, drama, humour and guidance. From squatting in caves around fires to couched in theatres in comfort we have always thrilled to stories slowly unfolding.
Rushdie, as we know, challenged a religion’s storytelling, and while attempting to impose his own interpretation on the details found himself threatened for his very attempt. Centuries ago Galileo was kept under house arrest for trying to tell a another story about the universe, one that threatened the church of his day. Recently, we have witnessed the efforts of headline atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to tell the godless story. Not too long ago we suffered the imposed stories of Communism and Fascism. Those stories were beaten back by the power of the parliamentary democracy story, which had. in its moment, overturned the divine right of kings story. Some would argue, and I would be tempted to agree, that the parliamentary democracy story succeeded by joining hands with the laisser-faire capitalism story and dancing confidently across the centuries, convinced that god was on their side, just as certain ancients were convinced that the gods were on their team.
The divine right of kings story goes back a long way, mainly due to the marriage of convenience it made with the divine right of religion story. Together they harmonized the narrative arcs of their yarns with considerable aplomb, hypnotizing the populace with stories that simultaneously threatened condemnation and titillated with promise. Let’s face it, it was a nifty little sleight of hand while it lasted. And it’s an ongoing debate about whether the banking story underwrites all the others or secretly controls them. I suspect that they are so intertwined they cannot realistically unravel their weave. Even earlier we all laboured under the family and ancestor stories, those blood bound traditions and mysteries to which we were doused in deference on arrival in these fleshy realms.
In contemporary society, rife with layer upon layer of information, each promising a greater understanding than its neighbour, the conspiracy theorists tell yet another story, a righteous renegade story which illuminates the deliberate distortions and lies of the official stories. In this it is not unlike the earlier Marxist expose of capitalist myths. It tells a worthwhile and intriguing story, but is ultimately just a another chapter in our unfolding of the mystery of ourselves. That’s not to say we can’t have fun watching all the Pinochios and their expanding snouts.
Each story has its educative possibilities, bringing the listener out of the narcissistic charms of her own self story and into a wider world of understanding. Yet each story has, built into it, the limitations of its progenitors, however cleverly concealed. Often those limitations will take a lifetime of discovery, and the newly freed will trumpet their liberated visions from the rooftops to the rest of us guileless chumps enjoying our chocolate luxuries.
Of course, those of us on the path of inner understanding should have seen through the various guises that the storytellers throw over their tawdry power-clinging conceits. That is why we are here, examining the universe and our spirit’s place within it. The story we tell ourselves seems to revolve around gathering wisdom from the many confusing and conflicting details of our experiences, – the joyful, the tragic, the challenging, the boring, the humorous, and storing it for later use.
This story, with its implicit understanding of the tempting and confining illusions of all the other stories, is not only the best one for us, at our stage, but the best one for all, if they can handle its lack of boundaries, for it says nothing is forbidden, everything is up for grabs and nothing comes for free. It says no-one is in charge, no-one ever ultimately controls, regardless of experience and glamorous bragging, and nothing is beyond the limits of achievement. It says everything is smoke and mirrors, not just the propaganda of governments, corporations and religions, but all that is manifest. Every society, every landscape, every culture, every planet, every galactic federation. It’s all smoke and mirrors, all a dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago. (“Box Of Rain”, Robert Hunter)