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Those who identify as storytellers – like all artists – may as well identify as gods, for the story holds the power of creation. Stories govern people’s lives, relationships and identities. Stories are alive. They form and reform us. Their malleability and our flexibility define our ability to survive, at least mentally. Of course, in a sense there are no new stories, as there is no parthenogenesis – and not only in art. Who we are and what we do, what we create, are products of and additions to something already existing. 

The centrality of the story in the formation of identity is indisputable. But what kind of stories form and affect our identity today? We could roughly identify two sets of stories that we come across and cast their reflection on our sense of self: Those that are personally tailored to us and stem from our immediate environments and interactions (which are also heavily socially burdened) and the communal stories that are inherited with attributes such as gender, race, class. And among all this information, myth and speculation that creates our cast, we seek to find the “self” through the creation of our personal story. Is there a “self” outside the voices of all these stories? Is there a “true core” that we find if we break the externally formed mould that confines it? To support or dismiss its existence is largely a matter of belief, or indeed disbelief, almost identical to the search for the “soul”.

In older, less self-centered times, people would find solace, courage and inspiration in myth and song, in folk tales and fables. As our lives and intellect became more complicated, there arose the need for more personalized approaches, handed to us by the advancement of technology, as books and – much later on – films were added to our resources. People started asking in greater numbers who they were, began trying to make sense of the self. Inspired by the same linearity and continuity of the traditional stories and the characters they looked up to and identified with, people started writing their personal stories along the same lines.

These stories were and still are made of the fragments of the storytelling we’ve been subjected to and our reactions to it. Our thoughts are, in many ways, not our own. And since stories are so powerful, they have the ability to support, but also to trap us. Once a story becomes concrete, once it shapes us and our societies, what does it take to uproot it? What do we do, when a story is ailing, spreading its ailment to its hosts, its listeners and believers?

This is just one of the questions this series of essays will attempt to answer by examining the function and manifestation of the story in our personal and communal lives and in different disciplines, from fortune telling to psychotherapy. We will look at accusatory narratives and why it is so difficult to overturn them, as well as the effect of power relations on the credibility of a story and on the formation of personal and social identity.

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Friday, 16 October 2020 09:33
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