Sunday, August 25, 2013

How Do You Relate to Stories

From the bedside lullaby to the remembrances of the past, in the old age, we are always wrapped around by stories.

We love to tell stories.

 We love to listen to them – from the coffee-shop table to the public spheres and social gatherings such as clubs, parties, office, school and even bus-stop.

Stories define our lives in the society.

They make us what we are.


Story comes from the Latin word historia, meaning history and fabrication both.

It would not be wrong to assume that initially story meant exact oral reproduction of actual events for the absent members of the society.

In the hunter-gatherer days, humanity was vaguely divided between members away for hunting, and those near the caves or dwellings.

At the end of the day, when the early heroes sat for munching cooked meat, encircling fire, they used to recount the day’s events to the other group.

This lead to the best reproduction of actual sounds and movements.

 With time, and generations, actual representation led to different types of symbolic representations – dance, music and speech.

 It is a different story, however, how speech became more important than the others, and also became most sophisticated and symbolic.

Gradually, the exact recording of actual events gave way to more fabrication. 

Even today, we nurture this practice. Rumor spreads this way. 

Finally, the stress came to metaphoric representation – allegories.

 And the story in its modern form was born about 1500 AD. 

It is not that there was no sense of conscious fabrication or fantasy before this.

But, they were more religious in nature, or demi-historic, like the Epic or the Mahakavya forms.

There were lyric and other types of poems. But, they were more like slices of emotion, than a type of extended tale.

However, the classical Greek or Sanskrit plays were kins of today’s stories. And they were meant to be enacted, much like today’s movies, serially unfolding in time.

For a modern approximation of how they used to be acted, in the amphitheater, you can watch this

But the initial question remains.

 How do people relate to stories?

All stories start from an urge to visualize, to make an external event internal, to assimilate reality.

 In short, stories act as our vehicles to internalize reality. To make sense of things happening all around.

 Automatically, the urge for drawing a conclusion in the form of a moral comes from the same vision.

 But, how much one can preach directly, without being obstructive to the free flow of events, depends on the culture where the story is told.

In turn, this dictates the storytelling form.

Epic and the Greek plays were composed in the days of uncertainty of human life and its relation to natural events.

 In those early days of civilization, gods existed in human reality. Our forefathers were mere puppets in their hands.

Fatalism was the philosophy of the day, and to add savor to it gods granted free will to select individuals from time to time.

Extreme play between fate and free will characterized the early heroes like Odysseus or Oedipus Rex.

Greek stories always ensued from major flaws – either in the situation or in the character’s life itself.

A flaw inbuilt in a character, or a fracture in the situation, would lead to a conflict. The Hero's journey would be to resolve this conflict.

Point to be noted, Hero always not used to be men only. Characters like Iphigenia or Electra were key figures in solving problems in their life, or society.

After European Renaissance, with the separation of the State from the Church, more secular stories could be told in a serious way. 

Tales of carnal love and human aspirations placed themselves in mainstream human culture for the first time.

Where there was human tales wrapped around religious allegories like Dante’s Divine Comedy before, simple love stories like Tristan and Isolde could appear now.

Elizabethan stage, with the reverse approach of showing great historical and semi-mythological heroes like Caesar and King Lear as frail, flesh and blood human beings, took the story further, closer to contemporary lives.

 And after the navigation and geographical expansion of the late fifteenth century Europe, novel emerged as the principal genre of story telling – the genre of industrial civilization and colonization.

Cinema came at a critical juncture in civilization.

With the mass migration for bread and shelter, some family members were always absent in the household.

Photographs helped to create a very realistic bridge between the absent dad, and the son staying with his mom in the village.

Already, in still frames, the extremely real silver representation told innumerable stories about the city and its attractions. Cinema took that several steps ahead.

It was reminiscent of early days of human civilization.

 Absent hunters from the commune’s dwellings returning in the evening to narrate the day’s happening in the wild, to the avid listeners around the fire. Remember? 

Cinema is very similar in its purpose and approach.

With colonization and modern education, people wanted to know more about other people in their own society, and in others'.

 An Indian could see the Yorkshire hills for the first time, without leaving his familiar physical space, and the citizens there.

It was a revelation in the sense that the universality of human qualities – love, anger, greed and peace – were shown for the first time to an unsuspecting mass.

 People saw themselves in the stranger’s persona. Spectators got stitched to the screen, passing life to those shadows, in the darkness of the theater.

Suspension of disbelief prevailed. The first screen heroes were born.

Cinema borrowed lots from other modes of storytelling – from plays, novel, dance, folk theatre and pantomime.

With the coming of talkies, the three basic media – dance, music and speech – were incorporated totally in the new medium of moving images.

And cinema kept on following the individual aspirations in the changing social atmosphere.

The days of assimilation and migration were reflected in the Western. 

The plight of the Immigrant during the great depression was showcased in Chaplin’s movies. 

The new structuring of the State and the accompanying philosophies were showcased in the hordes of movies made by the Russian filmmakers like Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Dovzhenko.

 And the recent cold war and its aftermath echoed in hundreds of films from Hollywood, made in the last four decades.

People still center their lives around stories just like they did ten thousand years ago.

Nothing much has changed.

We still dream of a happy family, secure future and immortality.

We still crave for the same bedtime stories.

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