Sunday, January 9, 2011

To Compose Cooperation

With the purpose of making application for my course on Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace and Justice, this is part 3 (see note at end) of my review of On the Origin of Stories, Brian Boyd (Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2009).  I’m focusing here on Chapter 13 “Fiction as Adaptation.”  Boyd continues his emphasis on the capacity of story to build cooperation, which aligns nicely with my highlighting peace. 

Boyd’s work complements my position with his scaffolding of fiction.  Genre fades in importance to me because I’m more interested in truth-value beyond the factual; for example, does the discourse increase capacity for peace, for justice?  Boyd privileges fiction; this chapter asserts that by its nature fiction “invites us to shift from our own perspective to that of another, and perhaps then another and another.”
In fiction the story lives the more everyone comes to life, the more each character seems to exist in his or her own right.  The twelfth-century Persian poet Nizami reports his hero’s feelings: “While each warrior thought of nothing but to kill the enemy and to defend himself, the poet was sharing the sufferings of both sides.” (p. 197; a reference to Layla and Majnun)

While Boyd seems to focus on the reading of fiction, I wonder how much more the possibility for enculturing cooperative ethics might come about in digital composing.  As we know (for example, from extensive research on dissonance), actual participation enhances change in behavior more than passive reception.  The act of composing a story (whether more or less factual) could advance empathy and pro-social behavior. 

Children’s play, as Boyd reviews in an earlier chapter, shows the power of constructed and enacted narrative in shaping their cognitive development and their relationships in community.  The work of Vivian Paley, which Boyd does not include, elaborates the most eloquent and convincing testimony of this that I have seen.  Boyd does note (again, in parentheses) the interesting feature that “For children, direction, narration, and enactment flow readily and naturally into one another. So long as the play-story continues, consistency of medium or mode does not matter” (p. 177). 

I see in Paley’s accounts the huge significance played by a master teacher, Paley, in holding these play-stories in her consciousness and heart so that the children can move forward into the amazing demonstrations of compassionate behavior.  For example, Wally’s Story portrays how a child who had been the class bully before coming into Paley’s classroom acted to reconcile hostility among other children.  Wally acts in their constructions of story (in the play corner and in the story circle by directing and by acting and by attending) to bring the excluded into community.  Peace making with narrative gains possibility when this enactment of perspective-taking works its magic unhindered by the distractions by genre distinctions and academic analysis.

*Note:  Part 1, Making Good Stories, explores the supportive role of storytelling and stories to the making of consciousness and civilization.  Part 2 concerned Boyd’s focus on the evolution of art, particularly on the losing of balance and recovery, which can also be interpreted as “play.”