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  • Writer's pictureDave Stanley

Eng 876: Week 1-Narrative and Resistance

Discussion Question:

In this first session, we have tried to focus on narrative in general as an elemental force in shaping resistance culture. We have looked more specifically at the role of poetry in shaping a feminist consciousness. Implicitly, the spaces for the gatherings of women centered around poetry (the “gathering circles of democratic womanism” that Alice Walker proposes in her poetic manifesto) are central in building communitarian ethos and political consciousness. We went on to look at a couple of suggestions of other forms of narrative that might not be so obvious, such as “narrative as rally,” and “narrative as media intervention,” and story-telling as a means to foster a longer historical memory. Reflect on any of these issues in your first blog post.


When considering the various texts and gatherings the class considered this week I was most struck by the discussions about how narrative might be employed in less traditional ways. The examples of how narrative is employed in spaces and gatherings like in “The People’s Climate March,” fascinate me. I have seen narrative employed to govern gatherings and give a power to the various people participating as a method of shaping and directing the combined power of many individuals, but also as a contextualization of a mass. While large scale marches are themselves impressive, in both scale and collective feeling, the organizing narrative elements help direct attention, encourage further research, and draw in even the most casual observer. I wonder, however, if these elements can be used to misdirect as well. I think of the Charlottesville alt-right/neo-nazi/white supremacist demonstration last year, and the various media tactics and narratives used to cloak its “true intention.”

I recognize the rhetorical trap of digging into true intentions for any gather, as the narrative can constantly be corrupted or changed by those outside that space, or even from within it. That brings me to my largest concern—how do we ensure that the narrative we tell, is the one we want to, and is the one people receive? Do we rely on explainers and articles? Do we only listen to organizers? Do we allow the media and general public to make up their mind? Is it a measure of the success of a narrative if it permeates culture beyond the space of gathering? Does it matter if people outside understand so long as those participating do?

Peter Brooks, a professor of Comparative Literature at Yale University describes narrative. in his book Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative, as an inexorable draw to “the end,” and that desire is the engine that propels us there. While he uses this as a connection to Freudian Psychoanalytics, I have found it useful as a way to consider what any narrative tangibly achieves. By looking closely at the particular desires observers and participants have for “the end,” can help us understand how they responded to the “text” itself. It creates a dynamic relationship between the intention of narrative, and the response that participants in that narrative derive from it, which combine to create some large sense of meaning. While I have mostly been concerned with larger gatherings and demonstrations, that proport to communicate a message beyond those involved, I think Brook’s consideration is especially helpful in looking at smaller spaces. The poetry gatherings we read about and watched in class are, I feel, not intended to, but often can anyway, have dramatic meaning beyond the moment itself. Intention becomes less important when the spirit of improvisation, free expression, and power over space and place, are allowed to operate. Being so far outside these spaces, and existing with as much expressioniary privilege as I do, I am unsure how exactly to consider this, since the world is my preverbally oyster in which to express myself and be heard and taken seriously. I want to ruminate on the power that narrative has further, and consider how intention, reception, desire, and understanding come into play when making meaning from any gathering. Perhaps I am took stuck in the larger considerations to make sense of the practical effect in day-to-day life. Missing the trees for the forest is often my way.

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