We are the one species that can put together a sequence of events, one after the other, find connections between each turning point and derive meaning from the whole. We don't just remember everything - we actually search for significance in everything, whether it's there or not. Narrative is our key. With narrative we have history. We have learning and improvement. We build and maintain complex relationships based on more than just one previous encounter with each person around us.
Because of this unique ability of the human brain, we have created the art of storytelling. Roland Barthes said it best:
Narrative is present in myth, legend, fable, tale, novella, epic, history, tragedy, drama, comedy, mime, painting (think of Carpaccio’s Saint Ursula), stained-glass windows, cinema, comics, news items, conversation. Moreover, under this almost inﬁnite diversity of forms, narrative is present in every age, in every place, in every society; it begins with the very history of mankind.And so we have come to see our very lives as stories, although they do not fit the brief we have constructed. Yes, stories have a beginning, a middle and an end; and so does life. But stories have meaning and direction. They have a plot that drives the action; they have characters who drive the plot. Life, though? Life is a series of vaguely interconnected events tacked together in time. Or, as Thelma of Dorktastic puts it, "Stuff just happens."
But our brains aren't satisfied with stuff just happening. Because of our marvellous memories and our superior abstract cognition, we need life to mean something.
Hence this immortal, ludicrous question:
What is the meaning of life?The word "life" has a definitional meaning, but that's not what the question aims to uncover.
Our lives serve an evolutionary purpose, but that, too, is not enough. Religious people (oh, you knew I would bring it up) believe or hope that their lives are intended toward the service of God.
But the fact that the question lingers, despite the existence of a smorgasbord of religious options across the millennia of human civilisation, tells us that "the service of God" is not a satisfying answer, either.
In the absence of any clear answer, we strive to establish narrative direction in our lives. We expect to learn from our misfortunes; we create mental character profiles for the players in our drama. Our friends are the good guys. We're the protagonist. That's fine. But we also have a compulsion to identify villians. Even though, in first-world middle-class whitebread suburban life, the baddest bad guys we're likely to personally meet are the people who cut in front of us in traffic or start dating our ex.
We love to hate.
This is why this happened.
|The funny part is how the Joker portrayal ties in |
so neatly with the accusation of socialism.
Yes, some people use narrative (well and badly) for their own political ends. But most of us just like to believe we're princesses in our own special fairy tale.
On Derek Sivers' website, there is a recounting of a talk by brilliant author Kurt Vonnegut Jr, who spoke about why people search for and create drama in their lives. Essentially, he said that we have been hearing fairy tales since civilisation began, and we have come to expect life to yield the same form of tidy progress and happy payoff.
Vonnegut drew comparative timelines of the story of Cinderella and the narrative of life:
Of course, the further we stand back, the clearer it is that life could never be Cinderella. Cinderella's life didn't begin on her knees in the cinders, and it didn't end in the arms of the Prince. There's time either side. Time enough for a thousand stories.
We might hope to use narrative to predict the pattern of learning and growth and wisdom in our lives. Narrative, ultimately, is the tool we have created for understanding the passage of time.
Director Brian De Palma said, “People don’t see the world before their eyes until it’s put in a narrative mode.” And it's true. We struggle to understand what is going on before us; so we need a reference. Like TV Tropes helps us make sense of stories, stories help us make sense of events.
The word "narrative" is a descendant of the Latin "narrare": telling or narrating. This word is the child of an ancient Sanskrit word, "gna": to know.
Yes: stories are literally what we know.
And so, stories can and do help us grow and navigate our lives. But hoping to fit life into narrative molds will leave us with nothing but disappointment. Don't look for universal meaning - life, and narrative, are not one-size-fits-all.
So tell your own story.
And make it one worth reading about.http://thelmajane.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/sims-sims-sims-sims/