Stories of imagination #folklorethursday

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As I have international students, I have to blog about the teaching in english from now on. Yes, the Storytelling study at OsloMet has started. This year with twelve brilliant students. The first theme, the first week, was what I can call “stories of imagination”, it is sort of directly translated from Norwegian: “fantasifortellinger.” Of course, this could cover a lot, but in this context it refers to stories that one improvise “here and now”.

The imagination is absolutely essential for a storyteller. Both in creative and performance work, the storyteller uses this. The imagination helps the storyteller to create inner images and to be spontaneous in the performance expression. In the book «Skuespillerkunst» (actor’s work), Halling-Kock and Varden write about the skills an actor should work on before and in a process towards a performance. On the imagination they write:

“Initially, we should practice the imagination completely anarchistic. Such a valuable feature should flourish a while before we impose restrictions and directions. Exercises should initially allow for a lot of play. (my translation) (Reistad 1991:77)”

The same approach applies to a storyteller. The French storyteller Bruno de La Salle highlights various qualities of the storyteller and looks at the imagination as storyteller’s sixth quality:

“They accept fiction as total reality, and allow it to permeate them. They hear the different meanings that their listeners hear. They hear the analogies, the metaphors and symbols. They see the fathomless meanings of images and render them visible. (Salle 2004:87)»

Salle compares the storyteller with a hunter: one who lurks upon, who surprises and plays with the listener.

What is the point of dealing with imaginative stories? In the article «On Imagination and Creation: An Afterword» by Joel Robbins, we get the anthropology’s perspective on imagination. To get an idea of what imagination is, the concept is compared with two other concepts in the article: Perception and reason (p. 306):

«In relation to both perception and reason, imagination represents a realm of personal mental freedom. Perception, as our folk models have it, is governed by the empirical world outside the mind. We perceive what is ‘out there’ by means of a faculty that registers the impressions the world makes upon us through our senses. Although reason has a different kind of force—one that comes from inside the mind, though from a part that is ‘deeper’ or more fundamental than the personal mind—it also constrains thought by forcing it to observe certain rules. These rules can be logical or practical or related to values, but in all cases when followed they keep thought from constructing just any kind of world it wants. In relation to these two other kinds of mental experience, imagination knows no barriers.” (s. 306)

According to the article, imagination is a creative free force that does not know boundaries. But this freedom can be an illusion, for as perception and reason, imagination is also to a certain extent bound by cultural ties.

The imagination is connected with to a will, a belief that it will work out. Look at the marathon runner. All empirical evidence will indicate that running and winning a marathon run is not possible, yet there is a belief that this may go. The imagination can make a difference between winning and losing.

Imagination is a process where you create mental images in order to fill in gaps; It is a process that coordinates thought and action (“Minding the Gap”: Imagination, Creativity and Human Cognition Etienne Pelaprat & Michael Cole).

Without imagination we live in a bewildering world: «imagination is the process of resolving and connecting the fragmented, poorly coordinated experience of the world so as to bring about a stable image of the world.” (Etienne Pelaprat & Michael Cole). The imagination is thus necessary to create a relationship with our surrounded world.

Working with imagination and imaginative stories is, based on this, necessary actions, both for the storyteller, but also for being a human. There are also more technical reasons why we are working with the imagination.

First of all, the imagination trains the storyteller to hear his own creative voice. Daring to say something in front of others, is about training. In working with imaginative stories, we often improvise and this indicates an interaction that is always present when telling stories. When you tell, there are actually two voices in the telling, the voice of the teller and the voice of the listener, these two voices are interacting in the telling.

Stories of the imagination also help keeping the telling spontaneous. A story is told uniquely to different listeners because the listener is different, the storyteller must be flexible for this and work out to cope with the spontaneous occurrence in a storytelling situation.

The third good thing about working with stories of imagination is to see what elements a story consists of. When stories are improvised, we get training in discovering what is missing in a story and through this, see what needs to be fixed, what has to be present in a story.

The second week of the study, the students starts working on folktales, this I will write about next Thursday.