I have watched the first two episodes of the TV series 22nd of July on Norwegian broadcasting (not be mixed with the series on Netflix etc. 22nd of July is the date for the only terror attack Norway has experienced) and I think it is a touching series where small stories are merged into something significant. I wasn’t in Oslo that day, I wasn’t home. My home is not far from the “Y building” which now is destined to be demolished (shame), the Deichman’s library which is now no longer a library and the pet store, where I bought food to the dog, which now is closed. I was on my own «summer island» (not literally my island) and sat in the shadow away from the strong summer sun which when I now reflect on it, stood nostalgically high in the sky. A neighbor came running to tell us that a bomb had exploded in Oslo. I did not feel like going home, afraid that everything had changed in Oslo, afraid that I no longer could walk my usual route from home and down to downtown Oslo, even more filled with fear that I knew someone who was directly affected.
At the same time as the series airs, there is a conflict in Iran. This is a battle on many levels, not least a battle over the ownership of the narrative.
It has been argued that the narrative is the most effective and perhaps the only way of explaining one’s experiences. Through the story we can show glimpse of our inner world and exchange experiences with other people. We automatically learn to tell when we are children, because that is how we explain ourselves and what happens to us.
At the same time, nation, state, group or the like have cultivated the great national epics and often viewed the small every day and personal narratives as dysfunctional or threatening elements of the big epics that should / must be promoted. The stories should be large and unique to ensure a rich future. This has changed.
The personal nuances of individual have become important in understanding the richness of a culture and society. But it took a good deal of modernity for the personal stories, stories about the individual, to fit in a public space. Of course, autobiographical material existed before our time, but then this was inextricably linked to God or gods, it was not about the self, but about the soul. The personal narratives, episodes from «When I Was» depended on the ego emerging from the community’s culture and domain.
However, the personal stories relate to a basic story, the big epic story. The basic story in our lives can be the story of Christianity, the story of a political party, the story of war. There are several pitfalls that one should also be aware of when hearing a story. There are a number of positions when a narrative is conveyed; there is much that can be left out of when one wants to «streamline» a narrative into a belief or conviction. A story is beyond the facts and the false. The story is not factually true, because there are so many processes going on to convey a story. But a story cannot be called pure lie either, because it is built on experience. The value of the story lies in understanding and credibility. I tell about when I stumbled into the school yard the first day of high school, when I locked myself out of the hotel room and had to sleep one night in the toilet in Denmark, about when I caused a fall on the slate because I understood I was going to fall anyway, I tell this from a particular position to a particular context I want create an image of myself in. The view of myself and the meeting with the context and the way I want to appear leads me to make some choices in the narrative to advance my relationship with the context. One should always pay attention to the one who tells the story, for who tells who and why?
One of Aesop’s fables tells of a man and a lion walking together. The words fell between the two and went on to boast of their own accomplishments, which led them to disagree about which was the strong and brave of them. They eventually came to a statue. The statue depicted a man who choked a lion. «Look,» said the man, «there you see proof of who is the superior and strongest of us.» The lion replied, «That’s your version of the story. If we lions were artists, there would be twenty people under a lion’s paw. »
As I said, telling is about position. It is often the strong and verbal that are given the opportunity to tell and shape a narrative that in turn forms the basis of an idea, belief or culture. You can probably look into your own family and see that there is one particular who can tell the family’s stories when the family gathers.
Another component that is important in the story is the presence of the other. The story has its roots in a community and comes from a time when all knowledge was communicated orally, the listener was an important factor here. The presence of this instance affected the narrative by correcting, elaborating and retelling, the listener owned the narrative together with the storyteller and these two instances could easily switch roles. Today, the narrative is conveyed through a variety of media, but one cannot exclude the presence of the other – telling is also about being aware the other’s presence and losing ownership of the story. The narrative is meant to be retold, where it can be changed because new storytellers make their own choices and positions in the retelling.
It is important that the stories live in a polyphonic landscape, that is, we need many stories to accommodate a diverse society.
January 15th is a storytelling day in Norway. Find a listener, a recipient and tell a story this day and other days as well.