Monday, July 15, 2013

Literature and Emotional Intelligence: Part II

How Basic is the Link between Emotions and Narrative?

Storytelling: the Beginning of Emotional Intelligence

One of the things human beings have always done throughout time is to tell stories, to ask to be told stories, and to wish to read stories. After children are born it’s about the next thing they want, after sustenance and nourishment. They want to be told a story, which can be sung or recited. The desire for story is very, very deep in human beings. We are the only creature in the world that does this; we are the only creature that tells stories, and sometimes those are true stories and sometimes those are made up stories.

Interview by Shaun Randol April 25, 2013, for the LA Times: “The Art of Bravery: An Interview with Salman Rushdie.

{There is} an inherent ambiguity around the idea of meaning and coherence in story, which is trying to impose order on life as lived, where order there is not. I think the storyteller is not so much trying to create an ideal, as play around with “what if,” propose outcomes that may seem to have coherence, or to be inevitable. Perhaps story is some kind of distorted mirror image of life. But in the last resort I think it is an expression of a basic human drive –– we have always told stories, not necessarily to supply meanings, but just because humankind seems to need them.

Penelope Lively, Interview, Penguin Reading Guide

Two master storytellers  – and great novelists – in two separate interviews make similar observations about storytelling. Storytelling is a basic human drive. We have always told stories. What has changed over the eons? Perhaps, most crucially, the kind of story we tell.

Twice Told Tales™

Myths were among humankind’s first stories.

What are myths? Literary adaptations to the human condition; tales rich in symbol and metaphor; enactments of experiments in living born of hope, fear, and desire.

We can suppose that myths existed in preliterate societies, and were the focus of community storytelling events as well as storytelling in more intimate circumstances. Myths centered on the individual’s emotional life within the family and beyond its bounds, and on the origins of communities and social values. Myths of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, while having lost their vital connection to ritual, and to the communities that invented them, today form part of the rich heritage of human culture.

Drama brought storytelling, which we can suppose was often part of family life, completely out of the shadows and into the public sphere.

Originally part of the Ancient Greek religious festival, Greek drama created a social medium for the enjoyment and profound experiencing of myths transformed by the works of individual playwrights. In Ancient India, the Sanskrit drama established a platform for the performance of Hindu myths. In Medieval Japan, highly trained actors performed exquisitely formalized plays of the Noh Theater. These actors passed their art from generation to generation, often within the same family.

In Ancient Greece, the theory of the dramatic art was recounted in the Poetics of Aristotle (c. 335 BCE). In Ancient India A Treatise on Theater, or Nātyaśāstra, a handbook written between 200 BCE and 200 CE by Bharata Muni, codified the rules of Hindu drama. In Medieval Japan, guidelines for actors in the Noh Theater were codified by playwright Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443). Zeami wrote extensively about the training of the actor in the mimicry of voice, demeanor, and gesture.

Whether or not their societies possessed written handbooks on the dramatic art, people around the globe enjoyed drama, the stylized performance of stories in a communal setting.

Over millennia in the West, Tragedy and Comedy brought forth stories for the theater. Originally a sacred place associated with ritual, the theater eventually became a secular setting, offering different societies dramas that reflected their most vital concerns. In the East, a drama might enact a classic tale, as in Japan’s Noh Theater, or an important historical event, such as the Battle of Chibi (Red Cliffs) in China.

In antiquity the Epic of the Middle East, Greece, Rome, and India told tales of group conflict and survival. These tales of adventure, wrapped around myths exploring multiple facets of meaning, achieved formal perfection due to their continued significance to society.

What about China? For all the broad sweep of Chinese history, Ancient China never produced a great epic poem. Instead, the Chinese of antiquity excelled at lyric poetry. There is evidence that many of the epics, for example of Ancient India and Ancient Greece, were performed and transmitted orally before they were written down. Oral-formulaic epic poetry may have existed in preliterate China, but may never have been written down, as were, eventually, the lyric poems contained in the world’s first poetry anthology, Shijing.

In Ancient Israel, the Bible told stories of judgment, redemption, and wisdom.

In Ancient China, Poetry, the perfection of literacy, was mandated as part of learning, and even the development of writing skills, for members of the vast civil service meritocracy that administered China’s government for thousands of years. The Chinese lyric poem told of history and society, of nature and transcendence, all the while relating the ever-changing, always unique, universal story of the human heart.

In Antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and during the Renaissance, literature for reading was the domain of small circles of the elite who were literate and could write – on papyri, on clay or wood tablets, on scrolls, in folios.

Silent Reading and Absorption

End of Part Two: To Be Continued 

Link to Part Three:

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