Life is a story. Or it seems that way, at least. The entire human enterprise as commonly envisioned is a complex web of temporal relationships, held together through the grammatical abstraction of language. Every utterance relating to the past has no reality besides that which we assign through our trust of the speaker. By definition, the past has already occurred and can therefore not be “real” in any objective sense of the word. Stories fill this void, explaining, rationalizing, questioning, and integrating the raw data of lived experience in ways that bring meaning to the subjective human state. Between the polarity of event and explanation is the construction of self; a process so fluid and seamless that to question it seems absurd. However, as contemporary research is validating, the “self” of social worship truly is a process more identifiable and reducible than most would care to imagine. Scholars across widely varying fields all seem to be coming to the general conclusion that the self as we define it is indeed a construct, a symbiotic interplay of personal and cultural narrative operating on many psychic levels, informing and interpreting almost every moment of waking consciousness. The implications of this are liberating to some, and horrifying to others.
The modern age of global culture and connectivity is marked by a neurotic necessity to seem independent, popular, and above all else, unique. Values and styles are championed by the megaliths of corporate media, and in an increasingly electronic world, the message transcends borders and ideologies with astonishing ease. Truly, the importance of establishing a “self” in this shrinking world has never been more apparent. No longer are human beings bound to the geographic and psychic ties of their original communities, but can leap across borders, laws, customs, and narratives with the click of a button. The onset of this enabling technology hit the world so quickly, and continues to evolve at such absurd rates, that a full understanding of the implications remains elusive. However, one guarantee of this process is the interaction of narrative in unprecedented ways. On both an individual and collective level, people are coming together with long-entrenched stories and myths as their operating systems, trying to interact from radically differing viewpoints on reality. So far, it seems that the results have been both profound and confusing, as archaic narratives of centuries-old history slam into newly forming visions of the world at dangerous speeds. The only sure thing is that the times are indeed changing, and this paper will explore the dynamics of such monumental change. Beginning with contemporary understandings of narrative and myth in defining the self, I will then explore the potentialities of the “de-story” experience which ranges from brain trauma to religious transcendence, searching all the while for the potential of self to exist outside of or parallel to narrative. The final section of the paper will address the meaning of narrative and culture, exploring in detail the relationship between personal narrative and cultural narrative while also addressing the larger implications of the movement toward meta-narrative on an electronic, global level.
In his 2010 book Living Autobiographically, Paul John Eakin states “…autobiography is not merely something we read in a book; rather, as a discourse of identity, delivered bit by bit in the stories we tell about ourselves day in and day out, autobiography structures our living” (Eakin 4). What Eakin is saying is that human beings actually create their life through the stories they tell. The personal lens of interpretation which views the objective world is actually a series of stories, continually perpetuated by a Freudian ego structure, reinforced by external feedback. Eakin’s (as well as others) thought process is an expression of the contemporarily popular “Narrative Theory Paradigm,” which “starts from the assumption that narrative is a basic human strategy for coming to terms with fundamental elements of our experience, such as time, process, and change, and it proceeds from this assumption to study the distinctive nature of narrative and its various structures, elements, uses, and effects” (Project Narrative). While a tidy definition makes the concept of narrative theory sound simple, understanding the true meaning of what lies at the human core is no small task. It may even be impossible, as the very notion of “understanding” is itself a construct of the story-based self. “In its more extreme form, scholars in narrative theory encourage a fairly extreme shift from seeing people expressing identity through stories to one of understanding that people are stories” (Bell 78). Clearly, the basic premise is correct; human beings do demonstrably operate and live their lives from and through a series of stories told and retold in strategic, survival or pleasure oriented ways. However, it seems that at the root of narrative theory is the same age old question which has permeated other disciplines of thought, and may still remain unanswerable: Is story all we are, or can identity exist outside of it? Narrative theory contains many angles from which to view this question, each revealing a different set of considerations and experiences from which to understand the process of human life.
Memory is the bedrock of self-talk. It informs every decision at the speed of light, drawing upon and analyzing data in an endless stream of moments. In the context of narrative theory, human beings would literally have no identity if memory did not exist. With memory as a foundation, it becomes clear that identity arises not from any single factor, but from a synergy of phenomenon which when reduced, seem to arise spontaneously. Within the structure of Western reductionism, the first discipline typically sought for an explanation of such metaphysical questions of identity and memory is science. As stated by researcher David Bell in his dissertation “Religious Identity,” “A starting point for the biological basis of identity is in describing it as an expression of memories stored in the brain. If I state who I am, I must recall my previous experiences and impressions to do so” (Bell 63). The scientific process Bell describes has become extremely detailed and complex, drawing upon modern technology to observe the exact biological tracings of what is theorized to account for identity formation in the neurons of the brain. He summarizes this research, stating “…Autobiographical retrieval (and the construction of identity) is extremely complex and involves multiple memory systems responsible for the different components (encoding, modifying, and retrieving) of autobiographical memory” (Bell 66). Intuitively, Bell’s position seems to mesh with the experience of being a human; the recalling and modifying of memories is something almost everyone is consciously aware of doing. We hear stories from relatives or friends, and immediately roll our eyes, thinking “Oh Uncle Tom, always exaggerating…” In one interaction with another person, the biological roots of narrative become apparent as the social situation dictates exactly what information is retrieved and why, and the specific tone and context in which it is shared.
Because memory retrieval and interpretation is situational, drawing upon conscious as well as unconscious belief structures, it is narrative. That is, it is subjective. Memory can never be actual truth, because it is past experience filtered through a lens of preconception, never an actual happening as it happened. It follows then, that if our core of “self” is located in memory, it too is a subjective entity, though it often feels otherwise. This self does have a “truth” to it–the truth of what it remembers–that feels solid and unchanging. To form the self, the remembered past becomes generalized by the psyche, and patterns eventually become belief systems, which crystallize into a habitual facet of personality. According to David Bell,
These beliefs from implicit memories may become so influential in memory retrieval that the consolidation and construction of a memory becomes an entirely new episodic memory which may misrepresent the actual experience. Researchers have studied the variable in implicit memory formation through suggestibility experiments and have explained that an entirely false memory (episodic) may be produced from a series of associations of other implicit memories (Bell 67).
The selective nature of consciousness is a curious happening. How can it be that we are actually able to alter our memories of events that seem unquestionably real within our own psyche? A more important question might be, why does this even take place? What adaptive purpose does such a fluid sense of self serve and why is the process of self-narrative so obscured from the very self that perpetuates it?
According to researchers of narrative theory, it is the need for social cohesion that stimulates the use and development of story. “Indeed, the role of implicit memories/beliefs affecting autobiographical recall seems to have an adaptive function in social and personal well-being” (Bell 68).
Within the paradigm of the Western world, a strong emphasis is placed on personal autonomy, the ideal of radical independence and self-reliance proliferating as gospel since the mid eighteen hundreds. Implicit within this story is the idea that we invent our own identities and are wholly responsible for the construction of our essential “self”. Narrative theory, or the idea of self as story, in this context, would probably not cause personal bother or deeper inquiry. The Western mind is deeply attached to the notion of self-determinism and shirks from any alternative suggestions. However, it is this very ideal that begs reconsideration. “Despite our illusions of autonomy and self-determination…we do not invent our identities out of whole cloth. Instead, we draw on the resources of the cultures we inhabit to shape them, resources that specify what it means to be a man, a woman…a person in the settings where we live our lives” (Eakin 22). Despite our best intentions of embodying the rugged individualism of Western culture, such a value is actually impossible to achieve. Autonomy is simply an embedded microcosm of narrative–a representation or facet of the larger story of Western culture. Ironically, without the cultural story, individual story–no matter how much emphasis it places on independence–is not possible.
[…]Most people (including cognitive neuroscientists) tend to believe that their identity is constructed autonomously outside the influence of others. One could argue that we are generally unaware of this significant role that our cultural and social environments have on how we understand ourselves. The social construction of our identity and the role of implicit memories/beliefs are both “under the radar” as we go about constructing memories of the self (Bell 69).
Indeed, the continual remembering of who we are is essentially a collective activity that begins with a child’s induction to the world of language. Belief structures and collective assumptions litter any language, and the implicit meanings of these structures are internalized unconsciously. As Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson state in their book Reading Autobiography, “If we think about remembering not as an entirely privatized activity but as an activity situated in cultural politics, we can appreciate to what degree remembering is a collective activity…” (Smith and Watson 19).
The term “cultural politics” is a wonderfully accurate way of portraying the idea of collective identity construction. Because the interplay between individual and cultural selves is symbiotic, each has a vested interest in its ability to define the other. This perpetual feedback loop leads to such things as political parties, religious clashing, racial discrimination, and basically every imaginable form of ideological division. When this type of divisive structuring exists within a single culture (such as those defined by country lines), friction between identity sets becomes inevitable. An example might be the long-standing battle between the Irish Catholics and the Protestants. Though they are united under one flag, and even worship the same prophet, their stories clash in a way that inspires mortal conflict. The uniting factor in this conflict, and essentially all narrative disagreement, is the unyielding necessity to believe in one’s story. Not only must one’s internal sense of self remain coherent to their vision of themselves, but it must also conform to the cultural vision, unquestioningly. When conflicts interrupt the circular process of story/feedback, our perceptual “core” of being itself is threatened, and when such an event takes place, an equally shocking reaction is to be expected.
According to Eakin, the process of autobiographical living is only very unusually conscious. It seems that human beings participate so completely in the continual experience of self-construction that it has become an inextricable facet of what it means to be a social, modern person. This process is inherently unquestioned, and in fact, to do so constitutes one of the greatest unspoken taboos of the current age.
According to philosopher and mystic Alan Watts, “The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego” (Watts 11). It makes sense that the questioning of one’s personal story is off-limits considering that to do so is to akin to social suicide. The underlying premise of personal narrative, or autobiographical living, is the belief in the story that one tells oneself.
If this requirement is not met, the social contract of mutually interacting narratives collapses, thereby stifling the biological and cultural cohesion mechanism which enables the current state of human life. On one hand, this situation leads to what is commonly known as an “identity crisis”. According to Bell, “Individuals who are aware of different social selves (different life stories) may become distressed and enter an identity crisis” (Bell 86). Often, these people are seen by the culture as crazy, psycho, schizophrenic, and almost unanimously avoided. They are outside of the story,and when such is the case, nobody is able to gauge what rules of conduct they are playing by. On the other hand, the experience of deviating from the cultural narrative can be viewed from a wholly different perspective: that of the transcendent desire which lurks behind the web of language, waiting to be discovered. This urge to find meaning or identity beyond our stories is known as the transcendental signifier, and is at the root of much religious discourse. It seems that while cultural narrative is fixated on the adherence of normalized identity, an unavoidable anomaly shines through the cracks of dictated centuries, inviting a closer inspection.
On December 10th, 1996, neuroscientist Jill Taylor suffered a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Coincidentally, this is the area of the brain responsible for language production and linear, time based thinking. Having fully recovered (after about seven years), she wrote her bestselling book, My Stroke of Insight, which details the event and her precise understanding of it as it was taking place. The fact that she recovered enough to share her testimony is not only miraculous from a health standpoint, but also because of the information she was able to relay about the concept of the narrative self:
When I lost my left hemisphere and its language centers, I also lost the clock that would break my moments into consecutive brief instances. Instead of having my moments prematurely stunted, they became open-ended, and I felt no rush to do anything…I shifted from the doing-consciousness of my left brain to the being-consciousness of my right brain…I stopped thinking in language and shifted to taking new pictures of what was going on in the present moment. I was not capable of deliberating about past or future-related ideas because those cells were incapacitated…My left hemisphere had been trained to perceive myself as a solid, separate from others. Now, released from that restrictive circuitry, my right hemisphere relished in its attachment to the eternal flow…(Taylor 68–9).
Taylor’s testimony is supremely interesting in the credence it lends to the idea of narrative theory, as it both validates and transcends it. While seemingly paradoxical, Taylor’s experience does indeed prove that existence and experience are possible without identification with the internal language structure, and that the emphasis placed upon language as identity by narrative theory is also relatively correct. “…There was both freedom and challenge for me in recognizing that our perception of the external world, and our relationship to it, is a product of our neurological circuitry. For all those years of my life, I really had been a figment of my own imagination!” (Taylor 70). It seems that to Taylor, after the event, the understanding of “being a figment of [her] own imagination” became obvious, and throughout the book she amusedly rebukes herself for ever having missed it. Not only did she see through the reality of “her” narrative sense of identity, she also moved into a whole new sense of being and identification, a holistic identity with the process of life itself. As she stated of her stroke induced sense of unity, “I didn’t want to lose my connection to the universe. I didn’t want to experience myself as a solid separate from everything. I didn’t want my mind to spin so fast that I was no longer in touch with my authentic self. Frankly, I didn’t want to give up Nirvana” (Taylor 132). At this late point in her book, Taylor comes clean as to what she believes her right brain, holistic perspective actually is: Nirvana, or in her words, “being at one with the universe…” (Taylor 41).
While the word “nirvana” seems to fit prophets or mystics or even philosophers, it is rarely heard within an academic, scientific context. However, in recent years, the fields of religion and academia have been approaching and even intersecting one another with increasing frequency. Perhaps there actually is something to what the extraordinary characters of the ages have been proclaiming? Nirvana is a Buddhist term, commonly defined as “the final beatitude that transcends suffering, karma, and samsara and is sought especially in Buddhism through the extinction of desire and individual consciousness” (Merriam Webster Online). According to the academic B. Alan Wallace, in his book Contemplative Science:
…Primordial consciousness is characterized as the absolute ground state of consciousness. This state of perfect symmetry–internally undifferentiated in terms of any concepts or qualities–entails the lowest possible state of mental activity, with the highest possible potential and degree of freedom. While the substrate consciousness is aware of the substrate–the relative inner space of the mind–primordial consciousness is indivisibly aware of the absolute space of phenomena, which transcends the duality of external and internal space…appearances of external and internal space, time, matter, and consciousness–emerge from this absolute space…(Wallace 20).
While a full explication of this state is literally impossible within the realm of language, this statement by Wallace is as sweeping a definition as I have found of the “transcendent” realm or possibility inherent to human experience. In short, it is an experience outside of story, narrative, or even self-identification as we commonly conceive of it. It seems also to fit the general description provided by Jill Taylor of her stroke experience–drawing heavily upon the notion of unity as the most fitting word to describe what is naturally indescribable.
The fact that the concept of nirvana or transcendence is subjective causes major resistance among the scientific community, and in modern parlance it seems to have been written off as an archaic notion, no longer useful. However, as Wallace states, “…there is nothing fundamentally incompatible between contemplation and science…” (Wallace 2). While science is right to require objective evidence as proof of any hypothesis, it is flawed in the overlooking or outright denying of claims that offer a plethora of subjectively similar, qualitatively equivalent evidence.
Throughout the ages, humankind has moved toward the transcendent, and perhaps the evolution of narrative is simply a punctuated stopping point along the staircase of evolution. Alan Watts describes this state as cosmic consciousness, saying “Cosmic consciousness is a release from self-consciousness, that is to say from the fixed belief and feeling that one’s organism is an absolute and separate thing, as distinct from a convenient unit of perception” (Watts This 35). Watts continues, describing his personal “no-self” experience as follows:
This…brought on the sudden sensation of having no weight. At the same time, the present seemed to become a kind of moving stillness, an eternal stream from which neither I nor anything could deviate. I saw that everything, just as it is now, is IT–is the whole point of there being life and a universe…Each thing, each event, each experience in its inescapable nowness and in all its own particular individuality was precisely what it should be…(Watts This 30).
Indeed, the description of the “no story” state felt by Watts rings uncannily similar to that of Jill Bolte Taylor, and many others who need not be quoted. The point is clear: An experience of being “de-storied” or “de-selved” occurs, and has occurred throughout time. While nirvana is useful in this context as a collective metaphor for an experience beyond language, the specific Buddhist interpretation is only one of many signifiers for the experience of “transcendence” that marks and perhaps even drives the human condition.
According to Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist and academic, at the root of every culture and mythology system is the drive to achieve the transcendent union with environment and Universe. It is important to note that “myth” (Campbell’s word of choice) is approximately synonymous with “narrative” as a defining story or set of stories that inform how to live and coexist with the other members of a given mythological belief system. “Traditionally, the first function of a living mythology is to reconcile consciousness to the preconditions of its own existence; that is to say, to the nature of life” (Campbell 3). Because the nature of life was different for every society, the mythology or narrative of a given culture evolved to fit a unique circumstance. Campbell describes four separate functions of myth; the mystical, the cosmological, the sociological, and the psychological (Campbell 6). A given myth, when “living,” should enable humans to place themselves within these four categories, thereby understanding their place and purpose in the greater scheme of life, for their own individual situation. According to Campbell, the system that informs this process of “fitting in” is dependent on symbols, or alternatively, metaphors for its functioning. The symbol (in the form of story) describes and places a human mind within the cosmos, and when ultimate belief is placed onto that system, the symbols can even act as a trigger point for experience which deviates from everyday consciousness. “Over the millennia, we have developed some experience of how people respond to spiritual symbols and how contemplating a particular symbol…places the mind on a certain plane of consciousness, which activates deeper spiritual powers in the individual” (Campbell 93). As has already been stated, the entire potential of the symbol lies in belief of its truth. As Campbell says, “If you begin to doubt the possibility of these occurrences, your faith may be troubled. You will lose the symbol because you reject it” (Campbell 93). It seems that the point remains that even within narrative, language based systems, certain “valves” exist in the form of symbolic metaphors which allow the transcendent, non-linguistic experience to take place.
If the “de-story” experience can be definitively experienced, and acknowledged as a reality, the real looming question becomes, what do we do with that information? Certainly, in the post-modern age of the twenty first century, the idea of “transcendence” has been radically rejected (amongst the mainstream, at least) as science and rationalism become even more established as doctrine. What purpose does the experience–or the understanding gained from it– serve, and why did the civilizations of the past, through their narratives and mythologies, so actively seek to attain such a state? It would appear, as Campbell and others assert, that being de-storied serves a very specific purpose in the life of both individual and culture in connecting, or reconnecting us to what may be called a source, or simply a different way of understanding. It seems that there may actually be a very important lesson contained in learning to see through the narrative self, and as the world continues to connect, the need for this understanding on a cultural level may become especially pronounced. With digital technology becoming standard in even the most remote countries, cultural narrative is coming together and interacting in unprecedented ways. Never before have factions as diverse as Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Athiest been in such close proximity or visibility on the global scale. All of these religious categories are thousands of years old and as such, provide deep, entrenched narratives which have remained relatively undiluted through most of recorded history. The problems of belief systems in a globalized world have already become apparent (September 11th, the “war on terror”, Catholic child abuse etc), and it seems that as transparency inevitably becomes the new normal, the stage is set for ever increasing ideological conflict between narrative identities. The third section of this paper will discuss the ramifications of globalization on cultural and individual narrative, and hopefully provide some insight into what course of action might enable a global society to survive the twenty-first century.
Globalization and Narrative
According to scholars Marcelo Suarez-Orozco and Desiree Baolian Qin-Hilliard, “Globalization defines our era. It is ‘what happens when the movement of people, goods, or ideas among countries and regions accelerates’” (Orozco and Hilliard 1). In many ways, globalization is a shrinking of world, both literally and metaphorically. As technology improves, transportation has become easier, faster, and more efficient. Communication has also seen an exponential leap in both accessibility and quality, enabling people on polar opposite sides of the planet to video chat simultaneously, share documents, and even engage in distance university learning. As a planet, we have never been closer together. While much debate has been centered around the topic of globalization, “many of the implications and applications of the phenomenon remain virtual terra incognita” (Orozco and Hilliard 1). While globalization can be said to be nearly synonymous with the process of human history, it is only in our post-modern age that the true benefits and obstacles can, or must, be seen and faced. Contemporary scholars seem to be stringently polarized about the effects of a mutually interdependent global culture, and once again, the dividing point seems to be a matter of narrative. This ambiguity is discussed by academic Manfred B. Steger in his essay “Global Culture,” when he states “The contemporary experience of living and acting across cultural borders means both the loss of traditional meanings and the creation of new symbolic expressions. Reconstructed feelings of belonging coexist in uneasy tension with a sense of placelessness” (Steger 149). In short, most proponents of globalization cheer on the increased presence of a truly global marketplace and the increased opportunity for building middle class, consumer cultures in developing countries, while those opposing the spread of globalization fear a monoculture of mindless consumerism and money worship which is often equated with the Western world and cultural imperialism. Like the process of globalization itself, it seems that both sides of the argument will have to make concessions and compromises if any useful discourse is to emerge and enable actual social movement, as the process is already well underway. Globalization is a major subject, a “cultural vacuum”, and well beyond the scope of the limited attention I can offer it in this paper, but by focusing on the narrative dimensions, we are able to see the most immediate social ramifications as they continue to evolve.
Perhaps the most prevalent narrative backing and proliferating the process of globalization is the lens of economic theory. While the economic lens is probably the socially overarching myth of the present moment in general, it is surely the justification for the rapidly increasing export of Western ideals and entertainment to the far reaches of the developed and developing world.
Most economists and business leaders focus on the benefits of globalization. The litany is familiar. A greater flow of international trade and investment stimulates economic growth. That rising output requires more employment and income payments and thus generates a higher living standard for consumers. Rising living standards in turn increase the willingness of the society to devote resources to the environment and other important social goals (Weidenbaum, 51).
In a nutshell, this is the economic rationale for globalization, and coincidentally or not, also the most touted, culturally endorsed explanation of the phenomena. From where I currently sit, It’s hard to argue with; free trade, global accessibility, a visible global middle class, online interaction…the list goes on. It is a fact that the world is more interconnected than ever before, and that economic stimulus via the spreading model of capitalism has played a large role in that rapid transformation. However, it is because the transformation has been so rapid and dollar-driven that we may need to pause and analyze what the far reaching effects of an increasingly commodified world (via the spreading economic proliferation of laissez-faire capitalism) might be, and if the “opportunity costs” are indeed worth it.
Another narrative that seems to appear within the globalization debate is the idea of “marginalization” which stems from a sociological standpoint (rather than economic), and tends to view globalization from a negative angle. While it is true that a globally connected world is more economically viable, who does this monetary fluidity actually benefit? So far, it seems that a one-way corporate flow of mostly Western products and ideals benefits those corporations, while leaving a wake of cultural confusion and identity ambiguity in affected nations. Sociologist Manfred Steger says this about the current flow of global movement:
American political theorist Benjamin Barber…warns his readers against the cultural imperialism of what he calls “McWorld”–A soulless consumer capitalism that is rapidly transforming the world’s diverse populations into a blandly uniform market. For Barber, McWorld is a product of superficial American popular culture assembled in the 1950’s and 60’s, driven by expansionist commercial interests (Steger 148).
It seems that what researchers like Steger and Barber are seeing is a homogenization of narrative via the dominating movements of global commerce.
Harkening back to the earlier sections of this paper discussing the importance of solid narratives or mythologies to the coherence of human life, it is with proper hesitancy, or even animosity, that many view the emergence of a global consumer culture. Within the context of marginalization (of “un-globalized” nations and the biological balance of the planet), the movement toward unanimous cultural belief in the narrative of globalization is cause for great concern considering it’s inadequacy for handling a number of pressing human needs as not only a cultural mythology, but a global mythology. As Katharine Ainger states in her essay “Empires of the Senseless”, “The media have not been ‘pro-globalization’ so much as an integral part of the process. For most journalists neoliberalism is not an economic ideology whose fundamental assumptions can be challenged, but simply ‘reality’” (Ainger 156).
While Ainger acknowledges the industrial side of global capitalism, citing “big oil companies opening up wells and driving indigenous peoples from their lands; giant fruit multinationals controlling vast, pesticide filled plantations; steelworks, mines, roads across pristine wilderness…”, she believes that a more important focus should be trained on the “media giants of cultural capitalism” (Ainger 157). According to Ainger, “The true meaning of globalization…is about the undebated imposition of the organizing logic, the ‘anti-culture’ of the marketplace into every corner of our lives, onto every culture on earth” (Ainger 157). The argument that Ainger is making fits directly into Narrative Theory, as she proclaims the true cause of Western cultural imperialism to be the monopolization over the stories being told through the global media network. As greater numbers of people around the world join the interconnectedness of the electronic age, they do so at the very cost of usurping their own local culture, trading their stories, often passed down for hundreds of years, for stories being told by an increasingly small number of extremely wealthy, agenda driven “bards”.
The dictatorship of the single word and the single image [is] much more devastating than that of the single party. We are creating a world in which a small and shrinking commercial monopoly gets to tell all the stories while the rest of us get to watch and listen…In every country media corporations help to break our relationships to our communities, educators, collective cultures, experiences. They turn us into isolated consumers–and then sell our stories back to us (Ainger 157–58).
I can’t help but feel that Ainger is correct. Why should anyone leave the relative comfort or safety of their home to engage with the ritual processes of storytelling and community building when they can simulate biological, social cohesion through the implied culture of popular media, especially in a developing nation where the adverse effects are still unknown and a priority is placed on “joining the modern world”? Obviously, blind acceptance of the piping stream of modern media is only one of many possible responses by a given culture, and many other reactions do exist. Terrorism comes to mind, as the mutual “fear of the Other” bounces back and forth between the global mythology of “democracy” and the fundamentalist ideals of archaic ideologies, though that is a subject for another essay entirely. The point remains that globalization is a narrative, a guiding story that informs a growing convergence of previously isolated cultures about what the world is, should be, and will become. It is a mythology that has been embraced on varying levels, and to me, it seems with little consideration of the consequences that may come with such rapid, sweeping change.
Implications for the Future
It seems that the future of narrative and the human imagination are in the very precarious position of being forced to converge while simultaneously being unready or unwilling to do so. Many questions loom on the horizon. How can such varying mythologies as currently exist come together in time to agree on a vision of a global narrative before they tear each other apart over believed differences? Can the marginalization and commoditization of the biological world be repaired in time to subvert ecological collapse? Is it possible for a globalized narrative to acknowledge and embrace the fallibility of personal and cultural story and endorse a more balanced approach to subjective belief systems? As of now, these questions remain unanswered. Many scholars believe in the possibilities afforded by the internet to enable the survival of cultural identities and localized narratives–sharing personal perceptions with the world while also reaffirming one’s place in it. “Development will not occur without a reassertion of identity: that this is who we are, this is what we are proud of, this is what we want to be. In this process, culture and development are fundamentally linked and interdependent. The task of the writer is to find new ways of expressing his culture, just as his society strives, in the midst of globalization, to find new ways of being and becoming” (Tharoor 85). On one level, it seems to be about telling new stories. In this globalizing world, everyone’s voice is important if we are to preserve the social and individual narratives which have carried us this far, and it seems that the internet is the best (and only) place for true identity formation to take place without censure and filter. On another level, it seems to be about realizing that we are more than our stories.
As long as we believe ourselves to be only our individual and cultural narratives, there will always be an “Other” to fear, whether that comes in the form of a different human belief system, or a neutral process of nature upon which we project our shadows. And as long as there is an Other, we will be focused upon destroying it at any cost. Perhaps we can take a lesson from Jill Bolte Taylor when she says “Freed from all perception of boundaries, my right mind proclaims, ‘I am part of it all. We are brothers and sisters on this planet. We are here to help make this world a more peaceful and kinder place’. My right mind sees unity among all living entities, and I am hopeful that you are intimately aware of this character within yourself” (Taylor 141). Unfortunately, I am not “aware of this character” presently, and have felt this type of intuitive calm on only a few occasions, though when it happens, it is undeniably powerful. It seems that most of humanity is living this way, dominating and reducing the world through the brute force of left brain logic, trying to strengthen personal narrative against the onslaught of change, rather than learning to see where all the narratives simply blend together into the same prima materia. Perhaps we need Jill Bolte Taylor and others to share their experiences, and teach us both how and why we need to evolve beyond our stories if our species is to survive the rush of unprecedented change as a global entity. Looking to the future, questions, rather than answers, dominate the plane, and if we are to begin to move toward solutions, we will have to work together as the interconnected organism we have become, and tell new stories.