Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hero takes a journey and stranger comes to town

I did not have the self-control to not click through on When Narrative Matters More Than Fact by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair. This is exactly the soft-minded pablum that galls me. It is of course absolutely true in some cases. But it is a motte and bailey strategy for advancement of the postmodern relativists. Narrative matters (in some cases) more than fact for entertainment purposes but facts matter more than narrative for life in the real world.

Lamb-Sinclair provides background and then her claim.
When I was in high school, one of my history teachers was also the football coach. “Coach Mac,” we called him. For a right-brained creative like me, history was often a toss up. There were certain parts of the curriculum that I loved, but I loathed (and was generally inept at) memorizing dates and obscure facts. But Coach Mac taught us history through football plays and storytelling. Through a series of Xs, Os, and arrows detailing their paths, Coach Mac told stories of Roman invasions, the Crusades, Genghis Khan, and the rise of Stalin. I sat in the front row, took copious notes, and was a star student every day in that class.

Because of Coach Mac, I became a history minor in college. And yet, if you asked me dates and details of these events Coach Mac and my college professors taught me, I could not tell you any of them without the aid of Google. The truth is, history stole my heart not because of the facts, but because of the stories.

Joseph Campbell famously said that there are only two stories in the whole world: Hero takes a journey and stranger comes to town. As an English teacher, I enjoy telling my students this nugget of wisdom and challenging them to defy it. They never can because, although stories are powerful, they are also simple. There are certain constructs, rhythms, and traits to a well-crafted story. Stories, at their heart, are either about heroes on a journey or strangers coming into a new setting.
There are only two stories? I am susceptible to the argument and have investigated various claims of 2, 3, 5, 7, and 10 stories. An interesting argument but really it is not a factual claim but an assertion of opinion.

But Joseph Campbell? I had heard the quote "Hero takes a journey and stranger comes to town" attributed to someone else. Who really said it?

Well, not Joseph Campbell apparently. Quote Investigator has the full story. The quote has variously been attributed to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Mary Morris, John Gardner, David Long, Ernest Hemingway, and Deepak Chopra. The prize, as best as can be documented, goes to John Gardner.
Writer and educator John Gardner died tragically at age 49 in a motorcycle accident in 1982. His influential work of tutelage “The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers” was released posthumously in 1984. Gardner included exercises “for the development of technique”, and the following was listed fifth. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
Write the opening of a novel using the authorial-omniscient voice, making the authorial omniscience clear by going into the thoughts of one or more characters after establishing the voice. As subject, use either a trip or the arrival of a stranger (some disruption of order—the usual novel beginning).
The exercise above did not assert that the two possibilities referenced exhausted all plot choices. Also, the statement was only about the beginning of a novel. Nevertheless, these words were the earliest pertinent published evidence known to QI.
The rest of the QI article is interesting in tracing the gradual evolution of a specific, culturally accepted quote from an original more general quote from an identifiable author.

All of which is interesting and sad. Lamb-Sinclair makes this quote the crux of her essay but it is a falsely attributed quote. It is like a building on a foundation of sand.

After this inauspicious start, Lamb-Sinclair then veers into a social justice warrior diatribe about Donald Trump and fake news and the inadequacy of fact checking. Just more of the unsettled noise which is so prevalent at the moment. She is not making an argument, she is venting. Fair enough, but not on my reading time. Her piece is worth nothing except as an example of irony. The saddest part is this:
Like many educators, I am appalled at the wealth of fake news that floats around social media and the power it has over young people who do not necessarily have the skills to interpret it.
It doesn't help your argument that facts matter and that fake news is a problem when you get your first asserted fact wrong.

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