FWIW — The following riff was prompted by Barbara King’s post on NPR’s 13.7 blog, “Homo Narrans: Humans As Story-Tellers (And Listeners)“, in which the nature of memory came up.
In a comment, Barbara wrote, “…But does every story originate solely from memory? Only in one sense. What about pure imagination, pure invention, that may be rooted in memory but that surely takes flight beyond it?”
I replied, “Stories are not populated with memories, assembled into a narrative. There is no memory databank in our heads. Memory is the narrative act itself. What we imagine as memory is written in the context of our ongoing shared narrative relations with others, real and imagined. Narrative flows. Memory flows.
Some interesting commentary ensued on the subject of the narrative act and the role of rhythm, resulting in my writing the following short essay that I think succinctly captures my take on the nature of human consciousness and a philosophy that flows from that understanding.
The behaviors of all living organisms emerge as wholes that strive to be and remain, rhythmically attuned to the temporal patterns that make up their environment. This rhythmic, resonating “singing”, taken as a whole, can be regarded as the biosphere’s symphony of life, which is rhythmic but endlessly improvisational within a basic, though impermanent, framework. Life, when viewed at any level of behaving, is always about “relation” in constancy that is relatively stable enough, and thereby the beat goes on.
Language is a form of singing of interest to us because we are us. As is the case with other organisms, our singing in language is a process of aligning our behavioral relation in the world and among ourselves. It is not something inside of us but rather an ever-emergent relation between our selves and with the world. Our method of singing begets “action”–our songs of pasts and possible futures, constructed among ourselves in present experience. Our songs (our narratives) give rise to our selves as temporal beings in relation to others and the world, all moving forward. Bruce Chatwin’s lyrical book “Songlines” is very evocative in this regard.
We are so adept at our method of singing that our narrative representations of pasts and possible futures, sung among our selves, real and imagined, present themselves as substantively real and therefore are real in their consequences.
Minutes ago I wrote the preceding sentence, which you have just read. As I proceed, I see the artifactual evidence of my singing as words on my monitor. Yet my meanings, now “remembered” have already become transformed as I struggle forward in an attempt to convey an imagined future in which someone sings a reply that resonates, and so that I know that I am not insane after all and maybe am making a contribution in our mutual struggle to be better attuned to the world and each other. And so the beat goes on.
Homo narrans is immersed in narrative singing. Pasts and futures imaginatively constructed, have long been lamented as barring us from The Garden—frustrating our ability to be fully attuned with the world. But re-entry into The Garden does not require that we eschew our method of singing–our mindedness. All we need do is understand that this is how we do, and put our faculty for knowing to work by choosing to make a better future. We get to choose our pasts and futures.
What has this got to do with the current events that so often prompt my blog entries? Everything!