Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why Are Stories Necessary? Part 2

What follows is George Chatzigeorgiou's response (who writes from Greece) to my June 10, 2008 post, which was my (long) answer to his question "Why Are Stories Necessary?"

George's insight into the cultural importance of stories and narrative is inspiring. Yes, he's a kindred soul. But he goes beyond where I've been, and sees things I don't, and that's exciting. His writings, which I'm happy to post below, are like good myths which are retold by following generations, taking the old story and adapting it to the current times and making it again meaningful and infused with truth for the reader. Being from Greece, George speaks, reads, and writes Greek and I suspect he has a classical education -- all of which adds to the discussion.

If you want to read this thread in order, read the Feb. 10 post first, wherein he poses the question and I answer. That link is HERE (Why Are Stories Necessary?) and at the bottom of that post, there's a like to this post so you can read in order.

Herrree's George!


Hi Stan,

Thank you for giving such an extensive and thorough answer, and for taking the time to explain that process, the whole thing really makes sense to me now.

So, it's through this whole process of simulation, identification, cause and effect, and use of time that good stories can give us not simply wisdom, but the kind of wisdom that only first-hand experience can provide. So the reason a good story is so precious, is cause it basically gives us the opportunity to become wiser without having to pay the price of wisdom, without having to make mistakes again and again until we finally wise up, and without having to invest the tremendous time it takes for us to reach that point. (many lifetimes in my case!)

All this seems to lead me to another conclusion: A boring story, even with a solid moral premise, isn't enough; it won't work nearly as much as a story that is truly engaging. A good story has emotional effect, the proverbial "thrills and chills", and that emotional effect is absolutely essential for this whole process you describe to work. Maybe that's a deeper reason why we're searching for good movies. ('Seen any good movie lately?') Because an emotionally engaging story is much more effective in giving us the "adrenaline rush that sensitives the synapses in our brain to remember the consequence when it occurs." A boring, poor movie, however, simply won't do the job, even if it has a perfectly executed moral premise. Turns out Hitchcock had the right idea when he said, 'A movie should not be a slice of life, it should be a slice of cake.'

Still, all the attempts at creating emotional effect and all the storytelling craft in the world doesn't mean much if a moral premise isn't there to support the story's drama. It just leaves us empty and unsatisfied. I remember when as a teenager me and my brother went to see the 'Matrix'. It was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen, and we were so excited watching those fantastic action scenes, it was unreal how excited I was! But the funny thing is, when I watched the sequels I didn't like them at all, and in fact I was very put off... How strange! The concept was still the same, the story world was the same, the amazing action scenes were even better than the first movie, heck, even the stars were the same! Later, of course, I understood that the only thing missing was the most crucial one: The moral crossroads, the conflict of values which supported the first film's physical conflict wasn't there anymore. Everything was there, everything but the foundation. There was no meaning, no substance. And ultimately, no emotional effect, no 'adrenaline rush'.

The idea that part of the reason movies are so popular is cause they allow us to glimpse our divine destiny and to experience things from the perspective of God, is so simple and obvious, and yet so stunning and mind-blowing! I never thought of such a thing and I still can't say I have fully grasped it, much less its deeper implications (which I suspect are plenty). 'Going to the movies' is so much a part of our pop culture, that one hardly thinks of it as a mystical experience. And yet, that's exactly what it is! When the lights slowly go out and we watch the screen in anticipation, at that moment, right then, you can tell it's not just a feeling of 'let's have a nice time'; it's a deeper feeling, the expectation for something far more profound. And that feeling I've noticed, sometimes it spreads through the room; sometimes it's even as if I can almost touch it. We really do experience divine attributes when we watch a movie. To the five divine attributes you mention I would add one more, the attribute of IDENTIFICATION. Just as in a really good movie we deeply identify with the characters, feel what they're going through and root for them, maybe God also identifies with us (which maybe explains why He's so passionately interested in our salvation)

You write:
It is only in reliving the lives of others (from true history, or metaphor, and parables) that we have hope of that change, BECAUSE IT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED TO OTHERS... in short - PROOF.
That's probably why we're so fond of having role models and need people to look up to. It's not just an interest for those people, we essentially aspire to have similar lives with them. That's why in our teenage years we desperately search for idols. What we're really searching for is some hope for our future. It's a way of saying, 'Look, this guy did it'. It is proof that we can change our lives also, and a platform of inspiration. (It just struck me,so weird, that the word "idol" comes from the Greek word "ειδωλον", which means -you won't believe this- "reflection"!
But at the heart of all morality is the INDIVIDUAL and SELF-DETERMINATION... Our choice of our future and our own self-determination is a fundamental truth about the human condition.
Curiously, that's a theme that is inherent in the structure of pretty much every story: The hero changing his own fate as well as the fate of other people, of a community, of the galaxy etc, all because he makes a choice and he's gritty enough to stick with it (self-determination). And everything hinges on the protagonist's choice... I've been reading the Proverbs lately, and there's a brilliant verse which I think conveys exactly that: "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life."(Proverbs 4:23)

Thanks again Stan, that was extremely helpful!

George Chatzigeorgiou

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