Today, I was reading Barry Lopez’s essay ‘Landscape and Narrative’ from the collection Crossing Open Ground. Lots to think about here, but two things that I want to come back to, and think about some more:
A story draws on relationships in the exterior landscape and projects them onto the interior landscape. The purpose of storytelling is to achieve harmony between the two landscapes, to use all the elements of story – syntax, mood, figures of speech – in a harmonious way to reproduce the harmony of the land in the individual’s interior. Inherent in story is the power to reorder a state of psychological confusion through contact with the pervasive truth of those relationships we call ‘the land’.
[This is a beautiful sentiment, and very appealing, and it makes sense in the context of the essay, but I want to explore the ‘but’ here, too. Not all stories operate this way – as consolation, reparation, solace, etc. Just today I was reading Rjurik Davidson’s essay on ‘torture porn films and politics’ at Overland, which is about stories (albeit in film, but they have their corresponding narratives in print) that are at least partially the opposite of the kind of stories Lopez is describing here. Do Lopez’s ideas hold when applied to narratives of horror, dislocation, or despair? To Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, to Shakespeare’s King Lear? Or even to less dramatically or diametrically different works: Peter Carey’s Theft, say, or Kris Olsson’s The China Garden? To comedies, romances, urban grunge. Perhaps the question is moot – perhaps he doesn’t mean to refer to all stories, but only to some kinds of stories. But then, what kind of stories does he mean … I need to chew that over. Read the essay again. Think more.]
Elsewhere in the same essay, Lopez writes:
This feeling, an inexplicable renewal of enthusiasm after storytelling, is familiar to many people. It does not seem to matter greatly what the subject it, as long as the context is intimate and the story is told for its own sake, not forced to serve merely as the vehicle for an idea. The tone of the story need not be solemn. The darker aspects of life need not be ignored. But I think intimacy is indispensable – a feeling that derives from the listener’s trust and a storyteller’s certain knowledge of his subject and regard for his audience.
[Do I, as a writer, ever feel certain knowledge of my subject? Is that essential? What relationship might there be between this idea and Camus’s: I have nothing to offer but my confusion? Does a lack of ‘certain knowledge’ lead to the writing of stories that evoke a different response in readers? What kind of response, or responses, are the natural result of stories written from a place of doubt, of uncertainty?]