A Distant Voice, Part 1: Contact

(Click here for the first part of this story: A Distant Voice: Preface.)

The day Auntie Azra realized that she had probably found traces of extraterrestrial communication, I was bored and lonely. No one to play with, no one to talk to.

I was alone, as usual.

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A Distant Voice: Preface

When we made contact, it was not an earth-shattering meeting. It was not an invasion, nor an offer of friendship. It was not even contact. It was a whisper overheard in the darkness.

We were eavesdropping on a conversation that had taken place 90 years before. It would take 90 years before our ecstatic greetings reached Kepler 266f and another 90 years before we could hope for a reply.

Yet that distant voice changed everything.

image_1864_1e-Kepler-186f

Image credit: NASA Ames / SETI Institute

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The Plagiarized Hero: The Hero with a Thousand Borrowed Faces

 

Language and storytelling arose as a means of creating and maintaining social ties. Tribes then spread across the planet, trading materials, goods, technology, information and stories, so it should not come as a surprise that our narratives are similar worldwide. As humans, we make up stories habitually in order to understand the universe, ourselves and others, but we can only do so within established narrative language (as we have seen) and (this is the new part) preexisting forms and genres.

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Narrative Madness: Humans are the Stories They Tell about Themselves

(A summarized excerpt of my book Narrative Madness, edited by Katie Fox, which you can get at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon.)

What distinguishes humans from the animals are statements like “What distinguishes humans from the animals . . . .” In other words, the only thing that separates us from animals is an ongoing narrative that says we are not animals. The human is the animal that pretends that it is not. Most of our social rules are designed to hide our animal natures from ourselves: shaving our beards, using deodorant, wearing clothes, buying prepackaged meat, using silverware, not fighting over food, not farting or fucking in public.

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Narrative Madness: Endorsements by Michael Krasny, Geoffrey Green and Robert Alter

You’re crazy! By that, I mean you cannot easily distinguish fiction from reality, and you let delusions brought on by narrative influence your perception and behavior. Like Don Quixote, you wander lost through clouds of story. Your madness, however, does not actually separate you from the world; rather, it connects you because narrative language is the principle means by which humans understand and reshape ourselves and our world.

Ronald B. Richardson, aka Ronosaurus Rex, has published a new book, edited by Katie Fox, which is available at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon. He has also had an excerpt called “Narrative is Memory, Memory is Narrative” published in the post-beat pre-apocalypic Sensitive Skin Magazine.

“Although I hesitate to use the word, it is, on the whole, a brilliant work,” said Dr. Michael Krasny, host of Forum on KQED and Dr. Geoffrey Green, Executive Editor of Critique, wrote, “Thoroughly innovative . . . insightful, provocative, and, in the best sense of the word, scholarly.”

“The writing is lively and at times quite amusing–a blessed relief from dreary academic prose,” wrote Dr. Robert Alter, author of Partial Magic: The Novel as Self-Conscious Genre, “The fundamental argument that Don Quixote is no madder than the rest of us but rather an exemplar of our condition as language-using, storytelling creatures is quite persuasive.”

The Myth of Myths: The Development of Human Culture through Mythmaking

“We know the scene.” The strange one begins to tell a story by the fire, mumbling, miming, chanting, swaying, and no one pays attention, but she keeps going and there is something about the quiet insistence of her song as it grows louder that makes the old woman, grinding ocher, look up. The men, scraping hides, one by one let the flint fall and find stones to sit on. Others notice the group and gather.

They were not like this before; the story has brought them together. In the warmth of the fire, they lean toward the storyteller, who is one of them, yet an outsider: she has gone away for a long time, she is crippled, or she is crazy. Perhaps she is a man.16 She tells them of the beginning of the world, the birth of the first people, the coming together of a culture, the origin of language and storytelling – a tale they all know, but only she has “the gift, the right, or the duty to tell” it (43), writes French philosopher and literary critic Jean-Luc Nancy in “Myth Interrupted” (1991).

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Narrative Madness: Endorsements by Michael Krasny, Geoffrey Green and Robert Alter

You’re crazy! By that, I mean you cannot easily distinguish fiction from reality, and you let delusions brought on by narrative influence your perception and behavior. Like Don Quixote, you wander lost through clouds of story. Your madness, however, does not actually separate you from the world; rather, it connects you because narrative language is the principle means by which humans understand and reshape ourselves and our world.

Ronald B. Richardson, aka Ronosaurus Rex, has published a new book, which is available at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon. He has also had an excerpt called “Narrative is Memory, Memory is Narrative” published in the post-beat pre-apocalypic Sensitive Skin Magazine.

“Although I hesitate to use the word, it is, on the whole, a brilliant work,” said Dr. Michael Krasny, host of Forum on KQED and Dr. Geoffrey Green, Executive Editor of Critique, wrote, “Thoroughly innovative . . . insightful, provocative, and, in the best sense of the word, scholarly.”

“The writing is lively and at times quite amusing–a blessed relief from dreary academic prose,” wrote Dr. Robert Alter, author of Partial Magic: The Novel as Self-Conscious Genre, “The fundamental argument that Don Quixote is no madder than the rest of us but rather an exemplar of our condition as language-using, storytelling creatures is quite persuasive.”

Our Stories are Ourselves: A Review of Narrative Madness by Katie Fox

As a friend, Ron has always been a favorite (and frequent) storyteller. As an author, Prof. Richardson is even more so–an enthusiastic and knowledgeable talesmith, while also a thoughtful, entertaining, and erudite scholar. His work is a joy to read.

Richardson employs his own fresh re-examination of the text and lore of the oft-autopsied Quixote as a foundation for a much-needed unpacking of our current post-post-modern practical literary reality. He gives us a surprisingly new perspective into who we are, as both readers and creatures, that could only be offered by this refreshingly wide-eyed, queer, ex-Mormon San Franciscan. He fearlessly and deftly recruits Don Q. (and his equally brave companions), as well as his own personal anecdotes, in presenting open-ended queries and suggestions of what narrative now means and implies. Our modern-day understanding of Cervantes’ great work would be poorer for the lack of his insights.

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Writing Assignment: Issues of Language and Education

Background: As a class, we have examined issues involving language and education, including the effects of education on family life, motivation of students with non-academic interests, cultural literacy, national curriculum, agency within one’s inherited narratives, ethnic chauvinism, gender hierarchies in the classroom, the effects of new media on literacy, and grade inflation. We have read and discussed the importance of starting with inquiry, integrating reading and writing, identifying claims, analyzing arguments, identifying issues, forming questions, summarizing and synthesizing. Now we are going to use these academic skills to address an issue of language and identity in an argumentative essay.

Goal: To practice typical essay format, argumentation, support, summary, paraphrase, quotation, citation, analysis of claims, synthesis, grammar, punctuation, and writing skills.

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Syllabus for CHS 514: Preparation for Graduate Writing

Writing Yourself into Your Field
San Francisco State University

Objective:
To attain the reading, writing and thinking skills required in each student’s field.

Course Description:
Designed for students who need to increase their writing proficiency in preparation for graduate-level work.

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