A Change of Names, a Change of Destiny

A name is not a person, nor is it simply a reference to that person; it is a description that influences behavior. Michel Foucault stated that “one cannot turn a proper name into a pure and simple reference. It has other than indicative functions; more than a gesture, a finger pointed at someone, it is the equivalent of a description” (105). If a name, rather than being a “reference” is a “description,” we need to ask ourselves what names describe.

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An All-Encompassing Definition of Reality: The Conclusion to Narrative Madness

The Non-Existence of Nonfiction

In my book Narrative Madness, edited by Katie Fox, I showed that nonfiction is an impossibility since every text and utterance requires the invention of a fictional speaker who is never the whole person; it filters meaning through the speaker’s or writer’s name, uses narrative language which influences perception and behavior, relies on man-made symbolic code, necessitates the selection of subjectively interpreted facts while overlooking vast amounts of information, organizes information in artificial ways, redirects the future through a present discussion of the past,  acts upon world, community and self rather than merely reporting on them, involves imperfect mindreading and empathy games, utilizes preexisting forms and genres which affect content and meaning, channels voices of predecessors who have previously used the language and textual resources, constructs a reader or listener, and requires recreation and performance by the actual reader or listener.

It is all fiction. All of it.

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The Official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Narrative Madness” by Ronald B. Richardson, editor Katie Fox

[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of “Narrative Madness” by Ronald B. Richardson, editor Katie Fox.]

Narrative Madness is a non-fiction book that uses Don Quixote as its primary literary device in explaining how people in general construct a narrative in everyday life. Richardson looks at a variety of different factors to explain what causes our “madness” and how everyone suffers from the same ailment. He examines our habits in everyday life and how our use of different languages not only shapes our minds but defines our world. What is in a name? How does that affect how we view objects? Can narratives be defined and constrained or are they reconstructed based on who is issuing the narrative? What responsibilities are readers given by the authors when they decipher the story? All of these questions are examined in this book and explained in much detail to try and further understanding.

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Narrative Madness: Humans are the Stories They Tell about Themselves

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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Do Animals Tell Stories?: The Narrative Abilities of Animals

All narratives are patterns, but all patterns aren’t narratives, unless they suggest character, setting and action. Animals look for and find patterns. So, we should ask, do animals produce narrative?

Well, yes. The language of the bees still astounds scientists. Bees communicate symbolically in the form of a dance, passing on information about distance, difficulty and value of potential food sources. They dance in the present about past experiences in order to exploit future resources. Other bees do their little dance, explaining alternative sources of pollen, and then somehow the bees come to a decision about the best source. An insect, a creature from the lower orders – far down the hierarchy of animals (at the top of which we have placed ourselves) – can clearly tell stories and make value judgements about them. (Read all about it in biologist and sociologist Eileen Crist’s article “Can an Insect Speak? The Case of the Honeybee Dance Language” [2004].) The idea is so astounding that I don’t even know what to do with it. I will just move on to dogs, with whom I can converse more easily.

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Narrative Madness: What is Narrative and How Do Our Conceptions of It Warp Our Understanding?

Narrative is a Very Limited Selection of So-Called Facts

Since language is inherently narrative and its stories strongly influence our perception and actions, it is important to understand what narrative is.

The word “narrative,” from the French narratif, began appearing in the English language in the early 1500s, referring to parts of a legal document laying out “alleged or relevant facts” (Oxford English Dictionary). The word “alleged” reminds us that all facts may be challenged in a court of law. A fact is not a fact until it has been proved. Even then, a legal decision is open to appeal. In many fields, including science and history, “facts” are frequently disputed and reinterpreted.

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Narrative Madness: The Influence of Narrative Language on Perception and Behavior

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. The madness, however, is generative because narrative language is the principle means by which humans understand and reshape ourselves and our world.

Gustave Doré

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The Artificial “I”

(From my book Narrative Madness, which can be acquired at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon.)

All names are fictions, including the one that is closest to myself, that intimate name of names, my name for myself. For even the precious word “I” – which rises like a monolith above my head, promising singularity and unity – is an invented word, not a natural concept.

“I” is not a person. “I” is a letter. “I” is a word. Letters and words carry with them traces of their history, tracks that lead back in time, in the shapes of the letters and the derivations of the words. Our letter comes from the Egyptian pictogram of an arm, representing the long-”A” sound, later incorporated into the proto-Semitic language because their word for arm started with that sound (as ours does). Perhaps we can read a connection here between self and action. A derivation of the letter can be found in most Semitic alphabets. The letter Yud – Yodh, Yod, Ye or Jodh – is the tenth letter in Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Persian and Arabic. In Hebrew, two Yud in a row represent Adonai, a name of God. Mystical significance is attached to this divine name because it is formed from the smallest letter.

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In the Name of the Book, In the Name of Cervantes, Amen

(From my book Narrative Madness, which can be acquired at narrativemadness.com or on Amazon.)

The Name of the Book

“What is it called?” and “Who wrote it?” are the first questions we as readers ask when deciding to read a book. Easy. The answers are printed on the fat novel to my right: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Just a title and a name. We can almost pass by without a thought. How much significance could there be in so few words?

Actually, the title is fraught with meaning. The name invokes an image: a gaunt knight on a skinny white horse charging windmills. Most readers are familiar with the idiom “tilting at windmills,” which means fighting an imaginary enemy or engaging in a hopeless battle. Many will also know the adjective “quixotic,” defined by The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as “naively idealistic; unrealistic, impracticable.” So when I say I am engaged in the quixotic quest for reality, I admit I am tilting at windmills, battling an imaginary enemy: namely, reality.

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To Understand, We Must Produce Narrative

Like language, narrative refers to concept rather than reality. The structuralist description of the sign can be extended to narrative, since both words and stories are symbols played out across time. A word occurs as a sequence, as when we say or read “T – U – N – D – R – A.” Similarly, a narrative may be defined as signs in a series. The story then can be considered a sign itself, an arbitrary signifier, referring not to events in the real world, but to a subjective concept of what happened, is happening and will happen.

(Diagrams of the plot from Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy)

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