“We Live Immersed in Narrative”

So says Peter Brooks, a professor of literature at Yale University (not to be confused with Peter Brook, the Tony Award-winning British director).  Brooks says: “We live immersed in narrative, recounting and reassessing the meaning of our past actions, anticipating the outcome of our future projects, situating ourselves at the intersection of several stories not yet completed.”

That is a lot for me to take in, but after re-reading the quotation several times, I am beginning to see the relevance in it.  At the risk of sounding incredibly cliched, our lives are a story.  But I hope our stories are more than just exposition.  “This happened to this person at this time in this place.”  That sort of thing.  There’s nothing compelling about that.  And I’m not saying our lives are always very compelling.  For some poor souls on this earth, survival is compelling enough.  But for those of us who have the opportunity to “recount” and “reassess” the meanings of our past actions, I hope we will have the discretion to make our futures that much better on account  of such hindsight.  I apologize for going pseudo-philosophical for a moment, but what is the point of living a life “immersed in narrative” if we cannot explore the deeper ramifications of our existence – our purpose?  I imagine this would be kind of like watching a production of Hamlet where the Prince of Denmark just throws his hands up in the air and says, “Fuck this, you guys sort it out, I’m going back to college.”

A good friend of mine has a sign in his office that says “Confrontation + Compassion = Growth.”  I love that sign, because it tells me two things: 1) don’t be a pushover in the face of conflict and 2) love is a greater opposition to adversity than malice.  And when these combine, there is the opportunity for growth, perhaps even for a rebirth.  I think one of the reasons why Hamlet is still performed 400 years on is because the noble prince, despite all his shortcomings, confronts the demons in his life despite everyone and everything in his life telling him to give it up and to move on.  Ultimately, all of Hamlet’s efforts are in vain, but during the course of that longest of Shakespearean plays, Hamlet does something many of us can only dream of: he immerses himself in the narrative.  He does not back down, does not take “no” for an answer, he does not shy away from confronting what it means to exist and why it is so much more important to live a life of conscious action rather than fading away into the gloom of apathy.

So in that sense, even if life does not always present me with ideal circumstances, I want to be immersed in a narrative that is not yet completed, not a purposeless spectator resting on the sidelines.  I am too young to know exactly what I want, but I am old enough to know that if I really want something, I need to pursue it without excuses and with great passion.

~ by Ross on September 8, 2009.

One Response to ““We Live Immersed in Narrative””

  1. Maybe what you write is more considered than my take. I had thought that there was an element of if not negativity then at least a ‘warning’ of sorts.

    I was thinking that life today is so very full of would be narrators that one’s life might easily be re-presented, almost back to oneself, as conforming to another and very different take to that which was intended.

    I think that it is almost a variation upon the theme of ‘history is composed largely by life’s winners.’ Of course, how we are to interpret ‘winners’ is also up for debate, and subject to occasional amendment; cite instances like ‘Hillsborough,’ for example.


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