Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Writing and Being

One of the outcomes we have to deal with this academic year is essay writing. Today’s session is an introduction to that and I just wanted to put it into context.
All writing is really the telling of stories. We tell stories about ourselves and our exploits, sometimes vocally to others and sometimes silently using our internal voice. It has been said that we are our narratives and that we construct an idea of ourselves by telling stories within which we act in certain ways. Indeed if we do this long enough we develop for ourselves a character, one which when we know we are acting out of character, can make us change opinions or act differently in order to get back to being the character that we have developed.
Neuro-imaging techniques support this idea. Michael Gazzaniga states that within the left hemisphere is an interpreter centre that creates the unified feeling of a unique self. (New Scientist, 13th Nov 2010, p. 53) The ‘interpreter’ brings to our individual sets of experiences theories about our lives and ‘narratives’ of our past behaviour seep into our awareness and give us an autobiography.
Damage to this area of the brain disrupts the story and we find people creating narratives unconstrained by reality, (living a fiction) or not being able to create any sort of narrative, external or internal.
Our inner voice is vital. To quote New Scientist, “One compelling study used PET imaging to watch what is going on in the brain during inner speech. As expected this showed activity in the classic speech production area known as Broca’s area. But also active was Wernicke’s area, the brain region for language comprehension, suggesting that not only do the brain’s speech areas produce silent inner speech, but that our inner voice is understood and interpreted by the comprehension areas.” This is the moment of the ‘narrative self’.
So when we come to write an essay, all we are really doing is making yet another narrative and it may well start internally. The trick is to get this across to the reader and there are only so many types of stories. Many of these end either with boy gets girl or the death of the villain and the triumph of good over evil. In our case boy meets girl could be two theories are brought together to resolve a problem or the triumph of good, becomes the strong true Marxist argument that overcomes the weakly put together Conservative thesis. Or the other way round, remember it’s the winner that gets to write history.

I will return to this because the digital narrative will still have to contend with the universally understood story prototypes. The book, the Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker will be our guide to this, but for now I just wanted to air the fact that non of you should be worried about this writing element of the module. You all tell stories and you tell them all the time, we just have to harness your talents.

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