Narrative Networks

I heard Marieke Hardy’s conversation with Dominic Knight on Radio National’s Book Show last week

She was discussing the art of writing a memoir with Dominic and two other guests, Tanveer Ahmed and Benjamin Law. Part of the conversation was about “how many youthful indiscretions can you reveal without being disowned by your family? Is it fair on an ex to have the intimate details of your relationship immortalised in print, and should you give them a right of reply?”

Marieke was talking about her approach to writing You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead. This approach is discussed by Danielle Binks in her review:

Apart from being very funny, Hardy is also audaciously honest (always good in a memoir/autobiography). But her honesty stretches beyond self-reflection and confession. The book includes e-mail exchanges with the people she (sometimes viciously) writes about. An old boyfriend corresponds with her after reading the short story about their prostitute-riddled relationship – an interesting e-mail in which he despairs the seeming lack of love she had for him, and is bewildered by her confession of his purely bad-boy appeal. An old friend carrying an old hurt responds to Marieke’s confessional story about the demise of their friendship – and it’s both awkward for being so relatable, while also brimming with surprising hope for social networking.

The Book Show discussion explored the idea of a right to reply in a memoir. Marieke was very clear about this right, Tanveer and Benjamin took a different view.

Listening to the interview, following up with a visit to Marieke’s blog and reading Danielle’s review took me back to discussions in the 1980s about how Action Researchers dealt with interview transcripts and embodied cooperative enquiry.

A week later I was exploring a different kind of narrative. A link from #Change11 took me to a page and then to George Dvorsky’s Sentient Development blog post Propaganda 2.0 and the Rise of Narrative Networks. He points to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s call for research “to revolutionize the study of narratives and narrative influence by advancing narrative analysis and neuroscience so as to create new narrative influence sensors, doubling status quo capacity to forecast narrative influence.”

Dawn Lim has blogged about this call too. She notes that a workshop (Neurobiology of Narratives) held in April 2011 explored “the relationship between the seemingly disparate but deeply related issues of memory, judgment, identity, narrative and neuroscience.”  This workshop had five goals:

  • To assay narrative effects on our basic neurochemistry.
  • To understand narrative impact on the neurobiology of memory, learning and identity.
  • To assess narrative influence on the neurobiology of emotions.
  • To examine how narratives influence moral neurobiology.
  • To survey how narratives modulate other brain mechanisms related to social cognition.

I wondered what a workshop on narrative might look like with Marieke as the keynote speaker, with John Heron as the chair and the audience from the April event. I wondered too about the links between narrative networks and narrative engines.

Quite a journey via a fortuitous Radio National listening experience!

Photo Credits

Story Hour on the Roof

Italian Boys Listening


I have a very vivid memory of first hearing the word ‘scholarship’.

I was sitting on the floor in a morning assembly at the Buckley CP school on my last day as an infant (in 1959).

The head of the Infant School was saying goodbye as my class moved to the Junior School. She wished us well and was enthusiastic about the possibility that we might have a scholarship to the Grammar School.

I remember being very concerned about this. I had never been on a boat of any kind and the thought of leaving home at 11 to go sailing was unthinkable. Back in 1959 I was convinced that a scholarship was a large sailing boat akin to a galleon.

It must have been a very powerful experience for me as I have a synesthesia relationship with the word ‘scholarship’ to the present day.

Fortunately the word brings out admiration in me these days!

Last week I was in awe of the scholarship displayed by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford. Diarmaid was a guest of Ramona Koval on Radio National’s Book Show.  The topic under discussion was 400 Years of the King James Bible.

I think the podcast of the interview is a wonderful resource for anyone seeking the characteristics and demonstration of scholarship.

I am keen to explore the links between scholarship and teaching and am interested in the ideas of two of Diarmaid’s colleagues from Oxford, Keith Trigwell and Suzanne Shale (2004) who propose:

a practice-oriented model that favours a notion of scholarship as activity; is concerned with the articulation of pedagogic resonance; assumes a learning partnership, rather than an instructional relationship, with learners; and privileges the work of knowledge creation with students.

I like all four components of this model and see them as particularly relevant at a time when higher education is transforming its practice.

Photo Credit

Ship Garthsnaid

Sentence and Form

Stanley Fish was a guest on Radio National’s Book Show this week.

The subject of the interview was his book How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One (Harper Collins, 2011).

The podcast of his interview can be found here.

Amongst many fascinating points I was moved by the discussion of a sentence from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

I am looking forward to reading the book, more so after reading Daniel Wallace’s review.

Fish argues that sentences, not words, are the building blocks of prose, because it is the connections, the “inexorable logic of syntactic structures,” that give words meaning. He believes that the best way to improve your sentence-making is to study the syntactic form of good sentences and then imitate those forms with practice exercises, the way musicians do scales. Place whatever content you like into a preset syntactic framework, and allow the syntax to settle in your head. Form, and only form, is the key to better writing; worry about content later.

I have been writing about writing in this blog so Stanley Fish’s discussion of sentences resonates with me. I like the idea of composition and its use of grammar and syntax.I like the idea of exploring forms of sentences too. The discussion of Martin Luther King’s sentence was the hook for me.

I think I will need to look at Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller too as part of my engagement with the theory and practice of writing.

Photo Credit