Martial Arts - Ricœur

#CertStudy, Day 5: Paul Ricœur on plot and “productivity”

This post is part of a series wherein I blog my way through studying for the doctoral certification exam in the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Read the first post here.

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Today was a St. Michael’s Day, so this is a short post from a short study session. I have a feeling that I won’t be able to escape the gravitational pull of Time and Narrative, but for today two quick thoughts from the introduction to From Text to Action:

(1) Ricœur’s reading of Aristotle on plot (from the Poetics) is really useful. His emphasis is that, from the compositional perspective, plot is best thought of as a sort of process, i.e., “emplotment”(blech, I know).

The point is that plots aren’t some platonic form, aren’t out there in the ether waiting to be discovered or released like Michelangelo’s Prisoners. Plots are designed, basically. Curated, even. They’re pieced together in an intentional order. That order is what forms the narrative “arc” we’re always hearing about, the emotion journey of rising and falling action.

This process of emplotment involves choosing a beginning that lays out the premise of the story, a middle where a change happens, and an end where that change comes to be understood. If emplotment (plot as process) goes well, then the plot (as product) succeeds in “hold[ing] together” context, actions, and consequences.

This all matters to Digital Storytelling as exploration of identity because emplotment is especially difficult (and therefore especially meaningful) when you know (indeed, have lived) the larger series of connected events from which your story is drawn.

Why choose this incident to be woven into a story? Why include this detail to contextualize it? Why do I believe these actions changed me? Why start it here and end it here? The storytelling process opens up an rich exploration of the shared meaning of elements that will recognizably “hold together” (in a way where the meaning really depends on the story).

(2) Ricœur is interested in comparisons between history (as an interpretive endeavor, rather than a purely descriptive one) and fiction writing. He thinks they’re not as different as we might believe, given that the “world” that history describes is not the world immediately in front of us, which of course is true of the artist’s fictional world as well.

This is interesting, for starters, because autobiographical storytelling is a little like history (interpretation of an imperfectly remembered past) and a little like fiction writing (the production or assertion of meaning through deliberative emplotment). Ricœur seems an especially helpful theoretical companion given that he’s interested in their relationship.

But it’s interesting as well because of what storytelling as a creative act (what Ricœur calls narrative’s “productivity”) can do:

“Because it is a world, the world of the text necessarily collides with the real world in order to ‘remake’ it, either by confirming it or by denying it. However, even the most ironic relation between art and reality would be incomprehensible if art did not both disturb and rearrange our relation to reality.” (p. 6)

I want Digital Storytelling in any setting, and maybe especially in a faith setting, to “rearrange my relation to reality.” I want the impact of my created world upon me to change how I see my real lived experience each day. Digital Storytelling isn’t just about weaving a nice plot to illustrate some change that happened to me in the past, it’s about giving that change a fighting chance to genuinely transform me for the future.

Moreover—and this is a bit of a nod toward some new material in the days to come—how I choose to name and act upon these transformations is part of what gives me agency in claiming and living into my identity.

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