By Wayne Allensworth
Storytelling is a lost art. Not just the storytelling we associate with literature, the stage, or cinema, though decent literature, stage plays, and films are in short supply in a culture that is heavily politicized, as well as manufactured, but the plain art of orally telling a good story.
Storytelling was once the basis of oral tradition, which, in turn, was an early form of transmitting history, and the storyteller was often a parent or grandparent, not only a tribal bard, elder, or teacher. Orally transmitted stories of a people’s origins, its heroic deeds, its fall from grace and redemption, were an integral part of a child’s education, before education became more formalized.
The origins of history as a discipline are rooted in oral tradition, in the making of loyal members of a clan, tribe, and nation through the transmission of a heritage, the basis of the formation of collective and individual identity. A sense of place and purpose, the foundation of meaning in our lives, developed from that sense of identity. Relationships were close and personal, unmitigated by the segmented, atomized electronic “marketplace” that has helped foster the alienation and loneliness of our post-modern world.
The “communications revolution” and the end of storytelling
As face-to-face interaction was replaced by the telegraph and telephone, then electronic communications, the ties between individual and family, family and community, community and nation were weakened, with each successive stage of the “communications revolution” actually diminishing the most salutary and enriching forms of human interaction. Letter writing, for example, was far more personal than e-mail, which looks relatively superior to texts and tweets. And the time frame of instant communications diminished the substantive quality of those communications.
Storytelling takes time. Even the circulation of jokes (telling jokes is another lost art related to loss of storytelling in general) has been replaced by the impersonal, electronic meme.
I could go on. The dissolution of the family plays a big part in this—how can an elder pass along stories when there is no extended family or even a nuclear one to transmit them to?
Remembrance of things past
The point is that the American Remnant, that portion of the population that is still attached to a more traditional sense of place and identity, is faced with the long term task of transmitting its heritage in an often hostile environment. Our contributors have stressed the need to counter the politicized, anti-American propaganda that passes for history with our real story, the epic story of America and the Americans.
For all of us live out our lives as stories, we consciously or unconsciously take on roles that have been transmitted to us in the stories we have learned. Unfortunately, the stories being transmitted to us today (and we are all the consumers of politicized stories told to us by the very people who hate us, those who frame the mass media “Narrative”) are too often unhealthy and debilitating ones.
One of our starting points should be the revival of oral storytelling. It will have to begin with those of us who still recall face-to-face storytelling as a foundational part of early lives.
The most prolific and influential storyteller in my life was my paternal grandfather. He was a working man of limited formal education who was a voracious reader and a gifted teller of tales.
The scene was often his modest home, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, where the family gathered for Sunday dinner (I still say my grandmother’s fried chicken was the best ever). Afterwards, we might step out to the back porch for watermelon or hand-cranked ice cream. Sometimes, granddad and I would retire to his sitting room, where he kept his books on a stand by his easy chair. We both might read for a spell, and then he would pause, take his reading glasses off, and tell me a story.
It might be family history, one of frontier heroics and hardship, touched with a bit of genealogy. He might expand on that with a related story—he especially liked to recount tales of the Old West, of epic cattle drives and Indian wars—but we would usually circle back to family, and stories that his father had told him, which, in turn, had been told by his grandfather.
He had mastered the storytelling art, his voice raising to an appropriate tone at dramatic moments, and he well knew how to use the pregnant pause for effect. I relished those stories and have told many of them to my own children.
It will be up to us, the American Remnant, to be the carriers of our story. As censorship has tightened, and with the potential for more chaos, even “woke” totalitarianism, ahead, it will be up to us to be the keepers of that story.
We will be the preservers, who like the book people in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, will be charged with maintaining our story and transmitting it. Oral storytelling will be part of that. Keeping old books, too. And dig through those old boxes of pictures. Each one tells a story, and can be a fine jumping off point for oral history.
The motto of Quebec is “I remember.” It should be our ours as well.
We have to remember to know who we are. We have to know who we are in order to make a real effort to survive and carry on, to rebuild when, hopefully, this dark age has passed.
Wayne Allensworth is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine. He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood.
Thank you for this insightful piece – it strikes a chord. We often hear about how the fragmentation of media and society affect our ability to form a consensus, but we don’t often think about the effects on oral tradition. If you are plastered to your cell phone, you cannot even share space with your family bard, much less hear his stories.