How Not to Discuss Whether We Need Stories

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

Related Post Roulette

9 Responses

  1. Stillwater says:

    Awesome, EC. I particularly liked

    The result of this chain of reasoning is that the self requires a story, but since the self isn’t real, it doesn’t really require one, and that even if the self were real, and required a story, it does not require one in the complex form of the modern novel, which, if anything, is probably unhealthy for one’s sense of self.

    juxtaposed with this

    Which is to say that his entire analysis ends up nowhere, without acknowledging as much, and all while needlessly launching  distracting and contradictory rebuttals of poorly explained positions.

    I think what these claims show is that in writing this (apparently) convoluted mess of reasoning, Parks is demonstrating that he needs a story. Granted, it’s an intellectual story, but it’s a story nevertheless. I also liked how you trapped him in a Buddhist paradox about how the self requires a story about how the self isn’t real.

    Asking a question like “Do we need stories?” is similar to asking the question “Do we need to be curious?” On the one hand, it assumes that the answer comes down to a choice. On the other, simply feeling compelled to answer the question constitutes an answer to the question.




  2. Tod Kelly says:

    An especially great post, Ethan.

    As an aside, as I’ve seen this debate elsewhere I keep feeling like the question “Do we need stories?” is the wrong one.  “Aren’t we better off with them?” is the one I would use.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Seconded.   I went through the Tim Parks essay and stumbled along through Farkas interview of Franzen in my primitive Italian.   I don’t like Tim Parks’ translation of what Franzen had to say.

      L’effimero sound-byte di Twitter è l’antitesi della letteratura, che cerca l’immortalità.  My translation: The ephemeral soundbite is the antithesis of the literature which seeks immortality.   Lord knows what Franzen actually said, presumably in English.

      Without reading Franzen’s essay Farther Away, it’s impossible to make sense of the Farkas interview, anyway.

      My take on the Farkas interview:  Franzen, a very great friend of David Foster Wallace, was complaining about the idiotic conflation of the author and his work.  He has several nasty things to say about Harold Bloom, all entirely deserved:

      Bloom mi ricorda Norman Mailer: entrambi non possono ammettere che qualcosa di buono è venuto dopo la loro generazione.  Il suo talento enciclopedico è straordinario nell’ambito della poesia. Ma la sua teoria sul canone e l’influenza funziona solo lì e con tutto il resto finisce per apparire solo come uno stratagemma autopromozionale. Il romanzo è più contaminato della poesia dal mondo e dalla storia

      My translation: Bloom reminds me of Norman Mailer: neither will admit anything good arose after their generation. His talent is an amazingly encyclopedic knowledge of poetry. But that’s as far as his theory on the canon goes: the rest of it only seems to be a self-promotional ploy. The world of poetry and history only contaminates the novel.Report

  3. Chris says:

    Having spent way too much time listening to James Pennebaker talk about how important stories are for our mental health, I don’t find any of this guy’s arguments compelling, but I do love that he quoted such an awesome Schopenhauer essay. Seriously, it’s an essay that has to be read to be believed (like so many of his essays):

    He complains about noise (which, he tells us, all the great minds do), and then tells us how to educate our children, concluding with the bit about not reading novels because they’re not real (except the few that are, and Quixote, because it parodies the unreality of novels).Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

      Then Schopenhauer would wholly approve of my son, who hates reading novels but loves watching Jersey Shore.Report

      • Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Presumably reality TV would be perfect, from Schopenhauer’s perspective. It is real, right? Right?

        You know, I do highly recommend everyone read those essays. They range from incredibly insightful to “holy shit, did he just say that?” Everyone knows of “On Women,” of course, but there is so much more that will offend, amuse, perplex, or even enlighten you in his essays. I got a late 19th century collection of them for my birthday several years ago (from someone who knew that I was a fan of the asshole), and I still read them regularly. “The Wisdom of Life” is a treasure in many ways. If you’ve read The World As Will and Representation and perhaps his prize-winning essay (smirk) On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, the essays will come as a surprise, because they are so much more… mundane (and offensive, and amusing).



      • Michael Cain in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Of course, Jersey Shore, like essentially all of the reality shows, involves editing down hundreds of hours of video to create characters playing roles in stories that just happen to fit nicely into 30- or 60-minute chunks.

        I have to admit that the “Do we need stories?” question seems to me an odd one to ask.  Every culture that I know much about seems to have had at least a niche place for story tellers — not something that would happen unless the answer to the question is rather obviously yes.Report

  4. Burt Likko says:

    Asking whether we need stories is quite a bit like asking whether we need logic.

    Both are foundational means by which conscious thought is organized. Indeed, at least syllogistic logic is concievable as a form of storytelling: major premise creates the environment in which the story occurs, minor premise creates tension, conclusion resolves tension and harmonizes the major and minor premises with one another.Report

  5. Jason Kuznicki says:

    My favorite bit, because it seems that everyone here has one:

    Unfortunately, even this debate is a distraction because as Parks divines, “there’s something deeper going on.” That something is where most of the confusion seeping throughout his piece has pooled.

    Worthy of Dorothy Parker.Report