Stories about the End of Stories

Stories about the End of Stories

"The dominant story of modernity has been progress. Although still hardwired into our institutions, that story has lost most of its plausibility. new genres are taking its place: apocalypse and nihilism. Apocalypse is the imminent and triumphant conclusion of our most cherished stories. Nihilism is their collapse. Both are stories about the end of stories."

~ David R. Loy

The World at Peace

The World at Peace

"The reason that we have the impression that the world is a violent place is that that's what news is about. News is about stuff that happens, not about stuff that doesn't happen, and all the parts of the world that are free of war, that are free of terrorist attacks just don't get reported to us and so we forget about them. We're getting better and better at reporting the violent events that do occur. Something blows up, you can be sure you'll hear about it, but we don't appreciate how much of the world at any given time is at peace."

~ Steven Pinker




Only One View

Biblios by Guy Laramée

"Because of your unique history, you have evolved a series of stories that you repeatedly return to throughout your life. These stories determine how you see yourself and how you interpret what is happening to you. You may well be overidentified with your stories and not see that they represent only one view of your circumstances. Your stories can limit what you believe to be your choices and define what happens to you in your day. They may not have even come from you but may have been suggested by someone else. You may not even recognize them as stories; to you they may seem like worries or just the way you are."

~ Phillip Moffit, from "The Fallacy of Story-Making," Emotional Chaos to Clarity, Chapter 7

Strategic Patience

Art and architecture history professor Jennifer Roberts requires her students to write a twenty-page research paper on a single work of art. Before they begin the research, however, they are expected to spend three hours in front of the actual work. No electronic devices. No distractions. They have to rely on their vision, curiosity, and skills of observation to navigate the slow passing of time.  

Nothing Beside Remains

by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)


I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Talking About The Indescribable

Reza Aslan speaking with Terry Gross about his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (July 15, 2013):

People like Meister Eckhart professed this kind of understanding of the relationship between God and humanity, the relationship between creator and created. The purpose of the mystics, whether they're Sufis or Jewish mystics or Christian mystics or what have you, the purpose is to break down the wall that separates us from God to have an intimate divine union with God. And so that's why some of this language would sound familiar to a lot of people of different faiths....

I think that if you believe that our experience of the world goes beyond just the material realm, that there is something beyond, that there is a transcendent presence that one can commune with, then it's only natural to want to reach out to this transcendent presence, to want to experience it in some way. That's what religion does.

I mean, you have to understand that religion is nothing more than just a language made up of symbols and metaphors that allow us to describe to each other and to ourselves the ineffable experience of faith. I mean, when we talk about God we're talking about something that is, by definition, indescribable, indefinable. You need a way to talk about God and so what religion does is it provides a readymade language that allows you to be understood when you're talking to your own community.

See also (from Shinzen Young): 

Marvelous Abundance of Ordinary Human Life

Excerpt from Alan Moore's forward to Harvey Pekar's Cleveland:

Harvey Pekar's Cleveland[Harvey Pekar] takes care not to show a writer's hand in his immense body of work, placing the emphasis on his exquisite eye and ear. This is where his genius resides: not in elaborate contrivance of baroque adventures, but in simply witnessing the marvellous abundance of astonishing phenomena surrounding him in his plain, ordinary human life. 

Whether the musicality of a co-worker's chance remark or lyric quality to some mundane transaction, Harvey notices it and then writes it down so everyone can share his fugitive perceptions. Generally impoverished, his world is nevertheless rich in observation to the point where fiction is unnessecary; to the point where making something up is practically an insult to the stunning bounty of prosaic existence. 

Every panel celebrates the worth of being who we are, and when we are, and where we are; the value of our individual lives and times, and of the shabby, legendary places where we live. 

Page 56


Telling Part of the Story

Krista Tippett, from "Who Do We Want to Become," On Being, September 8, 2011:

I have to say that I limit my consumption of journalism or I'm more selective about it than I used to be, because — precisely for this reason. It's not telling us the whole story. It's telling part of the story, sometimes well, sometimes badly, but we have to look in other places — and I think we should mention the Arab Spring in this context. Who knows how that's going to unfold?

But we were not trained by our political leaders, our pundits or our journalists to see anything but breeding grounds for terror on Arab streets. And it turns out that Arab streets could also be breeding grounds for dignity and democracy and the same kinds of longings — in fact, a narrative that Americans know very well. And that actually gives me hope. This realization that we are too shortsighted, that we simply don't see the whole picture at any given time, that history will surprise us has a terrifying dark side and it has a very hopeful side if you can lean into it.

Listen to the whole conversation here...

Much Longer than I Will Look

Behind the Plow
by Leo Dangel, from American Life in Poetry: Column 337

I look in the turned sod
for an iron bolt that fell
from the plow frame
and find instead an arrowhead
with delicate, chipped edges,
still sharp, not much larger
than a woman’s long fingernail.
Pleased, I put the arrowhead
into my overalls pocket,
knowing that the man who shot
the arrow and lost his work
must have looked for it
much longer than I will
look for that bolt.

Narratives of Grace

Engels (Anselm Kiefer)

“We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage — almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance.”

~ Thomas Cahill

A Tribute to the Pablo Casals

In 1961, Pablo Casals gave a concert in Kennedy's White House. Tonight, fifty years later, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax join with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio to present a tribute to cellist Pablo Casals' 1961 White House concert. "The concert includes Song of the Birds, a Catalan folk song, which Casals performed at the end of every concert following his exile from Spain as a reminder of his yearning for political freedom."

A Long, Hard Slog

Lessons from General Grant,” by Francis Wilkinson, The Week, November 26, 2010:

I'm a tragically slow reader, so I choose my books carefully. Lately, I've been reading the memoirs of U.S. Grant, albeit at a tortoise pace that makes my typical slow motion look like an Evelyn Wood demo. I've kept the book bedside for a couple years now, and still Appomattox is nowhere in sight. I move through chapters like heavy artillery through mud.

Yet the pace suits me — and the material. The war was a long, hard slog. And Grant's reflections have such resonance that I keep putting the book down to listen to the echoes. The fight against Mexico in 1846, Grant laments, was a "political" war waged on a false premise. Has a contemporary ring, doesn't it? The general who presided over the greatest destruction of American life in history — more than 600,000 soldiers on both sides died — also surprises with compassion. Contemptuous of slavery and committed to crushing the rebellion, Grant nonetheless has an ample soft spot for the enemy, taking risks to protect his foes' dignity. When Grant is ordered to handle rebels "without gloves" — including evicting Southern civilians from their homes and arresting them — he simply ignores the command. In fact, he fails to make a single arrest, having "deemed it better that a few guilty men should escape than that a great many innocent ones should suffer." It’s hard to resist projecting this thoughtful, anguished titan — a civil libertarian up to his epaulets in carnage — into the era of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Grant didn't shrink from violence, but he didn't surrender principle, either. He did his duty, and he won. I peeked at the ending.