Sunday, October 24, 2004

Raymond Federman: On Understanding the Stories We Tell

An experience, whether tragic, comic, or banal, only gains meaning when it has passed through language, when it has been recounted, recorded, told, spoken, or written. But since language is also deficient and unreliable, the recounting of an experience is also deficient and unreliable. As such, meaning is never absolute and cannot precede an experience, nor can it precede language. Meaning is produced by language. The act of speaking or writing is what produces meaning. It is in this sense that the meaning (or the truth) of an experience, or the meaning (or the truth) of history comes after it has happened, after the facts. History, whether collective or individual, is made of the stories one tells of what happened.

We are surrounded by [these]discourses: historical, social, political, economic, medical, judicial, and of course literary. Discourses about sports, about television, entertainment, about pollution, about the weather, about the political situation in Eastern Europe, about the political or religious situation in the Middle-East, and so on.

Discourse impregnate us, confuse us, traverse us, guide us, influence us, determine us, confuse us—willingly or unwillingly. We are made of discourses—words: spoken and written.

Therefore, the importance of always questioning, always doubting, always challenging these discourses. But less to know what they say, or what they mean, than to find out how they function, how they are constituted, how they become possible within the complexity of our modern world. Obviously, for our purpose, it is the literary discourse that must be questioned. But the problems remain the same. Where and how to begin this questioning? By asking how a discourse is written (and notice, I say HOW and not WHO writes a discourse)? That is to say, by asking what are the rules (external and internal) that govern a discourse, what are the fundamental norms that permit the formulation of a discourse? And also by asking how a discourse is read? What is the process by which one apprehends a discourse, what are we looking for in a discourse?

--Raymond Federman, Critifiction (1993)

Raymond Federman

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