Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative

Peter Brook writes in this 2022 book:

* Seth Godin, who runs the Story Skills Workshop, much appreciated in the corporate world, posted his response to the events roiling the United States in the summer of 2020: “The way forward is through. Through empathy and through practice. We are each charged with standing up and telling our story, a true story of possibility, as we weave together a better future. We’ve all seen, firsthand, the effect of a powerful story. This proven workshop will help you craft one that makes things better.”

* Rita Charon and her followers have insisted on the importance of “narrative medicine,” based on listening to patients’ stories and reciprocating with stories about illness and recovery—and death.

* As the finale of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton asks, with a poignancy to which any of us can respond: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

* Anthony Amsterdam and Jerome Bruner state in Minding the Law that the traditional view that adjudication could proceed by “examining free-standing factual data selected on grounds of their logical pertinency” has been superseded by the view that “increasingly we are coming to recognize that both the questions and the answers in such matters of ‘fact’ depend largely upon one’s choice (considered or unconsidered) of some overall narrative as best describing what happened or how the world works. ” 13 In other words, the “facts on the ground” are not cognizable at all until we make them into a narrative, and that narrative and its meaning are not determined by the facts but shaped by our expectations of narrative coherence and meaning, which in turn can derive from our preformed beliefs about human behavior, motivation, morality, gender identity, and so on.
Legal adjudication doesn’t in theory make a place for storytelling, though narrative may be crucial in creating facts, judgments, verdicts. Stories are regarded by law as suspiciously emotional, as making a kind of appeal to empathy—or prejudice—that legal rules must cabin and confine. 14 Yet there is ample evidence that the law relies far more than it is aware on stories, not only those of the courtroom —usually opposing stories, one of which will trump the other—but also at the appellate level, where the “facts of the case” established at trial must be retold as part of the attempt to judge whether the case has been decided according to the legal rules. And there are other stories as well: those of precedential cases, and maybe of the Constitution—its text and how it was decided upon and interpreted.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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