Should we regret the loss of grand narratives in history?

To a kid looking up to Ice Cube, ‘Life ain’t nothing but bitches and money‘.

It’s not actually that far off a combination of two of the early 20th century’s grandest narratives. Freud understand reality entirely through his obsession with sex (and it’s repression), Marx saw history as entirely about economics.

Back to bitches and money. If you will.

Narratives Wit’ Attitude, anyone?

The problem with this sort of grandness, is that perspectives are narrowed, realities are avoided and history is warped.

Freud’s psychoanalysis is built from Viennese prejudice.  Marx’s Marxism I find harder to challenge, but let’s face it, the inevitability of revolution didn’t exactly foresee how dramatically his ideology could be abused by people seeking power, and how far capitalism would warp to make sure true revolution could never quite find it’s conditions. Late-capitalism exploits in ways he never imagined.

And this is the problem with Grand Narratives. They aren’t particularly adaptable, and those people who do cling on to their forms, often end up being forced to distort their narrative to fit current shapes.

So we stepped back, got all post-modern and accepted the notion of multiple readings, multiple narratives, palimpsest and simulacra. Suddenly there was no centre. There was no correct, just multiple streams of understanding. Layered on top of each other.

Is it regrettable?

Personally, I don’t think so, but there are problems.

First of all, it’s hard to not sound extremely amoral once you say that there is no universal meaning. A grand narrative gives you a quick way to understand something. A quick way to say what is right and what is wrong, what to challenge and what not to. Let’s not forget that the original gangstas of grand narratives are those of the gods. Religious stories give lives narrative. They also give us a quick easy morality. A deconstructed universe has no easy milestones to grab on to. Just a morass of ideas swirling like a whirlpool without a centre.

Secondly, it’s not easy to communicate. I’m failing miserably here. Without grand narratives, getting a point across becomes fraught with danger. Fortunately, miscommunication can sometimes help the cause. It’s a demonstration of potential subjectivities. It’s just a question of exposing these.

For me, grandness is simplification is a hiding place.

Once you’ve got a story to tell about the universe, you stop thinking and grow hard. Sure, hard is well defended, but it’s also closed. It’s also ignorant, not in terms of stupid, but in terms of ignoring.

Living without a centre makes it easier to listen. To understand different viewpoints. To realise that the world is more complicated than you imagine and so less likely to be something you can control. But it is something you are intimately engaged in play with.

To me, multiplicity means connection. It means webs of understandings, interlocking and uniting.

This sounds like gibberish, but for me, it’s much more positive than a grand narrative. It’s the opposite.

It’s dancing. Freestyle.

Much better than Cube’s reductionism.

Illustrated by Adam.


About Alabaster Crippens

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Illustrations by Adam, Questions by All Soul's General Paper. Bookmark the permalink.

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