Thursday, 8 January 2015

Storytelling and Identity (1)

Identity and Storytelling have been intimately interconnected since the beginning of what we know about human culture. The topic is vast and complex - and can be looked at in many ways.

Please find below some links to some TED talks that I find very interesting in this context. You can either comment on these talks or take the talks as starting point for your own reflections.

Feel also free to add links to other talks or articles that you find interesting in this context.

Here the links:

















14 comments:

  1. All of the TED Talks we watched in class reminded me of Wade Davis’s book, “The Wayfinders” and several lectures I had with him last semester.
    In both, he stressed the importance of stories and the power of understanding and learning other cultures’ perspective of the world. His example, which he often sites, is that as a white boy growing up in B.C., his view of the world and the Earth is one of conquering/taking ownership of, and using the land and its systems for one’s own benefit. This perspective is markedly different to that of many First Nations’, for example, who see themselves as co-existing with the Earth and that it is not something that should be (ab)used. Neither perspective is better or worse, merely different, but they have drastic impacts for how a person views themselves, the world, and their place in the world.
    Lindsey’s talk in particular echoed this idea. She stressed the importance of understanding and accepting alternative perspectives and the relevance this has in our current times. Language loss is now at a point of erosion like never before. Although there has always been language loss, it has never been at the rate we are currently experiencing. For those of us who only speak English, at first, this may not seem to be a big/relevant issue, because we speak the dominant language. However, to lose a language is to lose a part of our history as humans and of ourselves. Only by listening to stories and spreading them can we hope to change the way the world views different cultures. If we proliferate these narratives to the public realm (not only the academic) we can use this knowledge, as Shafak eloquently put it, which allows us to move beyond ourselves.
    Here is a great TED Talks by Wade. I highly recommend it!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bL7vK0pOvKI

    ReplyDelete
  2. Out of all these TED talks, I found that Adichie's was the one that resonated most strongly with me. Although I certainly haven't experienced what Adichie's life was like in Nigeria, I can relate to the way she believed that books only had a certain type of character. Growing up, I believed I was fairly well-read but what I didn't realize at the time was that many of of the books that I was reading were written from a Western perspective. When I finally began to read books like "The Jade Peony," I was a little surprised by the characters. Being Chinese-Canadian, I can relate to some of the content in the book but a constant sense of unfamiliarity hovered around while I read it. I eventually realized that this was because the characters and content were nothing like the things I usually read. I've gradually grown to realize that the content we consume, particularly when young, can have an enormous impact on the perspectives we can have when older. Adichie vocalized for me many of the thoughts that I've had for quite some time and reminded me that I need to be wary of having too narrow a scope for other cultures. Other cultures, no matter how dissimilar they appear, are relatable. And when we find these similarities, we can begin to connect with each other on a more human level.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really enjoyed Adichie's talk. I think that it would be beneficial for more people who believe in certain cultural stereotypes to listen to the talk. By doing so it may cause them to reflect on how they currently view certain cultures in the world. Especially with the most recent political events in the world, it may benefit people to learn more about another's culture before judging them so heavily.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Patel’s TED talk was incredibly innovative and masterful. He slipped on multiple “masks” through his performance to emphasize the interdependence between misconceptions, imitations and self-identity. His end argument that “imitating somebody can reveal something unique…every time I fail to become somebody like my father, I become more like myself” is especially interesting to me. It reminds me of the childhood woes of “I don’t like her because she copies me.” I think everyone at some point has either been the victim or the suspect of this particular accusation which the adult counter argument has always been “imitation is the best compliment.” At age 10 that’s not necessarily what you want to hear, nor is it comforting either. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and we were all born within the span of 4 years making us very close in age. One of our biggest tensions growing up was making sure we solidified ourselves as individuals, not wearing the same clothes, liking the same tv shows, playing the same sports etc. It was a constant battle of “who did it first” or “she’s only doing it because I am.” I think the issue with what we perceived as imitation was that we needed to know we were different from each other and special in our ways. Now this may be a stretch from what Patel’s talk was getting at, but at some level I think it is of relevance. Through our battles with wearing matching outfits, playing the same sports, watching the same tv shows, we all somehow managed to come out 20 something years later very, very different. At this point we are all so diverse we are rarely recognized as related. We dress differently, eat different foods, hang out at different venues…we all have our style and scene. I think that this is in part due to how we molded ourselves when we were younger. I skied because my sister skied. Turns out I hate skiing. My sister put ketchup on her kraft dinner because I put ketchup on my kraft dinner. Turns out she hates ketchup on her kraft dinner. At the time, it was annoying that she copied me but now I am more appreciative of all the moments that I was imitated and did imitate. Without them, I wouldn’t have discovered who I was, and my sisters wouldn’t have discovered who they were. I think what Patel’s talk points out is that imitation is commonly perceived as the putting on of “masks” but in some ways, it can also be the taking off of them too. By borrowing from others, we can acknowledge what feels “right” and what does not fit in our identities.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hetain Patel’s TED talk reminded me that it seems impossible to have one set identity when we change so often throughout (and even within) different periods of our lives – we have so many different masks we show in different situations. But this doesn’t necessarily sound like a negative thing: unless we are consciously defying our characters in using them, how can we say that only one of those masks is “really” us and that the others are all falsehoods? Maybe an identity is not a singular, objective “truth” we need to “discover” in ourselves – maybe it is something we need to form and shape as we grow both externally and internally. What is identity but a story, after all?

    The idea that we cannot “find” our identity but must actively construct it ourselves might seem intimidating, but it can also be freeing. Of course, there is a difference between creating a new identity for oneself and pretending that your past does not exist, and there is a difference between constructing an identity by choosing a story you like and completely appropriating one (as with cultural appropriation). But what I mean by “constructing” an identity is not using parts that do not belong to you in order to create yourself – I mean using all the constituents of yourself to come to self-acceptance and to shape yourself into the person you want to be. To cite a fictional example, Nalo Hopkinson’s character Tan-Tan – from her book The Midnight Robber – faces a traumatic past filled with sexual and emotional abuse, exile, and unjust blame for her circumstances. Believing herself to be bound to this story, her internalized shame defines her identity and leads her to think herself unworthy of love or respect. Eventually, in an attempt to relieve herself of her shame, she begins masquerading as the “Robber Queen,” claiming the mythic trickster-vigilante as her own identity by acting the legend and bringing justice to those who need help in surrounding villages. Later she realizes that, although she is not “the” actual Robber Queen of the legends, she has created a legitimate identity for herself that is, like the Robber Queen, strong, brave, and very much worthy of love and respect.

    A commonality between Tan-Tan and Mr. Patel is that, through realizing their freedom to construct their own identities, and through forming and developing different masks that represent them, both are able to come to some form of self-acceptance and to tell their stories. Tan-Tan, using the Robber Queen’s clever and confident oratory skills, tells her version of her story and reclaims the agency required to construct herself. Mr. Patel, using a mix of Mandarin Chinese, his father’s accent, and Bruce Lee’s words – all which he considers part of his story, and therefore part of him – narrates his identity to the TED talk audience. Through imitation and the occasional failure to do, both have been able to think about who/what they are not and also who/what they would like to be, and to take the steps to become that.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I found Marco Tempest’s Ted Talk particularly interesting in that he brought together identity, social media and magic. As human beings, we have a natural drive to better ourselves. With technology and social media it is easy to assume an identity that is more refined that our actual everyday selves. In striving to cultivate a sophisticated identity, we may enhance stories to be fresh and exciting, and add stunning, edited photos to the stories to heighten the experience. One’s identity is also affected by the stories shared by others on social media. Our ‘friends’ online, become our audience, our social media platform is the stage and our profile and the stories we share are the character and script. With an audience present there is the sense that we need to perform, to entertain, and to impress. The play is our lives, and we as the principle actor may feel compelled to present our lives not as truth but as art in order to maintain our audience. In our lives offline, we are not in a constant state of performance in order to please the people around us and identity is multifaceted. We have many identities – the person we are with family or friends, the person we are with strangers, the person we are when we’re alone. With strangers or new friends, we may put on a performance to win their friendship. But with close friends and family who know us well, we don’t so often feel the need to enact an enhanced identity. When we have the constant pressure of a smartphone in our pocket or a computer chiming on our table, there is the sense that the heightened identity we present online is the one that is most constant. Our audience online is family, friends, strangers, all being presented this one sided identity that looks best and is most interesting. And like caring for a pet, we feel obligated to feed our profiles with more stories to maintain this audience. I believe we have lost sight that social media is magic, that our identities online are illusory and we are caught up by the trick, as Tempest says “happy to be fooled.”

    ReplyDelete
  8. Adichie's talk on a single story is most notable, especially by how Africa as a continent is generally viewed in mass media. But how did it come to this? Why is there so little knowledge of what Africa is about, particularly in North America?

    In the United States the African-American population, originally derived as African slaves from colonial Triangular Trade, were typically owned by slave owners, and as such, their African identity was cut from them. Likewise, with the advent of abolition and the freedom of millions of Black Americans, these slaves, without knowledge of their original identities, took on the names of their slave owners. Unlike a normal Caucasian, who likely can trace ancestry to families from a number of different countries depending on name, a Black individual named Smith may only know that themselves to be a descendant of a man who worked as a slave to a trader or owner called Smith. Any further than that would be impossible, since records for slaves were not well kept if not nonexistent. Africa, therefore, developed a form of mystique, unfortunately a collective one encompassing most of Africa as one unit, which propagated as the approximate land of their ancestors.

    As such, individuals with African heritage began to embrace heritage and identity in a different notion - not just of the pre-Abolitionist past but also of a globalized brand of African culture, mixing elements of Creole, Franco- and Anglo- colonial influences, and even pan-African and Caribbean culture. Identities become made, not taken from the past, as African pan-culturalism creates names, vernacular and nomenclature which would have a perceived "mystique", similar to their lack of knowledge for the "African mystique". Such an African diaspora created names such as Kanye, Lebron, or Tayshaun as a form of new identity. Gradually such names will become less exotic and will form part of the North American African collective identity as members with names such as those become more widespread and well known.

    As such, people in North America were typically in the wilderness about how Africa is. Africa takes on the visage of a singular entity, and in fact people refer to Africa like some singular place, rather than a vast continent with a multitude of ecological, cultural, and racial boundaries. What is most readily available with the availability heuristic is the most commonly visualized Africans in Western media becomes the dominant; that of the helpless, poor African. Western visualizations of Africa as a singular entity intertwined with this unfortunate visage; propagating through multiple generations as misinformation on the status of Africa.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I found Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments about stereotyping and miss representation or rather, under representation to be very thought provoking. In her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” she explores the idea of how being exposed to only one aspect of a story can create stereotypes, that limit and confine ones perceptions of that person/culture/place. She explains, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but they are incomplete, they make one story the only story.” She gives the example of how as a child she was always told of how poor their houseboy Fide was. But when she visited his rural village and saw the beautiful basket his brother made, she was shocked because all she had heard about them was that they were poor, and so she didn’t expect that his brother could be so talented. “Their poverty was [her] single story about them”. Adichie then goes on to explain that single stories “rob people of dignity”, because they essentially confine people to a specific stereotype, which effectively marginalizes and suppresses.

    Adichie’s argument reminded me of issues of representation with Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and the single story of this community that often portrays the area as dangerous, and whose residents are ‘lazy drug addicts’. I have volunteered with an organization in the community for the last six years and through the relationships I have developed with some community members I can attest that the DTES is suppressed by the stereotypes and this single story that further marginalizes community members. While yes, one cannot deny that the area is home to people who suffer from issues such as addiction, metal health issues, and disability, this depiction is incomplete; this is just one story. Unfortunately though the media often depicts this one story as the only story of the DTES. As Adichie explains “[this] makes recognition of our human equality difficult. It recognizes how we are different, not similar.” However she also explains “stories can be used to power and humanize, and repair that broken dignity.” The media – controlled by people of power – doesn’t leave much room for alternative stories, but one outlet that gives community members a platform to share their stories is a street newspaper called Megaphone. Formerly called Street News, Megaphone works to provide “a voice for the marginalized; and opportunity for change”. This grassroots organization gives homeless and low income people an economic opportunity and also provides a platform for alternative stories to be shared, resulting in a more accurate story of the DTES.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I found Chimamanda Adichie’s talk very interesting. It is a good reminder to us all to not listen to just the single story, as there is danger in this. It encourages the notion that there is always more than one side. Things are never one-dimensional and we as people are multifaceted beings. A single story can set us up for stereotypes, misunderstanding, and cultural divides. Chimamanda Adichie reminds us not only to look further, but also to look beyond, as we search for truth. There are two things she said that really stuck with me. The first is that by listening to only one story, the tale is incomplete and in turn robs people of dignity. Secondly, I really appreciated her idea that in rejecting a single story, we regain a sort of paradise. I wholeheartedly agree and find her words of wisdom to be absolutely inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I also really enjoyed Elif Shafak's TEDtalk. I thought it was an interesting concept that when writing fiction, readers want to put the author somewhere in the story. Elif Shafak shared how people look to pigeon hole the author and sometimes go as far as stereotyping their work. She explained how writing a story allowed her to go a transcendental journey and allow her imagination to act as an escape. She explains how identity politics divide and quotes Audre Lorde as saying, “The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The black goddess within each of us - the poet - whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.” She says that writing expands our heart. I was thinking how reading allows us to go on the same journey, which expands our hearts as we go. Reading in essence sets us free.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I really like what Lindsey has to say about cultural knowledge. I’m going to talk about something a bit different but that I feel is related – knowledge from BC coastal Indigenous peoples. My inspiration is Lindsey’s quote, “when an elder dies, a library burns.” First I want to start with a rant. I feel like there is a fundamental lack of respect from white Canadian society towards Indigenous peoples. To me, it is that we reduce their origin stories to fictional stories and we exclude their knowledge from being “true”. There is something about the validity of Indigenous cultures that white society seems to not be able to accept. Personally I believe that the source of disrespect and superiority rests in the inflated value of the written world. I believe that we don’t trust unwritten knowledge; sadly, Indigenous Canadians did not have a written language before contact with Europeans, so their knowledge is passed off as fiction. Here in British Columbia, Traditional Ecology Knowledge (TEK) is just now being utilized by the government (usually not willingly) and corporations because they are starting to realize how valuable this unwritten information is. Just like how the knowledge of navigation and star interpretation is known and passed on through elders, so too is analyzing fish and bird patterns, and observing changes in local vegetation and coastline to determine the health or illness of the natural world is passed on. They learn to hear the words that the natural world speaks but which no one else can hear or understand. And as Indigenous languages die out, and they are because of the legacy of punitive assimilation policies, the knowledge dies out too. There are some words in Indigenous languages which have no English translation. That’s a lot of knowledge that we, non-Indigenous society, cannot know by words alone. I don’t know what the solution is to keep knowledge alive, let alone accessible. In today’s age we are doing enormous damage to the earth and water, locally and globally. There are scientists who can analyze a landscape without the use of tools. How can we justify losing all this knowledge? How can we justify disregarding it?

    ReplyDelete
  13. They TED talk that I found most interesting was Adichie’s. I grew up in a suburb of Seattle and lived a very common western society life style. It was stimulating to hear how someone across the globe lived such a different lifestyle. Growing up, I naively thought that everyone lived just like me. It was interesting to hear how the books I read played a large role in this belief. It was not until I got to high school and started reading more current events that I learned more about other cultures. Africa is portrayed in the mass media as a very poor third world country. I have learned that this depiction is not necessarily true. Africa, like every continent, does have poor areas that are in need of help but there are also parts of Africa that are very “westernized.” Adichie’s talk broadened my understanding of Africa and I learned things that I would not learn from the mass media.

    I really enjoy watching TED talks because I find them very interesting and informative. I have added some links to ones that I have watched in other classes/in my spare time.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_8y0WLm78U
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbdp0Yzk4gY
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBg5QvcZQP8

    ReplyDelete
  14. I believe Adichie's TED talk was the most interesting in my opinion. It portrays such a different lifestyle in Africa. I have been to all the continents around the world except two. One of them being Africa so Adichie's story gives much insight to what life is like there, it is unlike any of the other places I have been to. This is quite surprising since I consider myself a multicultural person. I think the most interesting point that arises through Adichie's story is not only the interesting story itself, but rather the danger of a single story she states. I think this is a huge lesson for everyone, stories are rarely the same even though they might tell the same event. Stories differ on the storyteller and they can get distorted over time as memories change and fade. A story is never one dimensional, rather it is far from it, it is multidimensional with such vast possibilities in how it is told and how it is interpreted.

    ReplyDelete