Brian Boyd – On The Origin Of Stories


The capacity to command attention in social animals correlates highly with status—and the incapacity to gain attention marks low status, the inability to avert negative attention augurs danger (mockery, reproach, attack, or punishment), and the withdrawal of attention (ostracism, isolation) constitutes a severe punishment in itself. Status in social animals also correlates with survival and reproductive success. We therefore seek attention as a good in itself and compete do tell stories. Studies show that we spend more than half our casual conversation time in gossip. If narrative were primarily altruistic, we would hold back and wait for others to produce their gossipy gift for us. Instead we normally compete not to hide social information but to divulgue it. And when others recount a story, we often compete to offer additional details, alternative explanations, equivalents (“You think you’ve had a bad day”…”) or parallels (“But when we were in Bolivia…”). We can support our friends, challenge enemies, or make our own claim on the attention of others.

Narrative always bears at least a trace of strategy. An immigrant woman who arrived in Chicago late at night spontaneously recounted the evening’s events to a group of women as a near-rape experience, appealing to female solidarity in the face of vulnerability, but reported the same event to a mixed-sex audience as an encounter with a colorful group of weirdos, to avoid making part of her audience defensive and to appeal to their appreciation of diversity and novelty.

© Brian Boyd – On The Origin Of Stories (excerto adaptado) – Belknap Harvard


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