Friday, April 22, 2011

Carol L. Birch, "Storytelling: Practice and Movement" [L3]

Birch, Carol L. “Storytelling: Practice and Movement.” Teaching Oral Traditions. Ed. John Miles Foley. New York: The Modern Language Association, 1998. Print. 308-17.

Birch's main contention seems to be that the storytelling community needs a critical vocabulary with which to discuss storytelling as a conscious practice.* Moving beyond the many efforts to illuminate how-to tell stories, Birch focuses her attention on exploring how storytelling works as a complex socio-cultural interaction---on how the process of telling stories means. She lays down two terms that provide insight into this process and the dynamics of the relationship among audience, text, and teller; these two terms are "conviction" and "credibility." And she captures the dynamics of inherent in this multi-faceted relationship in this question: "Do I believe what this person is telling me?"

I take this to mean the following: "I," the audience member, has certain expectations about how the storytelling event should meet her needs. These expectations center on personal moral and aesthetic standards---her beliefs about what and how a story---a text-in-performance---should mean. As the teller tells her tales, the audience member is weighing the text and the teller's performance of it against her beliefs; she's testing the teller's conviction and credibility. If she's convinced the teller's tale and its performance are credible, she can answer that, yes, she does believe what this person is telling her. She can subsequently give herself over to the interaction facilitated by the text-in-performance. However, if she's not fully convinced, she my shut herself off to the audience-text-teller relationship or at least hold back the attention required by her participatory role in the storytelling event. If all audience members did this, the performance would be a flop

As Birch suggests, these dynamics exist on a continuum, from total connection among audience, text, and teller to total disconnection and many degrees in between. She further suggests that these terms (conviction and credibility) can be used to evaluate a range of storytelling circumstances---from everyday storytelling ("situational") to storytelling meant explicitly to pass on a culture's moral standards and ethical principles ("conscious-cultural") to professional, staged storytelling ("platform"). Her categories---situational storytelling, conscious-cultural storytelling, and platform storytelling---can further be used to discuss how stories and their performance mean in various social and cultural contexts.

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*Even keeping in mind that this essay was published in the '90s, Birch has some fundamental things to say about the critical vocabulary used to discuss texts-in-performance and storytelling/performance events.

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Image source: The Storycrafters