"the deadliest bullshit is odorless and transparent" - William Gibson

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


I'm in love with stories. When I really think about what my obsession is, what I want to do, what I need to do, what makes me happpy, what makes me scared... I keep coming back to stories.

I was reminded of their power and scope a few times today:

First during Doc Searls's talk at UNC today, where he revisited the tenant of the Cluetrain Manifesto that "Markets Are Conversations" and retold the principal as "Markets are Stories." Whether it's Steve Jobs telling himself the story that Microsoft has no taste, or Gates's empire telling itself the story of how smart they are, we are indeed the stories we tell ourselves (thanks), and in blogging terms, we are the stories we blog.

Then, at home, I was reading Jeff Jarvis and found that he had written about the upcoming 9/11 anniversary in story terms. He's written the this aware and fragmented revisiting spoke to me as particularly honest and powerful in ways that only a story can be. Rhetoric and pundit talking and all that jsut doesn't connect across time and space the way a story can:

"I have to go back to remember so I can begin to forget, so I can snap out of this and end the paralysis and accomplish something real and decent again: So I can stop the fall."

The way Jeff tells his story and his comments on the myth of time healing, "Time heals, no? No. Time hides. Just look at the scabs of Vietnam: Scrape them today and they ooze and hurt,"
brings me back to tim O'Brien and his stories:

"Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story." from Spin

"You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let's say, and afterward you ask, "Is it true?" and if the answer matters, you've got your answer.

For example, we've all heard this one. Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast and saves his three buddies.

Is it true?

The answer matters.

You'd feel cheated if it never happened. Without the grounding reality, it's just a trite bit of puffery, pure Hollywood, untrue in the way all such stories are untrue. Yet even if it did happen - and maybe it did, anything's possible even then you know it can't be true, because a true war story does not depend upon that kind of truth. Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth. For example: Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast, but it's a killer grenade and everybody dies anyway. Before they die, though, one of the dead guys says, "The fuck you do that for?" and the jumper says, "Story of my life, man," and the other guy starts to smile but he's dead.

That's a true story that never happened"
-from How to Tell a True War Story

In telling stories whether they are in the marketplace or in the aftermath of tragedy we are attempting to stop time, even though we know we will fail, we know that we will never freeze the moment in words or celluloid or song. We try again and again to get it right, and we forget and glaze over and develop blind spots just the same.

A good story will never be true, just like a good product/service will never be perfect. "Truth" and "perfection" and "agreement" are signs that you aren't trying hard enough.


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