The Irreducibility of the Communal Narrative pt I

Last week I attended the Society of Vineyard Scholars second annual conference.  It was wonderful!

One of the many things I heard there that got caught in the gray matter on its way through my head was this:

James K. A. Smith made the explicit point that there are forms of knowledge that are not reducible to the level of deductive discourse; specifically, stories.  A story is not simply a collection of facts, the narrative framework itself is a part of the knowledge gained by learning the story. When we understand someone's personal story, or the story of how a particular event unfolded in someone's life, or even the story of a historical period or people, we are gaining knowledge that can only be gained by learning the story.

We know this implicitly, but have been blinded to it by centuries of cultural adherence to enlightenment dogma.*  We become friends with people, not by reading their medical history, or genealogical tree (although those bits of data aren't irrelevant), but by hearing the story of how they became who they are, and where that trajectory is taking them.  The same with organizations; we don't want to simply read their financial statements, and get bullet points of their goals, we need to know who they are and that requires their story.  The facts aren't unimportant, quite the opposite, rather the facts are the bricks the story gives larger form to; building a wall, or a house, or a shed, or a silo, or a bank, or a school, or a...

...the larger building gives significance to the individual bricks that they don't have in isolation; so to, the story gives significance (knowledge and meaning) to the facts that they simply don't have as isolated bits of data.  This is what James K. A. Smith called the 'irreducibility of narrative knowledge.'  In our next post, we will extrapolate from Smith to what I am calling the 'irreducibility of the communal narrative.'


*This ties in interestingly with the 'Ubuntu' post.  After Smith's lecture my friend Harvey, who is from Malawi, said to me something along the lines of, "that is great, but if he would have just talked to someone from Africa he would have known all of this already."  He essentially seemed to be faulting the entire Western, rational, Enlightenment project as flawed from the very beginning!  (Harvey, if you are reading this you can correct me!)  I suppose I must agree that some of the flaws within Western culture are directly linked to our fundamentally individualistic epistemology.


Josh Hopping said...

Good summary. =)

BTW - it was great to met you in person last week. I guess you can say that we went from deductive discourse to narrative knowledge. ;-)

scarves said...

Thank you for the entertainment.Love those puffy clouds...so sweet and lovely:) Kisses and hugs, darling
i will be much missed.
Scarves Scarves