- Reading across Borders: Storytelling and Knowledges of Resistance
In Reading across Borders: Storytelling and Knowledges of Resistance, Shari Stone-Mediatoredefends the critical importance of storytelling in the pursuit of mature political consciousness, and suggests means for evaluating such stories. Traditional philosophy, she claims, does not recognize the epistemic value of more subjective, storylike representations of the world (see, for example, 9, 185), being more concerned about truth and objectivity and preferring the "resoluteness" it associates with rational thought (185). Stone-Mediatoreclaims that personal stories are not "mere stories" (161); they can be justified, she argues, according to their contribution to understanding and critical engagement (179–91). Drawing upon specific examples, Stone-Mediatore shows how personal stories of struggle are able to challenge "basic norms and categories" (143), such as assumptions about identity (147f) and agency (149f). Moreover, such stories are not always strictly autobiographical—at least not in a standard sense—but rather are stories about peoples, and about national goals, intending specifically to "reclaim" and "revalue" (152) the experience of the oppressed.
By stories or narratives the author has in mind "a pattern of identifiable actors and action-units that are qualified through metaphor and other poetic devices and that are related together through a coherent structure of beginnings and endings" (3). While it might seem that such a definition describes any theoretical account—explanations themselves are stories, with actors, actions, beginnings, and endings—the stories Stone-Mediatorerefers to in Reading across Borders are significantly constitutive of the actors, actions, and events they describe. That is, they bring about possibilities for understanding by allowing readers to "test and revise their community's taken-for-granted narrative paradigms" through experience of more marginalized perspectives (185). The "creative, engaged, tentative" character of writing from "outside ruling institutions" (190), when engaged seriously, allows readers to imagine the world as it might be. Thus, such stories involve more explicitly moral and political objectives for bringing about democracy, justice, and communication. Stone-Mediatoredescribes, for example, to the genre of testimonios in Latin America that aims to retell histories in order to bring about possibilities for national identity and direction. She refers specifically to Cuba, where in 1959 the new government recognized that the country's history must be retold to include the stories of the plantations, in order to bring about new and more appropriate values, such as an antiracist way of thinking (151).
Drawing upon Immanuel Kant and Hannah Arendt, among others, Stone-Mediatore suggests criteria for assessing the critical merits of stories. In the [End Page 203] author's view, storytelling can change expectations about what, and who, gets recognized. Passionate stories of others' lives and aspirations make us aware of our unself-conscious expectations because when we engage such realities we encounter those expectations (see, for example, 149, 167). But not all such accounts are useful. The author's proposal for the standard of "enlarged thought" (184f) is, roughly, that stories contribute to our knowledge when they promote "self-examination, responsible participation in public life, and accountability to others" (190). Personal stories are epistemically useful when they promote relevant sorts of ethical development, that is, when they provide access to things we need to know to become more humanely aware and motivated.
Reading across Borders is valuable for its insight into the fascinating role of stories of struggle in self- and social understanding. However, the presentation of the problem is misleading, perhaps undermining the philosophical significance of work in this area some women in the global South have already done. Stone-Mediatore presents the importance of personal stories in feminist work as if the epistemic role of stories is something that philosophers, especially epistemologists, have not recognized. In philosophy, she claims, there exists a "longstanding opposition between truth and story-telling" (5). Yet philosophers have long been aware of the role of storytelling in understanding the world. Aristotle, for example, was famously interested in storytelling, and philosophers of science have argued since the middle of the twentieth century that theories are like stories. Darwin did not defend a principle, Philip...