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Research in African Literatures 32.1 (2001) 98-109

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Telling Stories in the Era of Global Communication: Black Writing--Oraliture

Susan Petrilli and Augusto Ponzio

This article is part of a research project developed during a meeting at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, on 17 July 1998, attended by the present authors from the Department of Linguistic Practices and Text Analysis, Bari University, Italy (where they teach Philosophy of Language, General Linguistics, and Semiotics), by Francesco Loriggio, Professor of Comparative Literature at Carleton University, Canada, and Joseph Paré, Professor of Literary Semiotics at the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

One of the immediate aims of this project is publication of a collective volume, possibly in dual edition, including contributions by authors from different countries and representing different cultures, working from different perspectives, according to different interests and competencies. The provisional title of the volume is Le réseau du récit. La critique de la communication mondialisée / Telling Stories. Towards a Critique of Global Comunication. The expression "telling stories" refers to the practice of storytelling, of narrating stories, as well as to the value of storytelling as a practice, and to the signifying value and import of stories, stories that are telling, significant.

Global or world communication is subject to the world market, to the processes of general commodification characteristic of communication-production society today. Consequently, one of the distinctive features of world communication is the tendency to homologation, to a leveling process of the differences. However, homologation gives rise to the formation of identities, individualisms, separatisms, and egoisms, of both the individual and community order, which are simply illusory. They accompany and are complementary to the mechanisms of competitiveness, conflict, and mutual exclusion. Paradoxically, the search for identity excludes otherness. In fact, the kind of difference necessary for the assertion of identity, for self-assertion, is difference that is indifferent to other differences. The condition of indifferent difference is achieved by sacrificing otherness to varying degrees. Reference here is to both internal otherness, to what identifies with difference internally, and external otherness, the difference of others, autrui.

On the contrary, storytelling is a practice common to all cultures that far from denying differences exalts and relates them according to the principle of mutual hospitality, wherewith it favors encounter and mutual understanding among different peoples. But even more, this practice is the structural-genetical expression of differences related dialogically across different languages and discourse genres on the basis of hospitality and interest for the other. Historically, storytelling has acted as a sort of connective [End Page 98] tissue across which different themes, subjects, values, and discourse genres have circulated among different peoples throughout the centuries, as testified by our common patrimony of legends, tales, stories, myths, parables, sayings, proverbs, etc. While in contemporary society communication with others is goal-oriented, channeled into the interests and gains of the individual to a pathological degree, in storytelling such a tendency is replaced by communication oriented by the interesting, where what counts is one's relation with the other, one's interest in the other per se.

The practices of narrativity are manifested through different types of discourse, different discourse genres, including the novel, which is the most representative literary genre of our day. Furthermore, they are developed through different kinds of media such as cinema and not just writing and orality. The common characteristic of storytelling shared by all cultures and languages consists in the fact of its being an end in itself, of its being founded uniquely in the pleasure of invoking the other, of involving and listening to the other. This characteristic distinguishes storytelling as we understand it from the type of narrativity that serves power: the power of control and punishment (the story told to the magistrate or police officer), the power of information (journalistic chronicles), the power of healing (a medical case history, the story that interests the psychoanalyst), the power of redeeming and saving (the story told at confession), the power of recording and establishing the Sense of History (reconstruction...


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