- Preface:Thinking with Stories in Times of Conflict
"Thinking with Stories in Times of Conflict: A Conference in Fairy-Tale Studies" was held at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, August 2–5, 2017. The Call for Papers (CFP) read:
Conflict can give rise to violence but also to creativity. In the 1690s, French fairy-tale writers imagined through their fairy tales ideal resolutions to political conflict (Louis XIV's absolutism), as well as conflict in conceptions of gender and marriage practices. The German tale tradition was transformed by the migration of French Huguenots to Germanic territories after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which prohibited the practice of Protestantism in France. The German Grimm Brothers drew from the tale tradition to create a cohesive notion of Germanic traditions and to contest French domination in the nineteenth century. Postcolonial writers such as Salman Rushdie, Patrick Chamoiseau, Nalo Hopkinson, and Sofia Samatar draw from wonder tale traditions in ways that disrupt Western narrative traditions. And multimedia storytelling that dips both into history and the fantastic has advanced decolonial and social justice projects. These are only a few examples of the ways in which authors think with stories in times of conflict.
With this conference, we brought fairy-tale scholars together to reflect upon the genre in relation to questions that included but were not limited to migrants and migration in different geographical locations and historical periods, political and social upheaval, and transformations with an eye to alternative futures. One of our goals was to encourage a dialogue between creative and scholarly thinking with wonder tales in times of conflict. The conference gathered over 50 scholars and artists together from North America, Asia, Australia, and Africa, and, in its aftermath, we were fortunate enough to forge a collaboration among three journals—Marvels & Tales, the Journal of American Folklore, and Narrative Culture—to publish essays that, in concert, promise to have a wide-ranging and international reach with scholars in multiple disciplines, including fairy-tale, folklore, and folk-narrative studies.
Drawing together the pieces included in the special issues are three factors, all of which are interwoven within one seemingly simple and yet provocative statement: "The truth about stories is that that's all we are" (King 2003:2). First, these essays [End Page 239] focus on stories that, while from different historical periods, cultures, and media, are all grounded in tradition, that is, extra-individual storytelling practices. Second, they work not so much at interpreting these stories, but at thinking through their affordances. Finally, they meditate on these stories as specifically situated cultural productions that intervene in material, ideological, political, and emotional conflicts.1
Methodologically, these essays are quite disparate. Some are written by scholars who identify as folklorists, but many are not. Some essays by non-folklorists employ the tools of folkloristics, while others bring literary, media, gender, and indigenous studies, as well as creative strategies, to bear on our understanding of folktales, myths, and fairy tales as well as indigenous genres from the Pacific such as mo'olelo and fāgogo. Each contribution recognizes the significant social functions that folk narratives hold across time and space, and collectively they speak to how no single methodology suffices to "think with stories" in different contexts. This is especially significant when the focus is not on the folk and fairy tale as a shape-shifting narrative and cultural text per se, but on other wonder genres as well as on creative adaptations that mix genres.
To think with stories rests in part on the understanding that the storyteller or artist is "always one step ahead of the scholar" (Nicolaisen 1991:12), and also on learning how (even more than what) stories tell about human interactions in the world and with each other, and how we tell stories in different genres and cultures to overcome powerlessness, maintain privilege, or question accepted hierarchies. We focus on power and hierarchies because thinking with stories, as Jack Zipes comments in his essay in this issue of JAF, occurs inevitably, rather than exceptionally, in times of conflict. Why in our CFP did we emphasize thinking with rather than about...