Як залучити кожного українця до реконструкції та довгострокового планування

Відновлюючись після таких катастроф, як пожежі та війни, громади часто несуть на собі відбиток  якогось єдиного авторитету. Такі перепланування за своєю суттю є творіннями цього автора, отже авторитарними. Коли вони є одиничними та загальними у своєму наративі, вони є тотальними.

Створення децентралізованого архіву місцевих наративів, захищеного від маніпуляцій з боку специфічних  інтересів, які б обмежували множинність наративів, означає побудувати неприступну фортецю проти тоталітаризму. Якби українці побудували цю наративну інфраструктуру за допомогою ресурсів, до яких у них є доступ навіть зараз, навіть якщо вони відсутні у своїх рідних містах, вони могли б відновитися після повернення та розвиватися відповідно до власного відчуття місцевості.

Спогади перетворюють “простір” на “місцевість”

Наше відчуття розміщення через призму спогадів викликається візуальними посиланнями з нашого простору. Розвинуті міські простори – це відображення багатьох тисяч історій авторів/зацікавлених сторін протягом десятиліть і століть, які збережені у  ландшафті. Ця множинна колекція спогадів втілює ілюзорне відчуття місцевості.

Втрата візуальних ознак міського полотна, втрата відчуття місцевості — ось чому травма оновлення місцевості триває десятиліттями. Щоб пом’якшити цю травму, оновлення має бути плюралістичним зусиллям, що базується насамперед на місцевих історіях, а поточний розвиток має використовувати той самий процес, розвиваючи існуючі місцеві історії, а не нав’язуючи іноземні ідеї.

Порівняння перехресного та повздовжного планування.

Суттєвим обмеженням місцевого планування та міського впорядкування є перехресний процес: лише ті зацікавлені сторони, які мають обізнаність і мають час у своєму графіку, можуть бути задіяні у окремих проектах. Зацікавлені сторони, які виділяють свій час і енергію, обмежуються розглядом лише одного проекту, і цей вклад майже ніколи не використовуються повторно пізніше.

У наративній інфраструктурі зацікавлені сторони додають карту своїх особистих спогадів (малюнок 1, угорі),  відображаючи своє окреме відчуття місця в наративному просторовому архіві. Таким чином вони завжди вносять свою географічно релевантну історію замість того, щоб адаптувати відповідь під кожен новий проект. Наративна інфраструктура назавжди вбудовує значущість їхнього життєвого досвіду в саму землю. Кожен проект реконструкції чи розвитку може почати генерувати ідеї шляхом наративного розширення та створення спогадів місцевих зацікавлених сторін у просторовому архіві (мал. 1, нижче).

Якщо розробники не використовують місцеві наративи, опоненти можуть законно критикувати етику розробників за те, що вони не враховують відомого минулого конкретного місця. Зацікавлені сторони та критики можуть виправдано стверджувати, що пропозиція шкодить відчуттю місцевості (і вони зможуть довести це, використовуючи дані з просторового архіву).

Цей лонгітюдний і плюралістичний підхід не позбавляє планувальників, регуляторів і розробників залучення перехресних зацікавлених сторін. Деталі необхідно узгоджувати за допомогою спеціалістів. Але завдяки Наративній Інфраструктурі покращується локальна підтримка, оскільки концептуальні теми в основному є локальними, а охоплення може бути цілеспрямованим і ефективнішим.

Пункт 1. HI використовується у Фамагусті, Кіпр

Story arrow

Пункт 2 Потенційне використання картографічної усної історії в лонгітюдному підході.

Кожен хоче, щоб його життя суттєво впливало на його місцевість.. Якщо теми їхніх особистих історій втіляться в нових міських забудовах, які вони бачать, вони відчують, що прожили повне сенсу життя (кілька прикладів наведено на малюнку 2). Безперервність їхніх закладених спогадів збережеться, і вони, швидше за все, знову вноситимуть вклад у ці місця.

Збір історій може розпочатися цього тижня

Одно- або двогодинне інтерв’ю з усною історією є будівельними блоками Наративної Інфраструктури. Використовуючи готові функції Google Планета Земля, носій мови в будь-якій точці світу може записати голос зацікавленої сторони й одночасно нанести на карту її історію. Навіть перебуваючи поза межами свого місця проживання, зацікавлена ​​сторона може переглядати свої особисті фотографії та Google Street View, щоб відновити спогади.

Цей просторовий архів, розміщений на дзеркальних серверах непов’язаних університетів за допомогою відкритої загальнодоступної гросбух (або блокчейну), буде захищеним від підробки. Те, як історії накладаються одна на одну та інші просторові дані, можна порівняти графічно.

Наративна інфраструктура зараз існує навколо нас, нам просто потрібно нанести її на карту, щоб зробити її корисною.

Протягом 500 поколінь міське середовище розвивалося з того, що одна людина розповідала історію іншій. Закони походять із сумних історій; розвиток є результатом насичених історій. Українці знаходяться в унікальному становищі, щоб:

01

Розповісти їхні історії

02

Надати інформацію для спроб реконструювання

03

Вплинути на майбутній розвиток України

04

Заявити про незнищенність свого відчуття місцевості

Про автора

Автор Джейсон Вінн, AICP (АІСП) is an architect and urban planner with Alpha Terra Inc. (Texas). He is a recent senior lecturer of urban design at Eastern Mediterranean University, with a pedagogical focus on ethnographic and narratological approaches to stakeholder engagement in the design and planning process. He is the acting director of Narrative Infrastructure, an initiative to establish a community archive of mapped stories for policy, peace-building, and development.

This proposal was in response to the recent APA International Division’s Report on Ukraine’s Post War Reconstruction.

Особлива подяка Xenia Adjoubei 

Xenia made possible the Ukrainian translation of this article. Learn more about her upcoming classes supported by the Kharkiv School and Ro3kvit Coalition for the reconstruction of Ukraine for an exhibition and education programme involving and supporting Ukrainian refugees.  

She is the director at Adjoubei Scott Whitby studio urban design and creative consultancy.

 

How to Enable Every Ukrainian in Reconstruction and Long-Term Planning

ця стаття доступна українською мовою.


In recovering from disasters such as fires and war, communities often bare the stamp of some singular authority. Such redevelopments are inherently creatures of that author, hence author‑itarian. When singular and total in their narrative, they are total‑itarian.

Building a decentralized archive of local narratives, one immune from manipulation by special interests who would limit the plurality of narratives, is to build an unassailable fortress against totalitarianism. If Ukrainians would build this narrative infrastructure with resources they have access to even now, even if absent from their hometowns, they could rebuild upon return and develop in continuity with their own sense of place

Memories turn “space” into “place”

Our sense of emplacement, via our memories, is triggered by visual references from our space. Evolved urban spaces are reflective of many thousands of authors’/ stakeholders’ stories over decades and centuries held by the landscape. This plural collection of memories embodies the illusive sense of place.

The loss of visual cues from the urban fabric, a loss of the sense of the place, is why the trauma of urban renewal lasts for decades. To mitigate this trauma, renewal should be a pluralistic effort derived primarily from local stories, and ongoing development should leverage the same process by elaborating on existing local stories rather than imposing foreign ideas.

Cross-sectional verses Longitudinal Planning

A significant limitation of conventional planning and urban management practices is the cross-sectional process: only those stakeholders with awareness and time in their schedule have the potential to be involved in discreet projects. Stakeholders who do commit their time and energy are limited to the single project under consideration and those contributions are almost never reused later. 

In Narrative Infrastructure, the stakeholders contribute a map of their personal memories (figure 1, upper), discretely mapping their sense of place in a narrative spatial archive. In this manner they are always contributing their geographically relevant story rather than having to respond to each new project. Narrative Infrastructure forever embeds the meaningfulness of their life experiences in the land itself. Every reconstruction or development project can begin generating ideas by narratively extending and building upon the memories of local stakeholders in the spatial archive (figure 1, lower).

When developers fail to use local narratives, opponents can legitimately criticize developers’ ethics for failing to incorporate the known past of the specific location. Stakeholders and critics can make the justifiable claim that the proposal is harming the sense of place (and they will be able to prove this using data from the spatial archive).

This longitudinal and pluralistic approach does not obviate planners, regulators, and developers from doing cross-sectional stakeholder engagement. Details must be addressed with inputs from specialists. But with Narrative Infrastructure, local support is improved because the concept themes are foundationally local, while outreach can be targeted and more efficient.

NI Project examplefigure 1. NI in use at Famagusta, Cyprus 

How a mapped story impacts the community over time

Fig 2. Potential uses of a mapped oral history in longitudinal approach

Everyone wants to see their lives meaningfully influence their neighborhoods. If the themes of their personal stories are embodied in new urban developments they see, they will feel they have lived meaning-full lives (some examples are included in figure 2). The continuity of their emplaced memories will persist, and they will be more likely to reinvest themselves in those places.

Story collection can begin this week

One or two-hour oral history interviews are the building blocks of Narrative Infrastructure. Using out-of-the-box functionality of Google Earth, a native speaker anywhere in the world can record the voice of a stakeholder and simultaneously map their story. Even when not in their own neighborhood, a stakeholder can review their personal photos and Google Street View to cue their memories.

Deposited on mirrored servers of unrelated universities using an open public ledger (or blockchain), this spatial archive will be tamper-proof. How stories overlap with each other and other spatial data can then be compared graphically.

Narrative Infrastructure exists all around us now, we just need to map it to make it useful.

For 500 generations, urban environments have been developing from one person telling another person a story. Laws are derived from sad stories; development is the result of exuberant stories. Ukrainians are in a unique position to:

01

tell their stories

02

inform reconstruction efforts

03

influence future development of Ukraine

04

and declare their sense of place indestructible

 

About the author

Jason Murray Winn, AICP, is an architect and urban planner with Alpha Terra Inc. (Texas). He is a recent senior lecturer of urban design at Eastern Mediterranean University, with a pedagogical focus on ethnographic and narratological approaches to stakeholder engagement in the design and planning process. He is the acting director of Narrative Infrastructure, an initiative to establish a community archive of mapped stories for policy, peace-building, and development.

This proposal was in response to the recent APA International Division’s Report on Ukraine’s Post War Reconstruction.

Special thanks to Xenia Adjoubei 

Xenia made possible the Ukrainian translation of this article. Learn more about her upcoming classes supported by the Kharkiv School and Ro3kvit Coalition for the reconstruction of Ukraine for an exhibition and education programme involving and supporting Ukrainian refugees.  

She is the director at Adjoubei Scott Whitby studio urban design and creative consultancy.

 

Longitudinal Stakeholder Engagement with Oral Histories and GIS

Here is my full presentation to National Planning Conference with the American Planning Association!
This is a starter-guide to spatial narratology, and how to build narrative infrastructure. I cover:
1. Hannah Arendt’s Human Condition as urban planning codes.
2. How to transform tragic narratives into comedic narratives

Cross-sectional stakeholder engagement has a limited shelf-life, high cost, often comes after an urban change is pre-conceived. Longitudinal approaches allows urban change professionals to leverage ethnographic GIS methods to map sentiment for reuse, research, and stress-testing of future proposals. Cities are frame-stories, therefore planners are storytellers. Mapping narratives takes subjective data and objectively anchors it to places. Narrative maps enable planners, developers, representatives, and the public to know the stories on a street corner, to compare them to neighbouring stories, and tell new stories as subsequent chapters of those stories from the past. This couching of proposals in the context of the past engenders continuity in the perspective of the stakeholders: their stories extended into the future.

Viewers will be introduced to the methods of spatial narratology and a case-study conducted at the medieval walled city Famagusta, Cyprus.

How to make Spatial Narratology:

  1. Leverage ethnographic methods to build a robust narrative infrastructure
  2. Identify narrative coding schemes to foster creation of new narratives in continuity with old narratives
  3. Guide stakeholders new stories away from tragic and toward comedic narrative-arcs

 

The Arendt Codes

It was a thrill to present to the Arendtian community, given how ingrained auntie Hannah is in Narrative Infrastructure. I’ve been reading with the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College since 2019, and it is a highlight of my week. Between Dr. Berkowitz, Tara, and the regular members, I have found a tribe.
In March of 2022 Tara invited me to present the principles of Narrative Infrastructure as they reflect Arendt’s discussion in The Human Condition.
This one text is my answer to “If stuck on a desert island and you could have one book, which would it be?” Dr. Berkowitz has led the research team through two complete readings of this text, and all those recordings are available on their YouTube site.

There are no dangerous thoughts, thinking is dangerous

Join the VRG Reading Group

 

The Story of Sleeping Rough

Camping in the woods of Singapore for 30 years

Oh Go Seng. In a tropical country of 5,686,000 where only 1000 people are homeless, he lived in the woods.

Oh Go Seng at his encampment — Photo BBC

Singapore is an incredibly odd bird. They have absurdly powerful state powers, which I attribute to being only the size of one city. It’s much easier to effect mass-change on a single city level. Robert Moses had that kind of power in New York (demolishing several neighborhoods full of people). Mayor Jaime Lerner of Curitiba re-wrote the book on public transportation (60% of Curitibans use public transit daily). Singapore forced its population to accept public housing as a norm in the 60s and 70s, and really set the stage for building a strong middle class (with all the prosperity bonuses you get from that, particularly education).

Their approach was down-right authoritarian, so their rich citizens nominated themselves authors of a wholly Modern (capital ‘M) Singapore. That is the opposite of a generative-ly developed community like a European village. The generative community evolves in a million tiny steps over centuries, crating the rich fabric that demonstrates the 1001 stories that can be read in the stones, or glazing, if you know what to look for.

Narrative Infrastructure is still operating in Singapore: people are still telling stories and adapting spaces. But NI is diametrically opposite from authoritarian urban design, as it relies on ALL the inhabitants to contribute, not the dictates of the elite. That elite was born of a tension between Muslim principles, Chinese communist principles, and British colonialism. The result was a highly competitive city-state that regularly suffered race riots. The governing approach was to suppress individualism and democracy with the aim to pacify divergent stories and make a new people.

I would surmise Mr. Oh’s story has brought a counter-veiling story to the macro narrative of Singapore that focuses on progressive civilization. Discovering a gentlemen who’d managed to “live in a garden” in the city whose crowing-achievement is public housing is likely a psychic slap in the face to Singapore’s 50 year narrative. The story of sleeping rough is anathema. 

If I may indulge my own cultural bias, I’d call Mr. Oh’s counter-narrative poetic compared to the ongoing housing crisis around the world.  Industrialized cities like Los Angeles have 40,000 homeless people on the streets tonight. Compared to Singapore’s 1,000, the city of The Angles has a great multitude of souls shivering in tents tonight. These conditions are fueled again by a oligarchic mind-set of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) wherein the voting rich of California have mandated development caps to keep their narrative fabric the way they like it.

The contradiction being that their own lifestyles are predicated on a massive service industry that they desire, but don’t want to house. So instead of accommodating the plurality of stories in proper homes, the plurality is blocking the sidewalks of Los Angeles with encampments.

This story was developed from the BBC article sent to me by Calvin Niles who correctly identified Mr. Oh’s story as being a significant exemplar of how counter-narratives are often our wake-up call.

Credit to Calvin for distracting me from the upcoming American Planning Association national conference where I’ve been invited to present Narrative Infrastructure to the city planning industry of the United States.

Escape Reality

Hubris in the design academy looking for in-roads to the industry.

Evidence-Based Design Practice?

Visit KAEBUP EU

 

STORYTELLING AS DESIGN

I listened to two hours of research reporting that pushed the notion that we should be employing more evidence-based approaches to our industry design practices (particularly at urban scales).
While I understand that the extent of the work-product contracted by the European Union for this research demanded an answer to the potential methods for integration of evidence-based approaches, it glossed over the pertinence of such approaches.
This drives to the heart of the practice of urban change professionals: Are the conclusions derived from your sample generalizable?
My co-participants in KAEBUP’s presentation were of similar minds: we are being asked to disregard post-positive approaches and generative approaches. This feels like a regression to hubristic approaches from which the design industry is struggling to overcome.
Alvaro Valera Sosa’s response was largely focused on ergonomics, which we don’t need reminding of. The human body is and has always been a baseline design criteria.
The Alain Chairadia’s response was to highlight the role of policy in the built environment, but this is an inverted logic. Policy is a response to narrative. No policy is ever born without someone complaining about something to law makers. All policy is an attempt to codify a set of standards, which is just the end result of relying on a bell-curve. The job of lawmakers is to establish the bell-curve as a hard line between legal and illegal. But this realm is flawed as a rule, as it is reactive, and denies exceptionalism. 99% of all cities are evolved based on minute decisions made over centuries, not polices. You can certainly point to land-use policy as form-giver, but this is hardly the extent of the “sense of place”. Saying we cannot know what the micro-response should be is false if we intend to leverage continuity of that local evolution.
As rightly stated by both the penultimate and the final participants (Saket Sarraf and Tomislav Agustincic): the great leap yet to be made in the realm of evidence-based changes to urban change industry is constructivism, narrative analysis, and storytelling.

The tyranny of normal distribution as defined by large data sets.

“Yet the meaningfulness of everyday relationships is disclosed not in everyday life but in rare deeds, just as the significance of a historical period shows itself only in the few events that illuminate it.”
-Arendt, “The Human Condition” (p.42)

 

STORYTELLING of VALUE

“If you do not look at history, you assume the present is the world” – @stewartbrand

“Storytellers rule the world” – Plato

 “I will argue that the way the word ‘value’ is used in modern economics has made it easier for value-extracting activities to masquerade as value-creating activities. And in the process rents (unearned income) gets confused with profits (earned income); inequality rises, and investment in the real economy falls.” – Economist Mariana Mazzucato

HERO’S LAMENT

This trend for the “front line” healthcare workers (front line making a allusion to war) to be referred to as “heroes” has a disturbing subtext. If you study storytelling, you know the hero has the agency:

“…to be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.”

– Phoinix to Achilles in Homer’s Iliad 

Health care workers should NEVER be heroes except in extreme singular events. A pandemic is a prolonged tragedy, not a crisis.

The hero must be taught to be a hero before his prophesied demise.

Two conflicting cultural tropes operating at once

The western medicine ethos pushed by the medical profession over the last century is that we must trust doctors with our lives without question. The result has been a declining personal responsibility for our own health.

The tendency to distrust authority in polarized political theaters has warped our relationship with the very people who we rely on to provide medical care.

Heroes die or become the villain

The story arc of a hero ends in their demise or the target of changing opinion. The only rule of political agency is “tear down your perceived oppressor” (or whoever is currently got the spotlight).

The medical professionals saving lives everyday are doing their jobs, not acting in public. It is an absurd disservice to them to equate their jobs as political acts in any shape or form. The real absurdity is the majority are unwilling to police a dying minority who endanger us all by their unwillingness to follow scientific authority.

But the dying minority’s response to the pandemic was eminently predictable based on the patterns of political discourse over the last twelve years. The dying minority will die on the hill of personal freedom. They will sacrifice their children and ailing parents on the hill of personal freedom. Their ethos is rooted in an anti-authoritarian (literally anti-author) that defines party membership through unwavering subservience to an ideology of personal freedom as the highest public good. Their righteousness is unrelenting: life itself is less valuable than freedom.

So they rebrand heroes as villains

Putting nurses and doctors on the “front line” was a general act of cowardice by the majority. This isn’t their war. They didn’t sign up to be heroes. Police the dying minority like a civilization. Conscripting heroes to fight in your place because you’re too comfortable and distracted is why the pandemic is entering its third wave.

ACT

 

Turkish mystery theater

how much do we understand? 

Does it matter? 

How much of a story do you even need to understand? Last night was the first “Mystery Turkish Theater”. We watched classic Turk comedy movie in Turkish, with Turkish subsite titles.

 

language learning advisory

CHILDLIKE QUALITIES

What struck me was the frustration of understanding only bits and pieces of the dialog. My significant other was able to help fill in some gaps, but it reminded me of watching annoying television my parents and old siblings growing up. When I was a kid, their programs didn’t make any sense. Why did they want to stare at two people talking about nothing?

“WE’LL BE RIGHT BACK”

Setting week-night programming aside, my big television day was Saturday. Saturday Morning Cartoons was a vital ritual for kids in the 80s. There was a conspiracy to draw us kids out of our parents’ hair on their first morning off from the work week. Our parents knew we were occupied and sitting in one place doing nothing dangerous. Although I have no testimony to support this suspicion, I do suspect this provided time for parents to enjoy each other’s company.

So hot they’re cooool!

This suspicion is further supported by the ritual breakfast that accompanied Saturday Morning Cartoons: Pop Tarts(tm)—the one meal a child of four could safely make on their own, which means parents didn’t need to even get out of bed.

IN STORES NOW!

But there was more to this conspiracy. It went beyond the parents. Advertisers knew exactly when a captive audience of children were staring at their media. In the post-Star Wars, age, every children’s television show was effectively one long advertisement for merchandise that accompanied that show, be it, Transformers, GI Joe, or My Little Pony. Each show was explicitly created not to entertain, but to create backstories for toys that children would demand their parents buy, so we kids could enact the stories.

KIDS WANT AGNECY

What we kids want most is to be in the story. Stories are how we learn—they lead to understanding and meaning. For a child, understanding is our purpose. The common world is a very confusing place with many layers of cultural complexity. Stories are how we learned about all that complexity. The most powerful learning mode is to do, to act out the story.

THE PLEASURE OF UNDERSTANDING

This is the big difference between play centered on fantasy and play focused on physical activity. The latter is activating the body in a laborious way, and it just feels good to be alive to dance, to run, tumble, to be in your body. Pleasure is rooted in the body by its very nature.

Fantasy play is another kind of pleasure. Both kinds of play trigger neurochemical rewards in the brain. This is why people will read the news incessantly, or watch TED talks into the wee hours each night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE MAGIC WOULD BEGIN TO EBB

But round about noon, when mom and dad emerge groggily from their private chambers with plates of sandwiches and glasses of Tang, the television suddenly shifted its programming. The older siblings would emerge from their comas and plunk down next to you on the couch. There were only four channels, so there was no arguing over what channel to watch. The programming would become increasingly mature, starting with reruns of M*A*S*H and classic Star Trek. These were incomprehensible to us kids, but there was still guys in army clothes (telling unfunny jokes) and spaceships floating around planets (with adults occasionally wrestling with ugly muppets.) But we kids could not understand the story plot or the character motivations.

We didn’t get the dopamine hit from the same as the cartoons. By the time the Saturday afternoon movie came on, we were restless and headed outside or to our rooms. 

Later, the family would reconvene in the night for shows like Dallas, Magnum PI, and Murder She Wrote. All of these shows were confusing, even frustrating as a kid. We knew many of the words, but we only knew to laugh when the left track on the show, told us to be mirthful. We wanted our siblings and parents to like us, so we try to understand what they saw in all these talkie-talkie shows. 

LIFE BECAME UNPLEASURABLE FOR A YEAR

I don’t know when I toasted my last Saturday morning Pop Tart™. It was probably when I moved to Canada in the late 80s. I was dismayed to learn that this backward country didn’t have proper cartoons (WTF is Astroboy?!) They didn’t flood Saturday mornings with children’s programming (never really thought how insidious the term children programming really is, chills,) and no Pop Tarts! They had some cardboard substitute for Pop Tarts filled with carob. The horror—the root—of that shock in moving to Canada was that all of my pleasure rituals had been taken away at once.

CHILDREN PROGRAMMING

My sister got me into knights and dragons fantasy novels and friends got me into Dungeons and Dragons. So my entertainment/product/acting out paradigm was reestablished. I started to learn to tell stories, got new friends, new rituals, and new brand loyalties (stupid GURPS.)

SELF-PROGRAMMING: LEARNING LANGUAGE FROM STORIES

Last night I reexperienced the frustration of a child trying to watch adult programming (again, chilling.) My new self-programming and entertainment is to learn the Turkish language by watching old Turkish films. Now, I’ve taken steps to enhance the pleasure potential of this programming. I grilled şeftali, and made a kabob feast, complete with two generous servings of rakı. We put on Üç Kağitçi with native subtitles 3/4 speed and ate and drank the strange scenes as they unfolded before us.

We’ve studied enough Turkish to recognize past and present tense, ownership, which word is the verb, and we have a small Turkish vocabulary. We got all the way to the end and gleaned a glimmer of the plot, the gist of some of the side stories, and some insight into 70s Turk culture.

Many second language speakers have told me that it was television that really made the difference, and I believe it. The ritual consumption of media, the multi sensory experience is what made Saturday Morning Cartoons such a defining part of growing up in the 80s.

ŞEREFE!

Why Spalding Gray is not yet a national treasure is a mystery to me.

Expert Storyteller

He developed a body of work that allows us to experience the classical hypodiegetic story, or frame story, which forms the core of every major story tradition or song cycle. This story structure, which predates settled civilization, is an excellent analogy for understanding sense of place.


Spalding Gray

1941-2004

hypodiegetic 

In brief: a frame story is a macro narrative that is tangentially referenced occasionally by individual stories. Shahrazad and Shahryar are the frame story for the Alf Layla Wa Layla (aka Arabian Nights Entertainments), and the 1000 and 1 tales are framed by her struggle to entertain her murderous husband. Similarly, Manhattan, the city, frames a variety of modern entertainment that forgoes long-narrative arcs by maintaining an episodic format (such as Seinfeld, Friends, or Sex in the City). These situational comedies are situated in a particular place that frames the stories: Manhattan. We as story consumers (aka audience) are entertained but have our own frame (aka our lives) which we experience all other stories within.

We live in a frame story of which we rarely see the boundaries.

A eulogies is a frame story of our whole life, into which loved ones provide anecdotes to humanize us in the eyes of others (our last audience). Our lives will be meaningful depending on how much of our frame story influences the life-paths of others. Some of us take enormous risks, act in surprising ways, and shift the frame stories many of us share at a familial, neighborhood, city-wide, national, or (rarely) species-wide level. Those individual acts of such import are still within the frame story of the individual’s total life, so sensationalist biographers are keen to find a thread of continuity that transforms a great political actor into a classic hero or villain by suggesting the great action was always coming.

Any one person’s life-story is meaningful when related without theatrics.

This is what Spalding Gray demonstrates. He provides a significant scope of his life as defined by an outside event (ex. his first film, Swimming to Cambodia is framed by his experience making the film The Killing Fields, his second, Monster in the Box, framed by his process of writing his first fictional novel). While the outside event is occasionally referenced in the thread of his monolog, it is utilized more to close episodic stories and start new ones. The frame story allows us the audience to anchor our expectations into a big undertaking that sets up a domain, a kind of neighborhood to which the rest of the stories are giving deference.

The individual stories within a frame story are best when they show characters in different lights.

One story may seem heroic, another craven, and yet another loving. That diversity of themes allows the character to reflect the human condition that we share with them. This is how a character or storyteller behaves ethically: by showing they are neither divine nor deviant. This explains the fundamental power of ethos described by Aristotle in his Rhetoric. An audience is much more likely to take a teller seriously if there is an expressed honesty in the story, an honesty anchored in common human experience.

In a similar way, when setting is leveraged as a frame for many stories, it humanizes the characters by imposing its requirements. Manhattan’s imposition of subways and homeless people on the characters grounds their reactions in a real place that unites them, but also is meaningful to any city-dweller anywhere. The sense of place is a frame, and that gives us something powerful to work with: personal lives in a context are meaningful because of the colocation of those stories.

Spalding Gray: a national treasure storyteller 

Three full films by Spalding:

Monster in a Box

Monster in a Box

Eclectic ObsessionIt's a Slippery Slope

It’s a Slippery Slope

 

Image credits:

Kristin Baldeschwiler
Ken Regan
Ransome Center Magazine, University of Texas
Theatre Gigante
All About Actors