academics

Morris Berman on The Curiosity Shop

Morris Berman, author and historian of science, speaks with Wally Bowen about holistic versus mechanistic worldviews on a show called The Curiosity Shop in the mid-1980’s at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Berman:

“How you live is gonna have consequences….In Sanskrit the word is called karma.”

“Part of the problem with a scientific worldview is that it assumes a psychic distance between observer and observed.”

Artist Statement

I am a singer-songwriter, a radio artist, a writer. A teacher, an interviewer, a dancer, a cook. Voice is a central theme and instrument for me, an embodiment of the human potential to resonate by interweaving our own harmonies in the world’s existing layers of sound. A much-migrated bricoleur, I am aware of many ways of being and aim to use what the universe presents as responsibly and beautifully as possible.

In my life and work I try to embody the fullness of human potential, drawing equally from reason, intuition, and experience. In this I have been inspired by Morris Berman’s call to re-enchant the world, Jean Houston’s urging for us to reach our full human capacities, and David Abram’s urging for us to renew our connection to ecology and the sensuous world.

As an interdisciplinary artist with an affinity for nonlinearity, I rely less on rules of individual disciplines than on feeling out the gray areas to give voice to that which is less often heard. Often, I use the technique of bricolage, improvising within the limits of what is available. Valuing and transforming existing possibilities in this way aligns with my belief in using our planet’s resources effectively and efficiently, taking only what is required. I believe that bricolage reflects an openness to what the universe presents, and a recognition of human agency as only part of the larger picture. My tendency to intersperse poetry with prose is an example of how I work within the confines of the written word to embrace sensory experience as well as analysis and combine styles that are usually kept separate.

In radio and writing, I straddle the line between art and journalism, seeking to communicate clearly with others but also rooting much of my expression in sensory impression and personal experience. I enjoy asking difficult questions and am always looking to clarify. However, I am not searching for a missing piece to a linear puzzle with a known outcome; I prefer to dig deeper, diving into unknown waters in the hopes of finding treasure.

Juxtaposing multiple perspectives is one way I forge connection with readers and listeners but also challenge them to see their individual viewpoint as only one of many possible ways of looking at the world. Leaving audio and written storytelling somewhat open to interpretation, I feel, allows for a more productive collaboration between artist and audience than straightforward reporting. It is this same possibility-opening balance between rules and freedom, fixity and flow, with which I approach my teaching. In the classroom, I prefer to inspire than instruct, to gaze outward with a wide lens than categorize or pinpoint. It is my hope that imparting in students, like readers and listening audiences, an appreciation of complexity and nuance, will help create more engaged, empathetic members of society.

I see the personal and subjective as richest ground for resonance with others, a lens to the universal. My experiences living in less developed countries on three continents have been influential in my understanding of cultural difference, my own culture, and myself. I consider different ways of life as lenses that help me to see my own culture more clearly and guide my choices for how to live. Travel has given me new understandings through different languages, divergent senses of time, and other, otherwise inaccessible experiences that have guided and continue to serve as inspiration for my work.

No longer bouncing between continents, I now seek to maintain my ability to shift seamlessly between modes of being, crossing boundaries of other kinds than the geographical and bringing the richness of the in-between spaces to light.

(Asheville, 2012)

Interview with Ana María Bovo, actress/storyteller, creator of the Escuela del Relato

Escuela del Relato, Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 2003

Carla: I’ve heard mentioned the notion of the “Argentine Storytelling School.” What is the position of the Escuela del Relato in terms of this idea?

Ana: That idea…I first heard about it while out of the country…in Spain. And it caught my attention, because the storytellers that [the Spanish] are familiar with from Argentina have very diverse styles. Perhaps [the Spanish] have noticed, in the works that they have seen, greater rigor in the work than they are used to seeing from Spanish tellers. But I think that there are fairly significant differences between…the storytelling here. And it seems to me that the Escuela del Relato is occupying a space of great professional consciousness of the work. And great consciousness of the necessity of preparing oneself for the stage, of having a theatrical preparation in order to present this model of the spontaneous storyteller onstage. The people here at the Escuela acquire a consciousness of the increasing difficulty of this task….

Carla: And do you think that this aspect of the difficulty of the task of narrating has some particularly Argentine aspect to it, that is, do you think that this style of school could integrate itself into other countries?

Ana: I think that, in Spain, it would fit smoothly; in Colombia, Chile, and Venezuela, it could be of interest as well….There is interest for this type of work, but I think that there is very little theory, very little theoretical reflection about the characteristics of this work. And that the investigation that Jorge Dubatti is doing, or the reflections that appear in my book…we are of the very few who are beginning to consider the matter of a theoretical reflection.

Carla: Have you noticed, during your trips to other countries to tell stories, any particular characterizing elements of the storytelling in these countries, for instance, a Mexican or Colombian style?

Ana: Always when one sees a Latin American storyteller, for instance, an Argentine, a Mexican, or a Colombian, they have an advantage that is their accent. This generates a certain enchantment. It’s like a handicap, a plus that generates curiosity. But later, it can happen that fifteen or twenty minutes into the show, it gets tiresome, and the structure of the story being told can no longer sustain this fascination with the accent, or the charming qualities that the teller might have….At times there starts to appear that terrible monster that is boredom….I have seen German storytellers telling in Spanish, also Africans and Japanese….There is usually a common problem. Apart from personal charisma, there is a lack of mastery of narrative structure, lack of time management, for instance, or use of conflicts….often tellers will stretch out their story in order to prolong their time on the stage and enjoy the public’s reactions. The danger of this…is that the performance becomes extremely tiresome. What is new about the Escuela is its emphasis on solid narrative structure. That the conflict, the characters, the setting, the elements of the plot be condensed in time. In an amount of time in which a spectator can remain attentive. Often, in place of consciousness of storytelling as performance, storytellers have a love of the materials they choose, and don’t have a lot of consciousness that they are using the stage.

Carla: I am interested in how the Escuela resolves this stress on narrative structure with the model of the spontaneous teller. How is it that you consider consciousness of structure and technique to be a prerequisite for spontaneous telling?

Ana: The idea of the school is to bring to the stage what storytellers who are not actors do….A spontaneous teller who is effective in an intimate environment, such as a taxi driver, or a certain fisherman I once knew, has no guarantee of having the same effectiveness in front of an audience. The idea is to translate the effectiveness of domestic telling – maintain all of what that has, but acquire in addition a number of tools to sustain this in every performance in the same way, as if you were telling the story for the first time. For this you need to understand the mechanics of the art of repetition, which is theater, without losing the freshness of the first telling.

Carla: I’m under the impression that many students who come do not want to go onstage. How does it help them to learn all of these tools for performance?

Ana: I believe that it is a preparation…through which one learns to communicate. Whether one is a lawyer or a grandmother, stage training and learning about the concept of others’ time is important in practically any field.

Carla: Is there an assumption in the teachings of the Escuela that the people of Buenos Aires are contaminated by literature?

Ana: It’s true that we have a profile of students that is very literary…they hold literature to be on sacred ground, of great prestige. Orality has become disvalued….It’s as if orality were a poor relative, disinherited by literature. When in reality orality came first, and then literature. So the idea is to recuperate a language for orality in which common shared meaning is present, that what one says be enjoyable and necessary, that it be true in some sense. We want to return to ascribing beauty to the literature of memory and the literature of experience.

Carla: Why choose sources such as literature, film, and theater, if the idea is to return to a state of spontaneity?

Ana: The fundamental idea is that orality serves to transmit experience. In the life of every person there is the experience of the private, and the experience of the public, where the production of literature and cinema appears….The stories of the cinema are a source of orality in that people tell others what happens in a given movie. All sources of human experience are welcome. But most importantly, we try to revive and emphasize the capacity that each person has to express experience orally.

Carla: Traditionally, the role of the story has been to transmit wisdom and experience….

Ana: …Yes, exactly. The role of the story as taught by the Escuela is just that.