With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

8 Rules Concerning "Grand Narratives"

1. There is no "view from nowhere": no Archimedean point from which one can narrate. There are no unbiased narrators. There are always influences upon and motivations for the narrator to narrate as he or she does. This, however, does not make one Jean-Francois Lyotard.

2. Grand narratives can be necessary, but no grand narrative can be a sufficient account. Each responds to the pendulum in the history of ideas swinging too far in one direction, and the most a grand narrative can accomplish is to cause it to swing back in the opposite direction. Success is met if the pendulum is closer to the balanced center than it was before the story was told. If a grand narrative is contained in one volume, one can probably trust in its insufficiency.

3. The thesis and supporting arguments of a grand narrative must be exceedingly qualified; and after they are qualified, they must be qualified again. Over-qualification lends the narrative its veracity while to that very degree often robbing it of its force or "grandness."

4. All grand narratives must contain villains, and they will probably be Scotus and Ockham. However, most grand narratives will rely upon all sources except the works of Scotus and Ockham themselves for their claims; and for every criticism that actually applies to these thinkers, the grand narrative will include 20 or so that they are in no way directly responsible for (such as the Enlightenment, totalitarianism, polio, the snuggie, or the Cleveland Browns)

5. Every time a grand narrative makes a definitive claim about when a certain period begins, or when a new concept comes onto the scene of history, there will always be some position, movement, or figure at least 50 years prior to that date which fits its criterion or employs said concept. Similarly, ideas will persist at least 50 years beyond the point at which the narrative concludes they are dead. Period claims are like swiss cheese: the holes are part of their character.

6. An extremely complex web of social, economic, and generically practical concerns always plays a role in the moving and shaking that the grand narrative attempts to record. Any purely intellectual story is necessarily incomplete. However, as the social, economic, and practical concerns of a certain event are thematized, the ability to accurately describe the extent of their impact approaches 0.

7. The social, economic, and practical concerns will never be able to provide a complete causal account of any event in the history of ideas. Seeing only through Marxist-tinted glasses marks the failure to narrate grandly. It is also extremely easy to do badly.

8. Every grand narrative must connect dots across varying contexts. To the degree that the task of connecting dots becomes central, the close reading of texts is given short shrift. Hence the greatest sign of a grand narrative's health is if it invites an army of specialized, close-reading scholars to challenge its dot-connecting and cause it to modify its claims. If it's essential structure remains intact, it is a successful grand narrative.

Pax Christi,


  • At 11/13/2009 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi, Im from Australia.

    Please find three related references which outshine ALL of our self-serving power and control seeking narratives.





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