The nature writer Barry Lopez was on the UNC - Asheville campus several weeks ago, and while I didn't have the opportunity to hear him speak, a local newspaper article quoted some of his words that had special resonance for the things I have been exploring lately.
He said that everywhere he traveled, he asked people about the meaning of the word they used for storyteller, and his favorite was from the Inuit: "It means, roughly translated, 'person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself.' The idea is that we are already aware, but if a writer gives a structure or atmosphere that can remind us of the wisdom we already have, that helps."
What a wonderful definition! The storyteller isn't wiser than his audience, but rather is able to evoke and remind the audience of the wisdom that is already within them. The storyteller doesn't create meaning, but rather creates an atmosphere in which meaning is revealed. Now, that is a positive, vibrant, and profound relationship between storyteller and audience, it seems to me.
He also wondered why we feel compelled to address the topic of technology in modern life, and he answered: "It's because something's missing for most of us. We suspect that our fascination with, our dependence upon and our vociferous defense of technology is leading us further and further from the things that matter -- from conscience, from reverence, from the capacity to love and the capacity to accept love."
When I write about storytellers counteracting or balancing the dominant zeitgeist of the age, this is what I mean -- trying to return people to their own wisdom that is based in conscience, reverence, and the capacity to love and accept love.
He goes on to talk about the pace of modern life, saying that it is damaging the pssobility for deep thought by its constant emphasis on speed: "We have taught ourselves to respond to that pace by not going deep anywhere in our lives. We concentrate on getting ahead, on moving forward, not pausing to go deep anywhere -- in love or imagination. Forgive me the generalization, but we have become a detached people." Again, perhaps the storyteller can counteract that tendency. Perhaps we can create theatre that will slow people down and encourage them to go deep, and by doing so reveal their own wisdom.
I wish I had been there to here Lopez speak. I know that I will try to find some of his books to read.