What is this “Male Narrative?”


For me

On EofMN, SS set
Photo RhaeAnna Flanigan

To me narrative is all we humans create and tell and retell and riff on in the infinite variation of our profuse flowering through time that speaks yes, we were here and this is what we thought here was; all that is embraced by our voluminous web of telling across cultures and epochs ever-being-spun out of our compulsion to tell stories about and to one another.

In this telling we sort and explain our existence and in so doing we all together evolve overall consciousness – our work to do here on earth; part of the pact of our being and purpose from the earth’s point of view.  Our narratives and consciousness, in my book these two walk hand in hand.

This cacophony of giving form, this collectively held narrative commons made from our exploration and invention – religious, creative, scientific, technological – of the meaning & reason of human life is our grand inheritance.  It is gifted by those immeasurable before us, belongs to everyone as long as they live and is to be passed to those not yet born.  Personally, I am soothed by this inheritance.  It keeps me company.  And I am encouraged to think that this, what we tell one another about what we conceive our meaning to be, evolves.  Just like all else organic in origin. Which is to say, everything.

I’ve named as the male narrative the way of perceiving & telling that has, in the main, defined our being’s reason since, well, the cave.  This way of perceiving frames the human animal as forever trapped, more or less, in a cross the eons fight for survival. This framing has been excuse for all sorts of predation practiced by one tribe, clan, country, nation state, economic system, race and gender upon an other set up as the fall guy.

Just the idea of this predatory bit of code in us being tagged as our overarching reason, our human a priori state of being, our most told story makes me sad.

Not to mention I consider this way of framing life as a fight for survival to be in our day, knowing what we know now, should we choose to know, coupled with the tools we’ve so marvelously evolved, to be precisely not the way forward for our survival.  In fact, I consider this way of framing us to be, now, the primary threat to our survival, as heroic as it may make some of us feel.

Before you object let me say we owe the male narrative much.  Its conception of our being got us the long way here by nook or crook through darkness, many narrow passages, near extinctions.  But in our day this way’s reason suffers from internal fatigue.  It staggers wounded & cynical, near emptied, less and less able to provide meaningful nourishment.

We turn in search of other ways to perceive and explain our being.  This turning is given wing, in that serendipitous way of these forces, by converging shifts.

As is generally acknowledged we are traversing a moment of technological crux.  Our digital tools speed along in synapsual rhythm with our brains even if the exponential invention may be outpacing our hearts some.  Also, as is often noted the unfolding impact on how we read our meaning is of the magnitude brought on by Gutenberg’s movable type, that work of books which ignited a cross centuries wildfire of literacy and consequent epidemic of thinking spun out till, well, the present.  And now, from our time’s digital stew another narrative way of perceiving & telling is emerging, a child of the clamor.

My name for this clamorous child is a narrative otherways. The digital proliferation of tools, the means of cultural production and their effect on how we gather evidence about ourselves and speak to one another about that evidence has created an ever mutating, moving target that so far eludes containment or hoarding.  In fact built within this unscrolling is a stubborn will against containment.  This stubborn will is part and parcel of the nature of the narrative otherways, but it is not to be mistaken for that worn out, entirely weary leather jacketed axiom of the male narrative – rebellion – so intractably rooted in finding definition through opposition.

Converging with and encouraged by this proliferation of tools, this moving target that eludes containment is a radical re-conception of gender instigated by an evolving redefinition of what it is to be born and live female.  While this re-visioning is sheltered by the digital running roughshod over established social definitions, it is also and most fundamentally born from reproductive “control” being put into our hands for the very first time in all of time by our collective commons of medical science.

This re-conception is releasing the female from narrative containment within what I term woman as body, only.  In this essentialist representation of woman, reproductive function trumps all and the meaning, the reason for female being is conceived as human vessel first and foremost to the exclusion & suppression of all other attributes.

Script page photo RhaeAnna Flanigan

Script page from EofMN,SS
Photo RhaeAnna Flanigan

And this release has triggered a quake within the (male) narrative conception of Woman as the original and most fundamental symbol for representation of the Other.  The Other against or for which the One (man) at the center of the narrative acts.  The Other whose negative void floats a ghostly lesser to the substance of men, even the least of them, having redirected her radiant light from herself to shine on the One for his definition which still so precariously hinges on not being a woman.  I am not that. I am man.

So. What might be the ramifications to our stories’ topography from this fallout of digital proliferation and revolution in gender-sense?  What might be done with this escape?

If all action, all life of all Others is channeled into the uses of the One as the defining mechanism of our narratives up till now, imagine a narrative other way that holds the possibility of a symbiotic mutualism in how we give and take definition to and from one another.

By expressing belief that our inherited conceptions of self and self in the world can change and adapt, such a narrative encourages our ability to generate self-definition, to cherish the shine and keep for ourselves that audacious, radiant source.  This permission to cherish casts light by contrast on our addictive dependence on the energy of oppositional being and thinking – I am not that; helps us recognize when we are acting parasitically, draining the energy of an other for our own, larcenous uses.  And the dangers of that for all concerned.

Connectivity is a vein of exploration in a narrative otherways because it is through relation new matter comes into being.  Beyond birth from procreation, the obvious symbol of it, the sizzling as well as mundane energetic exchange between selves is the essential ethereal component of creating life beyond the corporeal.

This sizzling as well as mundane builds within us a powerful knack for bonding, a holding tight through the push and pull of the emotional fission of our differences.  A spurt of emotional growth in one of us can cause a stir if not downright resistance in an other.  Because when we change, those connected to us through our relationships must change too.  Stories of an otherways  flesh out the connective tissue that binds us to encourage, allow, demand and catalyze the difficult, endlessly engaging work of emotional growth in one another.  Because we humans are capable and responsible.  We do not need to displace our creative abilities or destructive acts onto deities.  How else to fulfill our promise to become adults (a heaven of the here and now.)

Coupled with the realignment of reproductive control is a lifting of the burden on all of us for birthing enough.  The survival of the human animal is at last (at least from forces not set in motion by our own actions) no longer nip and tuck.  Quite the opposite.   Finally, as we work toward adulthood we stand a chance of recognizing that in the biological choice to birth & raise children is the consequent responsibility of allocation, at long last, of the deep emotional resources each of us needs all lifelong.  If we’re to be honest about it.

Life, in its unfolding unknowns can trigger, as if antibodies, our resistance to perceiving the real.  We cling to what is already becoming what was. We have a tired child’s anger at the continual upheaval of the organic truth that to live is to change.  Otherways stories hope to untangle the reason of this resistance stemming from, naturally enough, our fear of death- the last step; hope to guide explorations of our great sadness that in the end we lose each other and our selves, those very selves we’ve worked so hard and long to acquire and the truth that at end all we know slips away.

Sometimes an other is a light too bright and blinding, too tender a reminder of our own not always bearable & transient magnificence.  To fully perceive our wondrous self of this fleeting brief makes it harder to let go, enflames our impulse to cling, protect and deny.  As if we could.  Can we take solace from stories speaking release from illusionary efforts to contain and control the uncontrollable?  We have so much yet to discover about ourselves and one another.

Comprehension of the continuous unfolding requests a deep dug narrative that at last speaks honestly of our connection with and dependence on not only each other but on this earth. We are all of the same matter of creation, all with a span, an arc, a beginning, a middle, an end.  This earth that is not separate from us is not disposable, endless or infinite.  This fond orb necessitates stories that help us acknowledge it to be our source of origin and entirely entwined with our survival. Not separate.  Not Other.

Stepping into the continuous unfolding is in fact our chance just as in fear and its damage is also the permission to let go.  Our daily walk the casting out and try to open to the come what may.  The purpose of the stories we are telling one another might just be to help light and give form to an allowance, a leaning toward even, of that.

We are perplexed.  Not sure how to cultivate forgiveness or healing or truth.  How to understand that the miracle is beneath our feet, on the horizon, in the air being pulled into our bodies in this pilgrimage of spirals?  Is it not in the walking, a cure to our lameness?  Yes, we do find our end, each of us alone.  But we do not act alone, exist alone while here on earth spinning away in goalless arrival, in our trek of continual transformation.

I want a narrative of otherways stories that tell me of that, keep me company in that, give me energy and life for that.


A version of this piece was originally published by Annie Grosshans as the concluding post in the MovieSalon&DiscourseParlor weblog written for Women in Film Seattle, 2010-2013.