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Shared Understanding

May 21, 2008

Understanding a story is not that simple. To tell a story is to share a story, and the act of sharing presupposes a number of things. The major one being a shared understanding of the world.

This is why more fantastic stories, such as Lord of the Rings, are often considered allegorical. Readers often look for similarities between an imaginary world and the real one, between imaginary characters’ concerns and our own concerns. This is only to be expected. An author may think he or she is only ‘telling a story’ but in reality this is an act of sharing that requires a shared understanding of the world, of history, of people.

Foreign works are often considered to have been ‘lost in translation’ but this phrase belies the real truth. It is not the words or sentences that are lost, but the shared understanding that the storyteller has assumed. Transferred to another culture, the story becomes difficult to understand.

And so to the link. Here we have Alisa Miller talking about the kind of worldview you might get if you exposed yourself to American news.

A weird world indeed.

It would be easy to respond by being smug, especially if one is not American, but really, do any other countries do so much better? For all its faults, American media contains more voices than media typically found in many other countries. How can the sharing of stories take place within such limited and self-limiting world views? Do yourself a favour. Read something you’ve never read before. Listen to someone you’ve never heard before. Repeat.

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