I came across a fairly recent book by David Loy last night that caught my interest, particularly since the theme of the book is one I have frequently explored in my TSK practice and study:  the role of "story" or narrative in the enactment and constitution of our lives.  I've downloaded the book on my Nook and will post more here after I've read a little bit.


For now, an introduction from the Wisdom Publications website:

The World is Made of Stories

David R. Loy,

A Spirituality & Practice “Best Spiritual Books of 2010” winner.

In this unique and utterly novel presentation, David Loy explores the fascinating proposition that the stories we tell—about what is and is not possible, about ourselves, about right and wrong, life and death, about the world and everything in it—become the very building blocks of our experience and of the universe itself. Loy uses an intriguing mixture of quotations from familiar and less-familiar sources and brief stand- alone micro-essays engaging both the reader and himself in challenging and illuminating dialogue.As we come to see that the world is made—in a word—of stories, we come to a richer understand- ing of that most elusive of Buddhist ideas: shunyata, the “generative emptiness” that is the very essence of our ever-evolving world, and is responsible for the vast array of mental and physical forms. Reminiscent of Zen koans and works of sophisticated poetry, this book will reward both a casual read and deep reflection.

“The World Is Made of Stories is about the Master Story; how we are its telling, untelling, and retelling. David R. Loy delivers freedom straight-up in a delightful, variegated collection of wisdom quotes and commentaries. This book is great fun.”—Barry Magid, author of Ending the Pursuit of Happiness

“Drawing on a broad range of religious and secular sources, David Loy's compelling story about stories reveals through a series of clear and penetrating reflections the inescapable presence of narrative in human life.”—Stephen Batchelor, author of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

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Here's an excerpt from the book:


"By doubting everything that could be doubted, Descartes believed he discovered a self-conscious mental-substance invulnerable to the body's physical transformations: a mind that persists unchanged.  David Hume responded with a "bundle" theory of the self that resonates with the way Buddhism deconstructs the self: one's sense of self is composed of heaps (skandhas) of ever-changing mental and physical processes.

Descartes accounts for the continuity of awareness, Hume for its transformations.  A narrative self -- self as story -- bridges the two, providing both sameness and difference.  Essential to this narrative is intentionality.  It is not enough to have a story about what happens. It is necessary to story why I do what I do.

The unity of a human life is the unity of a narrative quest.  Quests sometimes fail, are frustrated, abandoned or dissipated into distractions; and human lives may in all of these ways also fail.  But the only criteria for success or failure in a human life as a whole are the criteria of success or failure in a narrated or to-be-narrated quest.
~ Alasdair MacIntyre

The Buddhist understanding of karma emphasizes intentionality as the key to self-transformation.  The stories and roles that constitute my identity incorporate different tendencies.  Spiritual development involves minimizing unwholesome motivations (greed, ill will, delusion) and reinforcing the more wholesome ones (generosity, loving-kindness, wisdom).  New stories and roles are possible because I am that narrative and I also am not that narrative.  I am that narrative because such stories compose my sense of self.  Yet if the self were only that narrative there would be no possibility of abandoning that story and obtaining a new one.  For identity to change, there must be something other than that narrative, something that is not bound by it.

Any attempt to characterize that "something other" gives it a role within my stories, yet it cannot be fixated in this way.  It is not part of any particular narrative, for it is that which allows narratives to be mutable.  Even describing it in this fashion pulls it into a narrative -- the one you are reading right now -- but anything conceptualized cannot be "it."  Since it can never be identified as any-thing within a story, it always remains a non-thing, a condition of the possibility of storying.

It is not understood by those who understand it.  It is understood by those who understand it not.
~ Kena Upanishad.

The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna refers to shunyata, emptiness, as "the exhaustion of all theories and views."  Those who make shunyata into a theory are "incurable."  Reifying it into some-thing is grasping a snake by the wrong end.

According to Kierkegaard the passion of thought is to seek for that which cannot be thought.  What cannot be thought?  That which thinks.  What cannot be storied?

A narrative understanding of the self implies a distinction between two aspects.  One's character is composed of dispositions solidified out of roles that have become habitual.  This is my identity, from the Latin identidem, which means "over and over."

The other aspect of self preserves the possibility of novelty, of doing and becoming something different.  This is my nothingness.  Identity is relatively fixed.  No-thing-ness is that which cannot be fixed. 

The fact that we can never "fully know" reality is not a sign of the limitation of our knowledge, but the sign that reality itself is "incomplete," open, an actualization of the underlying virtual process of Becoming.
~ Slavoj Zizek.

We actualize reality, without ever completing it, with stories.  Our stories are never finished; and therefore never unfinished.  If reality itself is always incomplete, each moment becomes complete in itself, lacking nothing.

No quest can attain its object without giving rise to further quests without ending.  This incessant response is the ultimate (because never final) act of transcendence by which the quest as narrative goes on achieving its transformative goal, thus escaping the closure that would end it and by ending annul it.
~ Paul Ricoeur

The most interesting quest narratives pursue something that is unattainable in the way sought.  In the process of questing, however, the one who quests is transformed.

By foreclosing any closure, no-thing-ness transcends whatever situation one finds oneself in.  I may be so caught up in stories and roles that I am unaware of my no-thing-ness, yet "it" is never bound.  Like a prisoner whose cell gate has never been locked, I may not notice this freedom but insofar as I am "it" there is never anything to attain, only something to realize and actualize.

This understanding of our double-sidedness is a key that opens many treasure boxes."

Can we "de-metaphysicalise" the stories the world is made of?

Although I know it annoys some, I find much of Derrida in what Loy said in Balder's last post. (See "what 'is' the difference" for example.) Loy invested a bit of time with Derrida's work but this particular one highlighted by Integral Options called "The dharma of deconstruction" is indicative. At the end of it Loy asks "do Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Derrida also help to liberate us from such problematic ways of thinking?" He had already answered it at the beginning, saying:

"Given western philosophy's turn toward examining the role of language in shaping experience, can one find in it, as in Buddhism, an acknowledgment of the possibility of profound spiritual liberation? Well, not quite, but there are some intriguing similarities."

While I dispute his conclusion (see my referenced thread), nevertheless he had this to say about Derrida:

"Today the thinker most often compared to Nagarjuna is the French philosopher Jacques Derrida.... Derrida is not interested in defending any philosophical position of his own but instead is concerned with showing the limits of language and the difficulties we fall into when we overstep them. Derrida's work builds on structuralism, which argues that words do not have meaning in and of themselves. The meaning of any linguistic expression always depends upon some other expression, and that 'other expression' is also dependent on something else. Meaning is therefore relative and always in flux, part of a chain of reference that never comes to an end. Whatever we think we understand right here and now always presupposes something else that is not present.

"Derrida's term to describe the relativity and 'indeterminability' of meaning is différance, and the way différance functions in his philosophy can be compared to how Nagarjuna uses shunyata, or emptiness. Derrida emphasizes that différance does not refer to some specific thing. It is merely a conceptual tool useful for describing how conceptual meaning is never quite settled, but always 'deferred.'"


Can we "de-metaphysicalise" the stories the world is made of?

Interesting question, Lol.  Although a lot of our talk here recently refers to cognitive science and such, and although Wilber emphasizes injunctions and evidence when he describes a postmetaphysical approach, a lot of postmetaphysical thought actually involves the 'embracing' of literature as a transformative art.  The emphasis on stories is already postmetaphysical, in other words.  I think that's part of what Loy is saying: seeing our living as 'storying' is already postmetaphysical.

It may not be 'integral' -- we can see 'storying' from different perspectives, and not all stories of storying will be Integral.  But Integral itself is a kind of story; Wilber describes himself primarily as a storyteller, in that old interview with Tami Simon.

Even the enactive model of cognition we've been discussing points in this direction.  Varela: Perception is as imaginary as imagination is perceptual.

Am I one of the "some" that you imagine your Derrida references annoy, Theurj?  :-)  In any event, I'm not annoyed!  I actually was thinking of you, among others, when I posted this excerpt.  Reading this book so far, I also have had the impression that some of what Loy is writing is consonant with (later?) Derrida, and I wondered if this book represented some sort of practical integration of his earlier critical analyses of deconstructive and Middle Way thought.

Also in the "what it is" thread I discussed the method of apprehension of this unfixed “it” (aka khora) via bastard reasoning*, which is akin to aesthetic activity and one form of which is, no surprise, story. Hence Derrida’s general story-telling style, much criticized by the “realists.”

* Or hyper-dialectic for Merleau-Ponty. Recall this about it from the thread, also reminiscent of the above by Loy:

“What we call hyper-dialectic is a thought that, on the contrary, is capable of reaching truth because it envisages without restriction the plurality of the relationships and what has been called ambiguity. The bad dialectic is that which thinks it recomposes being by a thetic thought, by an assemblage of statements, by thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; the good dialectic is that which is conscious of the fact that every thesis is an idealization, that Being is not made up of idealizations or of things said… but of bound wholes where signification never is except in tendency.”

Let me tell you a little story about a man named Jed...

This is also why I defended the value of rhetoric in the Wisconsin thread recently, since it is a form of persuasive story-telling, weaving a narrative to motivate (en)action. As I noted it is something I do to/for myself as well, to motive me to walk my talk.

These comments from Loy are in line with something I wanted to post on, "The Spectre of Philosophy." I think it is very important to note that what unites these comments from Loy is the idea that narrative is essential to a sense of self. I think that by redirecting the thread in the direction of the "world" we are being distracted from the tacet, unrecognized subject of this thread -- the "spectre" of the thread, as it were -- which is the question of the self.

I think that's an important point; but if we focus only on 'self,' then world becomes spectre (veiled matrix?).  But in any event, I'm sure that Loy would agree that the sense of self is narratively constituted, at least in part.  In TSK, a central practice is attention to the relationship between "story" and "self."  But Tarthang Tulku argues that a thorough-going challenge to the narrative "self" cannot be marshalled apart from attention to "body" and "world."


Edit:  Rereading your post, I see now your argument is not that Loy is overlooking self, but that we are overlooking Loy's concern with self by focusing (in this thread) on 'world.'  I still stand by my comment above, though: I think 'narrative constitution of world' is a legitimate focus of discussion, but agree that that it can be a distraction if we miss its relationship to concerns of self.

In relation to this topic of stories (and Big Stories, which we also explored here), I had intended -- and forgot -- to link this discussion to Tom Atlee's work on story fields.  If you're interested, you can check it out here or at the Co-Intelligence Institute website.


Here's a brief discussion by Atlee:


The Power of Story - The Story Paradigm

In the field of co-intelligence, stories are more than dramas people tell or read. Story, as a pattern, is a powerful way of organizing and sharing individual experience and exploring and co-creating shared realites. It forms one of the underlying structures of reality, comprehensible and responsive to those who possess what we call narrative intelligence. Our psyches and cultures are filled with narrative fields of influence, or story fields, which shape the awareness and behavior of the individuals and collectives associated with them.

Story-reality is the reality that we see when we recognize that every person, every being, every thing has a story and contains stories -- and, in fact, is a story -- and that all of these stories interconnect, that we are, in fact, surrounded by stories, embedded in stories and made of stories. When poet Murial Rukeyser tells us "the universe is made of stories, not atoms," she's describing story-reality. Ultimately, story-reality includes any and all actual events and realities, but experienced as stories, not as the more usual patterns -- objects-and-actions; matter, energy, space, time; patterns of probability; etc. Story-reality is made up of lived stories.

Lived stories are those real-life, actual stories that are happening in the real world all around us all the time. The actual unfolding events relating to any one actual entity or subject comprise that entity's or subject's lived story. Everything that exists has, embodies and participates in many lived stories. The way to co-intelligently engage in story-reality is to become sensitive to lived stories... to learn about the lived stories of people, places, things... to share our own lived stories... to discover how all these stories intersect, who or what is in the foreground and background of each other's lived stories. Ultimately, this provides the guidance we need to find our own most meaningful place in the universal story.

While analysis is good for control and prediction, story-sensibility is good for understanding meaning and role.

Narrative intelligence is the ability (or tendency) to perceive, know, think, feel, explain one's experience and influence reality through the use of stories and narrative forms.

It includes:

  • the ability and tendency to organize experience and ideas using stories and narrative patterns (an excellent example of this is the use of myth, which defines and discusses concepts -- such as archetypes -- in narrative form)
  • the tendency to understand things better when they are presented in the form of a story (and sometimes to have trouble understanding things when they aren't presented as stories)
  • the capacity to sense the importance of context, character, history, etc., in any explanation -- and dissatisfaction when these are omitted
  • dissatisfaction with isolated events and abstract ideas, out of context
  • an ability to sense or imagine the stories of people, objects, places; the ability to accurately guess where something (or someone) comes from, what has happened to it, where it is going, what it means
  • curiosity about the stories behind things, and an ability to investigate such stories
  • a tendency to make up stories, plausible or fantastic, to illustrate a point
  • the ability to maintain a repertoire of stories (real and imaginary) to convey meanings; the ability to access that repertoire
  • the ability to sort out and describe what has happened to oneself or others, often with a richness of context and detail, and often with great relish
  • the ability to place and remember events in sequence
  • the ability to envision chains and webs of causation
  • the tendency to build scenarios (stories of possibilities); an ability to plan and think strategically
  • a love of stories
  • the ability and tendency to see people, places and things in terms of their function in a story (very helpful for novelists picking up tidbits from the lives around them for use in their creative work)
  • resonance with the stories of others; the ability to see another's viewpoint when presented with the stories which underlie or embody that viewpoint
  • the ability to discover themes in the events of a life or story
  • the ability to recognize (or select) certain elements as significant, as embodying certain meanings that "make sense of things"
  • the ability to build a story out of randomly-selected items
  • the ability to use stories as memory-enhancing devices (such as remembering a phone number by making the digits into characters and weaving them into a story).

Story fields are fields of influence or patterns of dynamic potential that permeate psycho-social space and influence the lives of those connected to them. They are made up of many mutually-reinforcing stories (myths, news, soap operas, lives, memories) and story-like phenomena (roles, metaphors, archetypes, images). A story field paints a particular picture of how life is or should be, and shapes the life within its range into its image.

The American Way of Life is a powerful story field, which includes everything from principles like freedom and the pursuit of happiness, to stories of cowboys and rags-to-riches heroes, to metaphors like the melting pot and the safety net, to images like the Statue of Liberty and the flag. It is communicated by movies, men in business suits, advertisements, college catalogues, and mall displays -- among many, many other things. It takes immense effort to resist or change it. Anyone or anything which doesn't live within this story-sea and move with its currents doesn't seem quite American.

Psychological, organizational or social transformation is usually preceded or accompanied by a change in the story field governing that system. It is therefore usually non-productive to try to change forms and habits without changing the story fields that hold them in place. Once the story field is changed, subsidiary patterns tend to realign rapidly. (This process is part of what has been called a paradigm shift.)

Co-intelligent cultural transformation necessarily includes the co-generation of co-intelligent story fields. This would include examples of co-intelligence in action, visions of how things could be more co-intelligent, biographies of co-intelligent people, fiction illustrating the dynamics of co-intelligence, co-intelligent myths and poems, academic reframing of numerous other subjects in terms of co-intelligence, people actually living co-intelligently, the clarification and use of special roles (like elder and partner) associated with co-intelligence, etc.

[An interesting effort to consciously shift the story field of modern culture is The New Story a.k.a. The Great Story. Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd are among the most creative of those developing this story field for those interested in sustainability, conservation biology, creation spirituality, evolutionary consciousness, the new cosmology, deep ecology, bioregionalism, or the marriage of science and religion for personal and planetary wellbeing.]

I posted the following essay on the old IPS site, but it relates well, I think, to this thread and also to some of our recent discussions of causality, systems, wholeness, etc, so I wanted to post a copy here as well.  The essay is entitled, "Participatory Knowing: A Story-Centered Approach to Human Systems," and is linked below as an attachment. 

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