Writing to Tell, Telling to Live: Reading the Storyteller in Alistair MacLeaod's Short Fiction
Barclay, S. Vaughn
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This essay examines the way Alistair MacLeod‘s short fiction formally and thematically invokes the presence of Walter Benjamin‘s oral "Storyteller" figure/and culture, elaborated in his 1936 essay, in order to ask broader questions about the role of storytelling—oral and written—in contemporary culture. The essay analyzes the cultural implications for resuscitating this storyteller figure. I develop a paradigm to explore the "use" of stories by synthesizing "found" ideas drawn from various cultural sources: Benjamin‘s affirmation of the use of story, the rhetorical criticism of Terry Eagleton, Raymond Williams' searching analyses of the individual, culture and education, and finally cultural philosophies of narrative by Richard Kearney and Richard Rorty. This paradigm is then tested in five MacLeod stories. I show how MacLeod‘s stories, in foregrounding the links between writing and orality, invite us to revaluate the role of orality and literature. MacLeod‘s texts demonstrate how narrative and storytelling encompassing a newly visioned and embodied subject, re-grounded in the matrix of family/culture/history, can narrate us through fragmentation and loss towards a new cultural vision. Contemporary manifestations of Benjamin‘s "Storyteller" figure discovered in MacLeod‘s texts are seen to reflect the many existential sources of story and the culture-shaping energy that story is. Rehearsing the active shaping and historicizing of self and culture through narrative, the stories work to renew our sense of the fundamental nature and cultural use of story. These conclusions have significant implications for how we inherit and carry forward from generation to generation our location or dislocation within personhood, family and culture.