The power of the written word – Press Enterprise

The power of the written word – Press Enterprise


By Allyson Jeffredo | Contributing Columnist

Storytelling is a millennia-old recipe used to connect a reader to their intrinsic humanity. We turn to creative writing for the story, the emotion, the connection. We turn to stories for the way the narrative, the characters, the emotion latch to our synapses and intertwine with our very being to transform who we are and the way we interact with the world. Although our world is rife with stories from telenovelas to news reports to TikTok, “objective,” terse, disconnected prose has risen to the pinnacle of legitimate writing. But does it deserve that position?

The rise of the “objective point of view” has dangerous consequences. Unlike subjective viewpoints whose partiality is exposed and can therefore be analyzed and criticized, the objective viewpoint is disguised by a sheen of impartiality. This impartiality works its way through our critical and skeptical defenses because it often leverages a full arsenal of rhetoric: Authoritative authors, expert knowledge, strong research. The golden trio for any English composition professor (like me once).

Because of this, I do respect the desire to be objective and the importance of having quality texts, yet there is ample research showing things that purport to be objective, like facial recognition software, withhold in their very programming the bias of their creators.

This illusion of objectivity, and the conveniently absent “I,” distorts the reality that there is a person or people behind the writing, who has experiences that have led them to think, act and feel as they do. Leaving them, like all of us, susceptible to the inevitable preconceived notions and biases that come with being human.

In reality, there is no such thing as objectivity. There is merely a wishful intention to separate the self from the subject to appear neutral and unbiased.

Not only can this perspective make it difficult to detect bias, the writing just isn’t as good. We can read about how to make good choices from a textbook, but we can learn it more effectively when presented in an engaging and artful way, like Aesop’s Fables. I won’t go into how textbooks are harmful to learning and how the monopoly running the textbook industry masquerades a slew of misinformation and unfactual writing behind the idea of neutral, objective textbooks.

This also bears to question the enduring power of “objective” prose. Whereas, stories can be dated back some 30,000 years, like how the Luritja people carried the story of a 4,700 year old meteorite collision to their modern day ancestors through oral tradition alone. This also begs to explore the magnitude we must relearn because so many stories have been lost. Despite this, storytelling has withstood thousands of years, which is evidence alone of its power.

In astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi’s powerful memoir, “A Quantum Life: My Unlikely Journey from the Street to the Stars,” Oluseyi recounts his first experience reading a novel, “Roots.”

“Reading my first real novel was like having a movie playing in my head. But it was richer than any movie and TV show I’d ever seen … I made up the pictures myself. But more than seeing, I could feel what Kunta felt when he was chained to a plank in the slave ship and trying not to poop and finally having to poop, and then having to lie in his own poop. I could smell it and I could feel his disgust and his shame. I could feel how hungry he must have been when he refused, because he was a Muslim, to eat the chunk of pork they gave him. And I felt his isolation when he was locked up by himself and so lonely that he captured a cricket just to have someone to talk to. And when Kunta set that cricket free, I felt like some locked-up part of me was set free too.”

This is the power that storytelling yields us, especially that of the written word, a deep connection with our subject. A connection that is so deep it has the power to change us, to set us free.


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