Wednesday, March 02, 2011

But is it a story?


This Festival du contes has been good for me, because it brings up all kinds of questions. In the past post, the question about retirement. Today, the question is closer to the heart of storytelling. What makes a story?

Tuesday night, the storyteller was Olivier de Robert, from France.
The performance, as advertised, was Les Cathares, destin inachevé, about the Cathars, a religious sect in Europe from the 11th to the 13th century. At the end, because he had time, he told a short story, a classic of French literature, La chèvre de M. Seguin (Mr. Seguin's goat) by Alphonse Daudet.

Let me say at the outset that I enjoyed both parts and found his presentation well done.

And yet. And yet. I don't think it was a story. It was history. It was a kind of lecture (for the francophones out there, that doesn't mean it was read, just means it was a speech to inform), a discourse. Lively, interesting, but missing something. What? The more I mulled it over, the more I realized it was lacking a plot. Or the narrative arc. Or maybe it's something else. Or did I just misunderstand, was it merely a problem of translation? Possible, but I don't think so.

Of course, history is often told as a story. I do this in my story of the Siege of Leningrad, but I have a main character and we see the siege from her point of view. Is that it? Maybe it was that the point of view in Les Cathares kept it from being a story, keeping it for me in the realm of straight history.

There was definitely conflict. At the end, it almost became a story, when Olivier asked us to imagine being taken prisoner during the Inquisition and then he took us through the way in which one might be manipulated into turning in other Cathars.

La chèvre de M. Seguin was a real story--and told well--but it was not the main attraction. Though in some ways it echoed the story of the Cathars, a story of unfulfilled destiny, it felt tacked on.

I left the festival that night feeling well-informed, but dissatisfied. I guess I'd expected something different from the evening. I'd expected stories.

I'll be puzzling over this for a while. What determines if one is telling a story or just explaining a historical event or series of events? Is it different for different listeners? Am I so conditioned to story with plot that I can't hear something outside of that? Is this me just being closed-minded?

Tonight is the last performance I'll be able to attend, an evening of love stories. I'll let you know how it goes.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Good, thoughtful review. It sounds as if you learned more than what was being told that night. I'm looking forward to your review of tonight's stories!