What stories should we be telling each other in these anxious times?

what stories

I just put a jacket on. It’s cold again. Winter is having a few last laughs while we ponder a future world cooked by a carbon dioxide soaked climate. The weather, always on our minds.

When I’m one hundred and ten and the young folk ask me what it was like when modern civilisation was in full swing, I’ll tell them, “They were anxious times.”

Not long ago, I was thinking that the time was ripe for some new form of literature to appear on the scene – that the novel, novella and the short story had possibly run past their use-by-date. Of course, there is flash fiction. So quick and easy as we rush around in this busy world. But, is flash just fashion? A flash in the pan?

One other new trend, a genre named ‘cli-fi’, is speculative fiction set within the post-modern-civilised-world of the near future that has been ravaged by climate change. Not having read any of this new genre, I assume that some works of cli-fi paint the future as a pure dystopian hell, while others inject doses of hope into the hot and humid chaos to console our anxious souls. Maybe some of the better examples of cli-fi simply explore the perennial universal aspects of the human condition in this new paradigm where hunting and gathering and small scale horticultural activities have by necessity returned to the daily routine.

However, will there be a new movement, and not just some new trendy commercial genre, but a whole new literary form and style that will inform and enlighten the masses as to the reasons why everything in this world is so confusing and frustrating and unfathomable? Will literary fiction be able to evolve in a new direction that will supplant our current obsessive bingeing on an endless stream of multiple seasons of multiple episodes of escapism currently available at the touch of several buttons on the remote control in our living rooms?

Will it be that this new age of literature only comes into existence when the high-tech dependent mediums go out with the lights? Who knows?

The reality we are facing is one where the world becomes an absolutely horrible place to live in, with millions, if not not billions, of people suffering and dying. Will any of us, when the shit really starts hitting the fan, have the luxury of indulging in the pastime of reading? And what about writing? Will the only relevant literature produced in these times of collapse be works extracted from the ruins, such as the diaries of the those who managed to find a pen and paper, and some space and time and peace, to be able to record first hand accounts of human suffering on a scale which has never been seen before?

Or, will the collapse of civilisation be slow and whimpering and, therefore, a substantially long enough era that will sustain a thriving culture of writing and reading? A literature that will portray humanity in the throes of decline, be they times of joy or mayhem, or both. At some point human civilisation, if our species does survive, will be kicking off once again. And will this new literature be a blueprint of salvation for this next civilisation? Will humanity ever learn the lessons required to ensure that a sustainable existence cannot not ignore the limits to growth on a finite planet?

In the meantime, what stories should we be telling each other? Surely, the classic hero’s journey, or the Bildungsroman, or the stock standard three act drama of rising conflict to climax and denouement, are ultimately irrelevant when the largest human civilisation ever to exist on Earth is collapsing. What is the point of self discovery, or battling evil forces, or correcting systemic injustice, when the reality is that the world as we know it is falling apart around our ears and in front of our eyes?

What stories should we be telling each other in these anxious times?

33 thoughts on “What stories should we be telling each other in these anxious times?

  1. Sean, I am 85. Quite a few years ago I started writing about what I could remember about my childhood. When I wrote down all this, I was wondering whether one day any of my grandchildren or great-grandchildren would be interested in reading all this. I assume everything that is stored in the computer may not be accessible any more if very drastic changes do occur. Some of the stuff that I have written I actually copied on paper. Maybe, just maybe, some of these papers could perhaps survive everything and fall into the hands of some descendants. I like to dream about things like that! My hope is, that a few of the stories are at least going to survive orally …… Or should I say, this depends really on whether any of my descendants are going to survive!

    • Good on you. I hear what you are saying about the durability of written material. Whether or not future generations will to be able to access digital material on memory sticks or hard drives is anybody’s guess. And will the ink and paper versions survive the test of time. Maybe, the oral versions will persist. I’m sure your stories are worth it!

      • A lot of my writing deals with what I experienced as a child during World War Two and during the Post-War years. Is it worth reading about it for future generations? – — I hope so. 🙂

  2. If it all gets as bad as it threatens to, I suspect the literature form left to us will be poetry and song, much as our ancestors employed before the written word. And it may serve the same purpose, both a record of what has been and instructions for living.

    • Great point, Mick. The indigenous peoples of Australia, with 65,000 years of continuous culture, are living proof of the resilience and longevity of oral tradition with a wealth of story and song.

  3. You are throwing up great questions in your excellent post. Will literature, or writing, survive? In a short story, I wrote, a typewriter had survived the catastrophe. But when a young woman makes use of it a protagonist destroys it, claiming writing was responsible for the big disaster. Because of words the world took the turn to the worst. Indeed people can fall victim to the “sweet” words of the devil.

    We now live in the time of the Tweet and literature is not in high demand. Good writing has become incomprehensible to the masses. The thought processes required for understanding have not been developed. Or can the young people think better and faster?

    • Great short story premise, which itself raises some interesting questions. There is a lot of talk about the power of story, and our need for it, eg, “Labor lost because they didn’t have a narrative.” Unfortunately, rags to riches stories (see Horatio Alger) are a part of the canon of capitalism, and look where that has got us!

  4. This is a very interesting post. I ponder about this with my work. Should I paint the pollution I see in the prairie, or just the prairie? The despair, or the hope?
    As a reader I would say, no, let’s not abandon the novel. However,I have noticed that so much contemporary fiction is riddled with poor grammar, misspelled and miss-used words. Why are so many young writers seemingly illiterate? Is this a thing, or laziness, or~? And that doesn’t even address the foul language and overall ugliness woven into the story. Perhaps we could lighten up?

    • “Why are so many young writers seemingly illiterate?”

      Hypothesis: Contemporary school education is more about producing productive workers for the economy than writers and readers of our wonderful language.

      • I suppose so. My son was contemptuous of his peers from the same school who graduated unable to string together a sentence. I mean, he learned. Same teachers. Same school. I think something else is going on.

      • I think a generation or two ago took great pride in learning, and in being literate, while many now take pride in their ignorance. What shocks me is how many “writers” create such ignorant garbage and send it off to a publisher. Where are the proof readers and editors when we so desperately need them? How are these poorly conceived and badly written books making it onto library shelves? THAT is really what I’m asking.

  5. Sean….I have been thinking on your premise of a new genre of storytelling…and having given it a lot of thought, I am in agreeance with an above poster.: Mick Canning, that poetry and song or rather “song-line” , ie; a cross between song and story-line…something like a opera spoken, enacted and some parts sung around an informal gathering by the encumbant storyteller of the group…
    I have used songs injected into several stories as mood creators…an accidental inclusion of personally favoured songs that I thought enhanced the feeling of the story-line…and since I am a nobody in the world of writing, I can do these sorts of experiments without comment or criticism…I can please myself…I have recently completed a 3 act piece on the Italian charcoal burners in the Murray Mallee in the war years, calling it “A reading opera”….having failed to find someone who could write and play music to accompany my own libretto..here..: https://freefall852.wordpress.com/2019/08/04/a-ukulele-opera/
    In a couple of other stories, I have woven the song into the length of the story…in one case sung by the mother to her child…: https://freefall852.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/beautiful-dreamer/ ….in another shorter piece, I used the actual songs timed length to be the same time length it takes to actually read the story..: https://freefall852.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/a-two-dollar-coin/ …I called this method..: “Muse Music”…
    I claim no deliberate attempt to create what you call a new style of literature, but give the experience to you and any other interested persons here to see if there is a sort of possibility of growth in the method…because, like yourself, I have pondered on the same theory concerning the future of writing for some time…

  6. Winter still lingers here in Wellington NZ too Sean. Stay rugged up and warm.

    I loved this article about a new genre of literature that will be far more thought-provoking than anything currently available.

    I have a few ideas about this…perhaps a genre about the psychological models/perspectives/ideologies we all put on the world in order to understand it and how this leads to confusion,anger,misunderstanding.

    There are few better models about this type of thing than Spiral Dynamics. If you have some time, I recommend you listen to this it may resonate with you. It is a long video but it is good

    It really did resonate with me. A genre of fiction that attempts to understand all people in a compassionate way like this, rather than coming from a place of exclusion could be a win. Anyway food for thought have a great night 🙂

      • I thought it might be too much of a brain overload actually as it was a lot to take in, in one video. It is fascinating though, glad it held your attention for that long 🙂 It explains a lot, about how people misunderstand each other, it’s the different colour stages they are in.

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