Die Geschichte des Geschichtenerzählens

Großartiges Essay von Ferris Jabr im Harpers Magazine, der ausgehend von den Urprüngen des Märchens vom Rotkäppchen die Geschichte und anthropologischen Hintergründe des Storytellings erzählt, wie archaische Geschichten von Jägern und Sammlern dazu dienten, um Gesellschaft zu formen und Sozialverhalten zu lehren und wie die tausenden Meme und Bruchteile der Geschichten zu Mythen fusionierten um schließlich zu den Märchen und Stories wurden, die wir heute kennen und die bis heute weiterleben, im Kino und in Büchern.

Am Ende schließlich beschreibt Ferris Jabr, wie diese Fähigkeit zum Geschichtenerzählen das Denken des modernen Menschen ermöglichte, nachdem unserer Vorgänger von den Bäumen kletterten, um in der Steppe der afrikanischen Savanne nach Nahrung zu suchen. Was gleichzeitig aufrechten Gang förderte, erhöhte gleichzeitig die Komplexität der Wahrnehmung um ein Vielfaches und erforderte eine Reduktion der Realitäts-Auflösung, um diese Komplexität der neuen Realität kognitiv zu erfassen – Luhmann wird später einmal von Komplexitätsreduktion sprechen – und diese Reduktion erschufen unsere Gehirne zuerst durch das Erfinden von Geschichten.

Der ganze Artikel ist fantastisch und in Gänze lesenswert. In case of paywall, hier eine lokale Kopie als PDF. [Essay] The Story of Storytelling _ Harper’s Magazine (PDF which has 7MB. I dunno why it’s that big and I’m too lazy to fix this.)

As early as 1909, folklorists started comparing the evolution of stories and organisms, envisioning Linnaean taxonomies and evolutionary trees, or phylogenies, for myths and tales. Generations of scholars compiled and sorted folktales from around the world, resulting in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index: a compendium of more than two thousand folktales, each with a unique identifying number, grouped first by specific shared motifs—“Supernatural Tasks”; “Man Kills Ogre”; “God Rewards and Punishes”—and then into larger tribes, such as “Animal Tales” and “Tales of Magic.” But until recently, researchers did not have the advantage of sophisticated statistical techniques or advanced computer software. […]

In 1857, Wilhelm Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) published an essay comparing ten legends and myths similar to the tale of Polyphemus, the man-­eating, sheepherding cyclops who traps Odysseus and his crew inside a cave in the Odyssey. Each of these ten stories pitted a hero against a malevolent one-eyed giant. Grimm believed they all branched off from a single ur-mythos.

Recent research suggests that Grimm was right. In the past six years, Julien d’Huy, a scholar at the Institut des Mondes Africains, has performed a series of phylogenetic analyses on fifty-six variants of the Polyphemus tale. Based on his results, d’Huy thinks that the essential plot common to all these narratives—a hunter encounters a monster guarding a group of animals, gets trapped with the monster, and manages to escape by clinging to the animals—emerged more than twenty thousand years ago during the Paleolithic period. Later, the myth traveled through Africa and then across Europe, in parallel with the spread of livestock farming, morphing and speciating all the while. To d’Huy, the myth represents an ancient belief in a “master of animals” and the desire to free those animals from his or her control—perhaps a personification of chance or a metaphor for the struggle of early humans against the vagaries of weather, disease, and hunting. In a way, the many iterations and adaptations of the tale of Polyphemus are their own woolly disguise, so thickly layered on such an ancient story that we can only glimpse its original form.

One of the oldest and most prevalent motifs in storytelling—and a testament to the creative power of stories themselves—is the transformation of the inanimate into the living, often at the hands of a talented artist. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus, the god of crafts, creates a giant bronze automaton to protect Europa, the mother of King Minos of Crete. In Jewish folklore, golems are anthropomorphic figures animated by magic, often depicted as large troll-like creatures made from clay or mud. In a tale from China, a magician gives a young peasant boy an enchanted paintbrush that brings whatever he paints to life. And the Italian writer Carlo Collodi created the character of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet that dreams of being a real boy.

Many scholars regard the myth of Pygmalion—eventually canonized in Ovid’s Metamorphoses—as a probable inspiration for at least some of these tales. In Ovid’s telling, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved an ivory woman of extraordinary beauty in place of a wife. Though he knew it was madness, Pygmalion became increasingly infatuated with his creation and prayed for a living likeness. When he returned home from the feast of Venus and kissed the statue, she came to life. They married and had a son, the namesake of the city of Paphos.

D’Huy thinks the origins of the Pygmalion myths are much deeper than is typically thought. He noticed that Ovid’s version strongly resembles stories told by the Bara people of Madagascar, the Berbers of North Africa, and various tribes throughout eastern Africa; they all involve carvings or drawings that come to life and live with their creators. In a South African variant, for example, a tribal leader tries to abduct a recently animated woman from the sculptor who made her. The sculptor throws the woman to the ground and she turns back into wood. When d’Huy performed a phylogenetic analysis on various iterations of Pygmalion, he discovered that the Greek and Bara myths likely split from the Berber story three thousand to four thousand years ago. These nascent Pygmalion myths then spread to other parts of Africa and the Levant with migrating livestock herders.

Any contemporary interpretation of a story that potentially existed long before recorded history is necessarily speculative. Although the phylogenetic analysis of folktales and myths may benefit from the latest statistical techniques and software, it remains a new and uncertain science that many folklorists regard with a mix of intrigue and skepticism. And the vast majority of ancient tales surely perished with their tellers. If certain beloved stories really have endured for many thousands of years, however, they tell us something important about the origin and nature of narrative itself. […]

The world confronts the mind with myriad impressions, a profusion of other often perplexing beings, and an infinity of possible futures. The increasingly large brains of our ancestors, all the more attuned to the world’s complexity, needed a way to organize this overwhelming torrent of information, to pass the multiplicity of experience through a reverse prism and distill it into a single coherent sequence. Stories were the solution.

A story is a choreographed hallucination that temporarily displaces reality. At the behest of the storyteller, this conjured world may mimic perceived reality, perhaps rehearsing a past experience; it may modify reality, placing proxies of actual people in hypothetical scenarios or fictional people in familiar settings; or it may abandon reality for a realm of fantasy. Before stories, the human mind was only a partial participant in its own conscious experience of life, restricted to the recent past and near future, to its immediate surroundings and fragmented memories of other places. By telling stories, early humans gained unprecedented autonomy over their subjective experiences: they could dictate and record extensive histories and make intricate long-term plans; they could obscure, revise, and mythologize truth; they could dwell in alternate worlds of their own making. Storytelling transformed our species from intelligent ape to demigod.

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