The story, not the storyteller

POSTED: March 16, 2022

François Matarasso wrote this and published it on one of his blogs: Parliament of Dreams. I reproduce it here because, for whatever reasons, it resonated with me quite deeply.

François wrote:

Yesterday, I wrote a short post on the physical effects of grief, only to set it aside. I’ve written little in the past weeks, and published less. Among the broken things is my idea of why I write, or rather, why I publish. Writing itself has been a way of making sense of my experience since childhood but what I share, and why, are more complex, ambiguous questions.

My blogs have somewhat different aims. A Restless Art is a record of participatory arts practice in Europe, while Regular Marvels is a sketchbook of my own community art process. This site has a looser set of preoccupations—policy, theory and values, the reasons for doing this work in the first place.

But there is a common intention to be positive and encouraging, writing honestly about work I believe in. The blogs are a counterweight to an arts system whose inflated rhetoric about participation is at odds with its treatment of the people on whom that work depends. There is too much clever but hollow writing about art, too much cynical posturing, too much nastiness. And beyond that, there is much to chill the heart now: war, hunger, environmental disasters, greed, cruelty and bare-faced lies. This is the poison we breathe, watch and read, and it needs an antidote.

So my writing aims to encourage—in the sense of strengthening people’s courage for an uphill struggle. It seeks reasons for hope, clear-sighted, tough, radical, because eroding our belief that change is possible is the strategy of tyrants. It’s an important mission, literally vital, but my writing matters only if it adds a grain to the right side of the scale. Like community art, a small difference, but a difference all the same.

And, again like community art, that depends on a degree of self-effacement. We all have egos and desires, but community art isn’t interested in them, or us: it works because together, in community, we are much more than the sum of the parts. As Jo Cox said in another context, we have much more in common than divides us. It would be vain to pretend that, as the author of these websites, of these words, I do not occupy a large place here. Still, I am not the focus — the storyteller, yes, but not the story. It’s the people, work and ideas I write about that matter.

That distance, which is temperamental as well as philosophical, is hard to maintain in the age of social media, which I dislike and mistrust. And now the boundaries between my experience and my work, between the storyteller and the story, are fraying under pressure. It is harder to combine honesty and hope, though I hold on to the values of courage. So it is necessary to be quieter, to publish less. To throw out what I’ve written if it cannot do good. We need encouragement, me more than most. This may not be a time to keep silence, but it is certainly a time to choose my words with care.