Meanwhile, the story skeptics trace how we have learned to live—as Jonathan Gottschall writes in “The Story Paradox”—in “unconscious obedience” to the grammar of story. Story lulls. It encourages us to overlook the fact that it is, first, an act of selection. Details are amplified or muted. Apparent irrelevancies are integrated or pruned. Each decision is an argument, each argument an imposition of meaning, each imposition an exercise of power. When applied to history, it is a process that the late scholar Hayden White termed “emplotment”—in which experience is altered when squeezed into even the most rudimentary beginning-middle-end structure.
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