Story-pictures: Word-Wonder Day 21

I mentioned yesterday how fictions sometimes are more true than facts. That’s a hard thing to explain. It makes me think of this statement, for which I have no source except an honors seminar in which I participated as an undergraduate:

“You can’t picture in a picture how a picture pictures reality, or else you reduce the relation of picture to reality to a mere picture.”

Something there is in this statement which speaks of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. Stories and pictures are beautiful things and speak to us powerfully, but when we try to capture them, to stick them on pins in a glass case — or on a blog post — and analyze them, we lose much of what makes them what they are.

In a sense, the statement, like stories and pictures, eludes analysis. The “picture” mentioned might be a literal picture, but it might also be a story, a symbol, a ritual. We might with equal truth say that “You can’t tell in a story how a story tells reality, or else you reduce the relation of story to reality to a mere story.” Though we catch a glimpse of truth in these things, that truth seems cheapened by explanation — almost not worth the effort of understanding if it does not strike a person on its own. The thing itself — the picture, the story, the ritual — ought to speak for itself.

For we are in the habit of letting such things speak. From early childhood, we are fed stories and pictures, of which the significance may not strike us until much later. Scripture is full of stories and symbols: “the kingdom of heaven is like . . .” We are not told what exactly the kingdom of heaven is, but we are given many pictures to help us understand it. I imagine that none of us expects to find “a mustard seed,” “leaven,” “treasure,” “one pearl,” or “a dragnet” when that kingdom is made visible; yet Christ uses all of these images to tell us about it (Matthew 13). Undoubtedly, the reality will be something quite different, but we will recognize it because of what these picture-stories tell us.

An example of this, for me, is C. S. Lewis’ land of Narnia. Narnia is a story. It illuminates some aspects of reality, but it is not itself real. Nonetheless, having experienced Narnia, we may approach reality with a wider understanding. We who as children wept at Aslan’s death may more fully grasp the death of Christ through it. Moreover, our real-life experiences will add poignancy to the images we see in Narnia. The best stories point us toward real life, though it’s hard to articulate exactly how.

I’ve circled, in this story week, around the idea that this life is a story, and not only a story, but the best kind of story. And if stories in this world help us to understand this world, can we conceive of this world as a story helping us to understand something else, something even more real? We spend our days picturing pictures, telling stories, making poor copies of what may be seen in this “dim mirror.” If there were no reality outside the mirror, the pictures and the stories would mean nothing. It is in the hope of the “face to face” that we keep picturing pictures, telling stories, “knowing in part” until the day when we may “know fully.”


©2013 by Stacy Nott

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