You have heard of sustainable houses and sustainable living but have you heard of sustainable stories?
Though not as visible as the organic, free trade you coffee you might be drinking, its perhaps the most revolutionary orthodox idea you’ll hear about today. You see, many times in the literary industry, writers are called to “re-interpret” and “revolutionize” stories to appeal to new audiences. There are countless reinterpretations of cinderella stories, Shakespearean dramas and an endless barrage of Hollywood reboots promising “the world that you know is about to come to an end”. Many critics are especially eager to criticize works with contrary social norms that we have today. Jane Austen is interpreted as “revolutionary” in upending her social norms by many Feminist critics, and Shakespeare has possibly the largest collection of homoerotic undertones, according to the leading intellectuals of our time. The constant re-imagining and re-telling of stories “shackled by their time” is a pervasive idea held as innovative and exciting work. However, interpretation according to universal truths that transcend time are deemed intolerant, old fashioned or constrained by the patriarchy. You can almost her the echo of many who would contend, “Elizabeth Bennet should have the right to co-habit with Mr. Darcy, it should be her right to see whether she realize likes him or not, and not be constrained by living in her father’s house until she marries.” Such critics would empathize with Elizabeth’s timeless desire for happiness, but forget the sacrifices of pleasures that must be made for the attainment of virtue, for the uncomfortable but necessary realization that we must live for one another and not just ourselves. They forget that our identity is not individualistic, but part of a whole —a community of people. When we cultivate our egos, they will inevitably clash with those of others. We will feel violated, and we will seek the company of others who will keep our conscience in peace. When that doesn’t work, we become hopeless in our loneliness and become miserable.
The answer to this misery is to embrace the world, instead of confronting it. You see, there is only one earth we live in, and it’s beautiful. Sparkling seas, roaring waterfalls, towering mountains, millions of animals in all shapes, colors and sizes —a multitude of creatures living in harmony unmatched by anything achieved by man. In this magnificent biosphere we live in, every living creature co-exists for the betterment of the whole ecosystem. Consider how flowers in dazzling colors attract birds to eat their seed, how it travels great distances and deposits the seed through its droppings in another place. The bird spreads the species of the plant, while being prey to the eagle which keeps the population in check. Even this apex predator falls to the ground, becoming food to the smallest of creatures to allow the plant to grow its seed, and continue the circle of life. In his fallen nature, man fails to see the harmony and wisdom of this cycle. He destroys, takes over, invades and conquers. We see so much throughout history how much pride there is in leaders when a people become subjugated, when the land is reaped off its resources and the native inhabitants of this earth (animals and plants) are killed off.
How like a tyrant do we impose ourselves in other people and their ideas! Everything is subjected to “re-think” and to upset the established order so as to make way for our own. Can we not, instead of destroying the idea, build on each other, and find the greater truth embedded in all? Every person seeks truth. Not everyone finds it in the same place. But we can identify the remnants of it, like an ancient fossil buried in stone. As a group, we chip through the rock to expose the white carcass —the object of our quest— and discard the dirt which does not belong. Such is our search for truth in stories. We read through the narrative, identifying the key figures, holding our breath when there is a threat to our protagonist, and rejoice at his/her triumph. In doing so we might find that our ideas are not so different from one another as we used to think. Stories like Huckleberry Finn echo the desire within us all for adventure. Far from being new, its a resurrection, a changing manifestation of the same idea built by earlier stories such Beowulf and Homer. Isaac Newton commented that his idea of gravity was only possible because he was “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Even modern music artists draw their melodies from chords discovered by Bach and other Baroque composers in the 17th century. We simply added a Roland 808 with autotune and repeated the chorus 3x over to “create” a new genre of music.
Sustainable Storytelling invokes nature and the universality of truth to re-create stories in different settings and circumstances. It enjoins the literary and artistic community to search for truths in our collective imagination. It doesn’t seek to annihilate, it seeks to join, not to impose, but to invite. Like our dear earth, our ideas will be complementary to one another, and instead of revolution through the destruction of the old, we will be re-discovering the truth and beauty that made us first fall in love with it, like a diamond ring held by the finger of the bride.
In the next chapter of Sustainable Storytelling, we will see how the middle ages were the pioneers in creating a sustainable system for the free-spreading of ideas. Stay tuned, and Merry Christmas!