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Daily RC Article 190

The Interwoven Essence of Philosophy and Storytelling

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Philosophy has never only been about rational argumentation. It would be the saddest thing if it were, and it would not have lasted that long. What makes philosophy such an endurable affair, in the West as well as in the East, is that it engages not only our cognition, but also our imagination, emotions, artistic sensibility, religious impulses – in short, our being complicated, messy, impure creatures. To be human is to be always caught in existential entanglements, to have to deal with hybridity and messiness of all sorts. We are an unlikely union of high and low, spirit and flesh, reason and unreason. And philosophers, if they are not to lose their integrity, need to account for such wholeness.

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That’s why philosophy – not the bland academic sort, but the lasting, transformative variety that we come across in Lao Tzu, Pythagoras, Plato, Saint Augustine, Rumi, Meister Eckhart, Spinoza, Marx, Nietzsche, Gandhi, Simone Weil – doesn’t come in a pure state. It always gets mixed with myth, poetry, drama, mysticism, scientific thinking, political militancy, or social activism. To complicate matters, often fiction writers (think Dostoyevsky, Huxley, or Borges) turn out to be particularly insightful philosophers, and so do filmmakers – such as Bergman, Kurosawa, and Tarkovsky – who philosophize just as insightfully on screen. All these entanglements and contaminations mark philosophy profoundly – indeed, they make it what it is.

Walter Benjamin used storytelling liberally in his philosophical work. He created fictions, long and short, or borrowed them from others, and this was no whim: Benjamin really thought philosophy and literature were profoundly interlinked; 

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He speaks of “the epic side of truth,” and relates it to “the art of storytelling.” Humans are narrative-driven creatures for whom form is as important as any content. If we experience everything as a story in the making, then there is indeed an “epic side” to truth, and philosophy, by definition, is bound to use literary craft. With every new story we make the world anew. Storytelling pushes the boundaries of what it means to be human: envisions and rehearses new forms of experience, gives firm shape to something that hasn’t existed before, makes the unthought-of suddenly intelligible. Storytelling and philosophy are twins.

Philosophy transcends mere rational argumentation; it delves into the complexities of human existence by engaging imagination, emotion, and artistic sensibility. From Lao Tzu to Gandhi, philosophers throughout history have intertwined myth, poetry, drama, and mysticism into their discourse. Fiction writers and filmmakers also contribute profound insights to philosophical thought. Walter Benjamin recognized the intrinsic connection between storytelling and philosophy, viewing them as intertwined twins that shape human understanding and create new narratives of truth. Philosophy, therefore, embraces storytelling as a fundamental aspect of its quest to explore the depths of human experience and understanding.
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