The War of the Ghosts: a case study in narrative reconstruction

– So last week at the end of video one b, I asked you to listen to a story that I read called The War of the Ghosts, and then complete an assignment where you remember as much of it as you can, write it down in Blackboard and you were probably confronted with a really strange story that you were tryin’ to figure out how to make sense of So please complete that assignment if you haven’t already before we go through this video But once you complete that assignment, the act of completing it puts you in a position similar to the one that Frederick Bartlett’s students were in when they first completed this experiment, almost exactly 100 years ago This experiment was carried out in the late 19 teens, during the first World War in Britain at Cambridge University, by the psychologist Frederick Bartlett But he got the story from anthropologist Franz Boas, who himself, Boas would go on to become quite famous for discussing the way culture works and the way culture sort of shapes our understanding of the world, but he got this story from the Chinook people of the Northwest US from Oregon and Washington around the Columbia River area where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and this story, even though it’s from the US, even though we may assume that we’re familiar somewhat with Native Americans, it probably didn’t make much sense, and it didn’t make much sense to the young men that Bartlett read the story to It was translated and transcribed from another language, from the Chinook language, which you see down there in the bottom right, and even once it’s translated into English, it’s not just a matter of being a language issue The things that are strange about it are still there once it’s translated into English, even if you can understand the English The descriptions, the things that are assumed, the things that the reader or the listener to the story is supposed to know, or presumed to know, may not be things that you know Now like I said, FC Bartlett read this story, or had students read it at Cambridge University during the 19 teens and had them over a long period of time, read the story once and then maybe asked them to write as much of it as they could the next day then asked them again to write it two weeks from that first time, then asked them again, maybe a month or year later, and he would look and see how it changed the entire time, and he was focused on studying memory; how much you can recall He had other experiments where people would remember pictures and they would attempt to redraw these pictures, but in this case, he used a narrative and what he was looking for was just the ability to recall what you hear Just memory for data, but what he found was it’s not that simple Memory is never just memory for data, especially when it’s in a form like narrative So this is taking place at Cambridge University, in the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and his participants are Cambridge students and a few Cambridge teachers They’re not all male but they’re mostly male, and this is like I said, happening during World War One So these are either veterans of the first World War They’ve been to the German front or they’re facing the prospect of having to go to war They are obviously very well educated if they made it to Cambridge, but their lives, their lifestyles, in England, in the beginning of the 20th century, may be foreign to us but they’re probably more familiar than the Chinook story was So he took this Chinook story, and deliberately took it from a very different context He says that he deliberately chose these stories, quote, “in their original form “The stories in their original form consisted of “reports of occurrences which would, within the community “in which these tales were current, be accepted “without explanation.” End quote And then he goes on to say that, “All of the stories “used in these experiments were developed in “relatively primitive communities.” That’s his term “The type of connection between incident and incident “was in the main merely temporal.” In other words, one incident happened after the other, but it seemed, the causes may not be so obvious “It is not, of course, the tales had no center of “emphasis, but that the latter was from the point of view “of the modern reader, often obscure, “and that events appeared to be strung together “haphazardly.” End quote And, notice he’s not saying that the events were haphazard, but they appeared to the modern reader, in particular to the Cambridge University student

hearing this story for the first time It might be difficult to figure out how things fit together into a story So, the connections between incidents aren’t necessarily absent in the original narrative They’re not actually haphazard to the original audience, but they seemed that way to the modern Cambridge University students Like us, the British students just didn’t know why one thing followed the other, or how one thing caused the other, and the narrator didn’t explain it because to his original or her original audience, they would have known why They wouldn’t need these sorts of explanations So Bartlett says that when these stories were reproduced, reproduced by the Cambridge University students, they gradually came to acquire some central character which occupied the focus of attention, and everything not rationally leading to this point was omitted In other words, what’s happening is the Cambridge students are taking this narrative as it is, figuring out what the story is that it’s trying to tell, and then putting that story into their own narrative, fitting it into the usual rules of narrative And so, here we can imagine a Cambridge student imagining how to fit it into Freytag’s Pyramid You may have learned about Freytag’s Pyramid in high school English class where there’s an exposition, there’s a beginning, then there’s this rising action when there’s a complication or some sort of conflict, that conflict comes to a climax, and then after that climax there’s falling action and the denouement sort of resolution These are stages of tragedy in Greek tragedy, but this is not what was occurring in the Chinook story, but the British student would be trying to figure out what form of story type to put it in Now, in other words what the students were doing was narrativizing what was already unnarate, so remember from the lecture on narrative, lecture one b, that memory researcher Michael Schudson said that we narrativize memory and history by selecting a beginning with an original state of equilibrium, a middle that begins with a disruption of that equilibrium, a resolution that leads to the end, the conclusion We require a protagonist to overcome obstacles rather than just telling the story about one thing happening after another, but this wasn’t history that was being narritivized It was already unnarate, just not the narrative that fit the expectations of the students And the Cambridge students did what Schank and Abelson said that we all do when confronted with unfamiliar stories Schank and Abelson write that people, quote, “Attempt “to construe new stories they hear as old stories “they’ve heard before “It’s actually quite difficult to absorb new information “New ideas ramify through our memories, causing us “to revise beliefs and make new generalizations “and perform other effortful cognitive operations “We prefer to avoid all this work, and one way we do this “is to simply assume that what we are seeing or hearing “is just the same old stuff.” End quote So we’re narritivizing, we’re picking a script for this new story that’s already a narrative Remember the term script as well This is the way Schank and Abelson use it, it’s a set of expectations about what will happen next in a well-understood situation Like if we go to a restaurant, we expect things to follow one of a handful of restaurant scripts So we have scripts for stories just like we have scripts for understanding reality We have expectations about how a story ought to go, and when we hear a narrative that doesn’t fit that script, we can have a hard time understanding what we’ve heard This is why it’s very important to remember the distinction between narrative and story Both the Cambridge students and the Chinook storyteller are telling the same story So the story stays the same, but the narratives are very different, so the narratives are the telling of the story, not the story itself And these narratives become widely different, even to the point of changing or adding elements that were not in the story before Though Bartlett was studying an individual’s ability to remember raw data, he discovered a few principals that would help us understand how some narrative elements change over time, while others seem to remain relatively consistent He writes, quote, “When a story is passed on from one person “to another, each man repeating, as he imagines, “what he has heard from the last narrator, it undergoes “many successive changes before it at length arrives “at that relatively fixed form in which it may become “current throughout a whole community.” The first part we probably expect As the story gets retold the narrative changes But narratives would be unrecognizable if they became too different Something causes them to achieve that, quote, “relatively “fixed form.” Our individual experiences shape our expectations, but our experiences are usually similar enough to the

experiences of other people that we can communicate them Then there’s the effect of culture We can’t describe an experience that is so unique there are no words for it, and we can’t just invent new words from scratch to describe something that someone else has not experienced We have to borrow words and idioms and familiar concepts that the people around us will recognize Luckily we share a language with people in our own communities We also share common idioms and figures of speech We share common scripts because we’ve heard the same stories but what happens when we try to communicate with someone from a community that doesn’t share all these scripts or idioms or even the same language? In testing these young British students’ ability to remember Chinook’s story, Bartlett realized that it wasn’t just a test of memory for raw data He writes, quote, “It often happens that a folk-story “which has been developed in a certain social group “gets passed on to another which possesses different “habits of life and thought, different social institutions, “customs, beliefs, and belongs to a widely divergent “level of development.”, end quote And then he lays out some principles that help us to understand how these different habits of life and social institutions shape the narrative choices that the individuals were able to make The first of these he calls familiarization, “a common tendency to change all presented material “into such a form that it may be accepted without “uneasi-ness, and without question.”, end quote If this term sounds familiar, remember that we’ve heard the term defamiliarization This is what authors and artists try to do, to basically fight this same process, but our mind wants to naturally take something strange, and make it or translate it into what’s familiar, later to fight this to exercise our ability to think critically, we’ll wanna do the opposite and take the familiar and make it strange But our tendency is to do it in this order Whenever something new comes to our attention, we wanna translate it as something familiar And there’s several types of familiarization, but I’m only gonna focus on a few of these types, and the first is the familiarization of language So, especially you think of this in the terms of the original memory experiment When you remember the story of The War of the Ghosts, you probably forgot a lot of the narrative, so you remember the story, you remember basically what happens, but you put it in your own words, and Bartlett’s students did the same thing They would use terms like the first Chinook man refused to go with the men in the canoe on the grounds of family ties, when in the original narrative it was, quote, “I will not go along “I might be killed “My relatives do not know where I have gone.” So by saying, instead of that saying, that he refused on the ground of family ties, it sounds like basically the same story, but actually it sounds sort of legalistic or journalistic, like someone’s describing this in very formal terms Other terms, though used are such as sharp fighting ensued, or after the Chinook man was hit with an arrow in The War With the Ghosts, he was feeling none the worse for his experience These are idioms that are not in the original, but basically they tell the same story Then there are the omissions, and this is the most obvious thing in a test of memory We’re gonna forget things If we can’t remember every event or action, describing the narrative, we focus on the ones we think are important and we forget the ones that don’t seem relevant to the main plot But when the Cambridge students, what the Cambridge students thought was irrelevant, or thought were just irrelevant details, may not have seemed the same to the original story teller, the Chinook story teller, the Chinook community that would have heard this story And Bartlett points this out, he writes, quote, “Psychologically, everything is irrelevant which, “to the observer concerned, does not appear fitting “or in place, and what does appear fitting or in place “is determined by social environment and training, “as well as individual temperament and education.” Very often, details which appear to be trivial to any persons not engages in the reproductions, are really far from trivial to those who would have produced the versions in question In other words, the person trying to remember the story may think certain things are unimportant that the original narrator thought were very important; would not have thought were trivial So relevance isn’t an objective thing, but something that’s assumed by the reader Most of Bartlett’s male test subjects were veterans of the first World War They had either been in combats and, or they had lost friends and family in combat, or they were facing the possibility of going to the front, being sent to the front It’s mainly for that reason that they were likely to remember the excuse that one young man gives in the narrative when the men in the canoe ask him

to go with them, he says, quote, “I will not go along “I might be killed “My relatives do not know where I’ve gone.” And Bartlett noticed that this type of reasoning would be familiar to young men faced with going to war They recognize that their deaths would affect more than just themselves They would affect their families who are left at home not knowing what’s happened to them But these same young men tended to forget the first reason given for not going to war In the text the young Chinook says, quote, “I have no “arrows.”, and then the men in the canoe say, “Arrows are in the canoe.” It’s only after that that the Chinook notes that his relatives are expecting him So the reasoning about the relatives is more salient to the Cambridge students Salient means that it’s more memorable and has more emotional weight, whereas the excuse about the arrows might not be something that they would have thought of themselves, so it tends to be something that they forgot And besides just omissions and besides just leaving out details, some things are exchanged for other things Bartlett calls these transpositions, but we won’t worry about that term Whereas, in the original narrative, the two young men go down to the riverbank to hunt seals Now that’s not something most of us do, and it’s certainly not something that people would do very often at Cambridge So sometimes in retelling the story, his test subjects would say things like: two men went to go fishing Fishing’s much more common People do it everywhere People even do it at Cambridge, and that’s the kind of thing that made its way into their memories But that’s not what was in the original narrative In the original narrative it was hunting seals Also, remember that a canoe, even though we can kind of find them around the world now, this was a Native American innovation The word canoe was originally a word that Columbus picked up from the inhabitants of the islands in the Caribbean where he landed That made its way into Spanish and from Spanish into English, because it’s just not the kind of, it is a kind of boat, but it’s not the kind of boat that, particular type of boat that we see anywhere in Europe, at least not up until it was adopted from the Americans So the type of boat that somebody at Cambridge would be most familiar with would be the type of rowboat you see down at the bottom left The rowboat that has the paddles sort of attached to each side so that one person sits in the middle and rows and it’s very symmetrical, as opposed to paddling where you put one, you’re holding one paddle and you put it in one side of the canoe at the time and then you drag it over to the other side and paddle the other side and drag it back and paddle back and forth So when they retold their story, or their version of the story, sometimes they remembered it was a canoe, and sometimes they referred to it as a boat Sometimes they would say that the men were paddling the canoe or that paddling was heard upstream Sometimes it would be described as rowing Keep in mind at Cambridge, the crew team, the rowing team would be very prominent, you know a very prominent sport at old Ivy League schools, so rowing would be much more familiar to them They might forget that there was other, another style of paddling and so that’s why that would be more familiar and when it’s more familiar it tends to replace the unfamiliar elements of the story during the narrative And Bartlett’s terms, the Cambridge test subjects had a different schema of a boat Bartlett uses the word schema to describe ideas we have about objects that we have experience with So the word schema comes from the Greek and that’s why its plural form is schemata, but you can use schemas with an s on the end, too for the plural Either schemata or schemas It has been adopted into English at different times by different people to mean different things, but in the study of narrative, it’s typically used the way Bartlett defines this term And a schema in his sense is, quote, “a concept “about the properties of an object or its relationship “to other objects that is derived from a generalization “of past experiences with similar objects or similar “representations in description “Not the object’s actual properties, but the properties “we imagine.” Okay, this is a sort of condensed version of his definition, but remember how scripts work You go to a restaurant and then you go to another restaurant and you go to another restaurant The same sorts of things happen at each one, so you have an idea of the order of things and the actions and reactions that happened Well schema worked the same way You have familiarity with lots of different types of boats You start to develop a general idea of what a boat is Not general idea That’s the schema To make a generalization to say that one boat, you know, I’m using now is very similar to a boat that I’ve used years ago To make these generalizations, you have to overlook individual differences and certain properties and categorize something by the functional properties

that shares with other members of that schema So you can recognize the boat on the bottom left as a boat because of its shape, because of its paddles and the fact that it’s in the water You can ignore the fact that it has been painted blue and you would still recognize it as a boat, even though you may have never seen a blue boat before Being waterproof is a defining characteristic of the boat’s schema, but being blue is not So someone of the Chinook nation would probably hear a narrative and imagine a canoe image schema, but a Cambridge student would probably call up the schema of a rowboat, and this might seem like an insignificant detail, if all you want to do is get the gist of the story or to figure out the plot Then it might seem insignificant But that depends on what you think is important and the Chinook people of the Northwest US, clearly had a different expectation and attached different values than the London college students would So if we heard the story second-hand from a British student, we would get a British version of the Chinook tale, with emphasis on what the British men saw as important and explanations of the events that fit the scripts familiar to British men So, even if we can sort of muddle though and figure out the general plot of the narrative, with confusing a boat for a canoe, we can’t so easily do the same thing with the ghosts The story’s War of the Ghosts and we have these people described as ghosts but they’re not really described The characteristics of what make a ghost a ghost aren’t described, and they don’t seem to match the usual way we might define a ghost, but then again every time you hear or see another ghost story, they tend to differ in exactly what ghosts are capable of, what they’re like, you know, what their motives are, what the rules governing them are, and that sort of thing So in the narrative, The War of the Ghosts, the ghosts look just like people Even when the young man realizes they’re ghosts, he doesn’t seem to be afraid of them And there’s something about the use of their weapons that differs from normal weapons, so they wound the young Chinook man, but they don’t seem to hurt him at the time He says that he’s not hurt But the narrative seems to imply that the weapon did ultimately kill him And then there’s, when he dies later, there’s something black comes out of his mouth, and we don’t really know what to make of that What might that be? And some of the Cambridge subjects would describe that as a last breath or his breath was black as he expired and died Some of them described it in terms as if it was an Egyptian folklore because some of these students were familiar with anthropology from other parts of the world They knew that in Egyptian belief, the soul, when the body dies, the soul actually does come out of the mouth, and so they would describe it as if his soul came out of his mouth in the shape of a black object or something, but that’s not in the original narrative One subject says this, quote, “at sunset his soul fled “black from his mouth, and his body grew cold “and stiff.”, end quote But these are all things that are added into what’s in the original narrative, because we don’t have a schema for what a ghost is or if this something black coming out of the mouth is part of that ghost schema that the Chinook have It’s not something that the British test subjects had at Cambridge and it’s something we probably don’t have either So the ghosts in The War of the Ghosts are not explained, and that leaves us to explain it You know, Bartlett says, quote, “Now in the original “narration, although it is not put forward specifically “as a reason, the causal,” quotation, “‘they are ghosts’, serves as a rationalizing factor “throughout the whole story “With this inserted all the rest of the story satisfactory, “at least to the original audience.” So the original story teller wouldn’t have to stop and explain why just saying they are ghosts makes the rest of the story make sense, and the rest of the narrative make sense But we don’t have that explanation We do need that explanation and without that explanation we have to go back and put those reasons in there And adding reasons is what Bartlett calls rationalization This is something we’ll see happen a lot in the text we look at in here And rationalization is, in Bartlett’s terms, “specific “reasons are evolved or added to account for the form “of given material; “sometimes even when such reasons are lacking, “the form of the material is changed into something which “can be readily accepted simply because it is familiar “In both cases the result in terms of psychological “attitude is the same, and a pleasant mood of unquestioning “acceptance is evoked.”, end quote

In other words, it’s familiarized Rationalization is something we do to achieve familiarization I don’t understand why something black came out of this guy’s mouth as he died, so I’ll say it’s the soul or something That explanation makes me feel like I have an answer, even though I may not notice that I’m inserting this answer Other types of rationalizations, other reasons that these Cambridge students would add when they retold the narrative They would try to figure out why the men in the canoe wanted to go fight the people or who the people were They wanted to figure out why the young man died Was it from the sort of ghost arrow, or was it the fact that he shouldn’t have been with the ghost in the first place? Sometimes their reasons didn’t follow the reasons that seemed to be implied in the original narrative They would add very, you know, Western British reasons Or they would add words such as therefore, or for and because that were not in the original In other words, they’re not just retelling the story, but they’re adding those words saying this happened, therefore this happened, when in the original narrative it just says this happened and then this happened So one thing happened after the other The students are inserting these causal words to imply that one thing happened because of the other Okay, I’ve already read the top quotation But Bartlett wanted to emphasize that these students weren’t consciously changing the story They didn’t even realize they were doing this They needed the story to be coherent, and they wanted what made a narrative coherent for them was different than what made a narrative coherent for the Chinook So he says, quote, “Whenever anything appeared “incomprehensible, it was either omitted,” in the case of omission, “or it was explained”, in the case of rationalization “Rather rarely this rationalization was the effect “of conscious effort “More often it was effected apparently unwittingly”, unconsciously, “the subject transforming the original “without suspecting what he was doing.” So he was changing the narrative without realizing he was changing the narrative Just assuming well, that’s the way the original narrative was So these insights become very important for us as we study literature from a culture that is as far removed from us as The War of the Ghosts was from the Cambridge students that Bartlett tested In the next lecture, I’m gonna discuss metaphor and then we’ll return back to Audra Haus