Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) wrote in his short essay “The Four Cycles” (1972) that they are four fundamental stories in all of human history: 1) brave people besieging and defending a city (think “The Iliad”); 2) a hero or heroine returning to his or her home town (dream “The Odyssey”); 3) a courageous individual in an implacable quest for something (the Golden Fleece, the forbidden Golden Apples, the Holy Grail, Moby Dick the White Whale, etc.), and; 4) a god or goddess sacrificing himself or herself (e.g., Jesus Christ being crucified by the Romans).
Borges concluded his essay by saying, “Four are the stories. During the time we have left we will keep narrating them, transformed.” He implies that writers can change the names of the characters or tweak a little the circumstances surrounding their stories but, in essence, there will be only be four stories.
Frederick Luis Aldama largely agreed with Borges in that there are only a handful of stories, a fistful of plots, when he spoke on April 17 in the Graham Scholarly Commons at Syracuse University (SU) on the topic of narratology or the science of narrative.
Aldama is the founder and director of Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research at OhioStateUniversity. He is also the author of the book “Routledge Concise History of Latino/a Literature” (2012), among others.
“In fiction and non-fiction, what gives stories their amazing variety and abundance is not their content but their form,” Aldama said. “What interests is how these various plot forms are given shape.”
One thing that may change from story to story are the frames or conceptual metaphors used in them. George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist, wrote in his book “Metaphors We Live By” that human thought processes operate metaphorically as the substance of a metaphor is understanding one thing in terms of another. Prime examples of metaphors are love as madness, love as magic, love as a journey, etc.
Aldama added that Latinos and Latinas in the United States need to “develop an understanding of what has historically been excluded from the canons in order for them to fully develop their cognitive and emotional selves.”
In Upstate New York, we find Syracuse’s Near West Side (NWS), a neighborhood populated predominantly by Latinos and Latinas, mainly Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans. Since 2010, Ben Kuebrich, has turned the NWS into a lab for storytelling. His efforts have been rewarded so far by the publication of three books on the NWS: “Home: Journeys Into the Westside” (January 2011), “I Witness: Perspectives on Policing in the Near Westside” (January 2012), and “Westside Walks: Mobility and Responsibility on the Westside” (October 2013).
Ben is the editor of Gifford Street Community Press, which, he said, “strives to create an autonomous space of writing for NWS residents.” To this effect, it partnered with the Westside Residents Coalition (WRC), which Ben described as a “grassroots organization interested in developing a writing program.” Among the Latinas recruited for the program were Obduliah Gil-Polledo and Bea Gonzalez, of Cuban and Puerto Rican ancestry, respectively.
“They call me Mama Dulia. My son is grown up. My daughter is grown up. But when I see the kids on the corner, they are in my neighborhood, they are my sons and daughters”, Gil-Polledo wrote in the first of the Gifford Street Community Press books. “People say, ‘Why don’t you leave Syracuse, it’s cold.’ But I’m not going anywhere… The best is yet to come. We just have to keep working very hard.”
About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields (in the fiction and non-fiction genres).