Archive of Week One Forum: Our Varieties of Storytelling Styles

Current Forum and Forum Archives for "The Story of Evolution/The Evolution of Stories" (Spring 2005)

glad you're here ...
Name: Paul Grobstein (
Date: 01/17/2005 10:00
Link to this Comment: 12050

Welcome to the on-line forum for The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories. Like all Serendip forums, this is a place for informal, public conversation. "Informal" in the sense that no one is going to worry about how you say things here. And no one is going to worry if you say one thing now and change your mind later (in fact, that's a good thing here). The idea is to share "thoughts in progress". Its a place to put thoughts you are having that might be useful to other peoples' thinking and to find thoughts that might be useful to yours. And its "public" with the same idea in mind, that everyone can make use of and contribute to everyone else's thinking. So what you say here can influence others in our class and, potentially, people anywhere else in the world as well (who might in turn contribute some of their own thoughts to our conversation). Hope you enjoy being here, and thinking with others. Looking forward to seeing what we evolve together.

Invitation into torytelling
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 01/17/2005 15:48
Link to this Comment: 12052

I add to Paul's welcome my own--am very glad you're here. And I add to his general invitation into this "useful public conversation" a specific set of queries I'd like you to respond to, please, by early Wednesday evening

How would you characterize your own story-telling style? Do you tend to the "uniformitarian" or to the "catastrophic," to continuous or discontinous types of tales? If the latter, which type of "catastropist" are you: "Biblical" (one who emphasizes plan, intention and plot resolution) or "modern" (one who doesn't tell stories-that-have-a-purpose)? Can you give an example of one of your tales?

Alternatively, you might tell us another story: are you looking for in this course? Is what you've heard and read so far "continuous" or "discontinous" with what you're seeking?

Looking forward to hearing from you-- Anne

first public mistakes...
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 01/17/2005 15:54
Link to this Comment: 12053

...of the semester!

what i MEANT to say (before that last post slipped away from me) was "Invitation into Storytelling" and "WHAT are you looking for in this course?" (now: see how easy it is to correct oneself?)

Week 1 response [expectations/my writing]
Name: Kelsey Smith (
Date: 01/17/2005 20:06
Link to this Comment: 12054

I honestly don’t know what I am looking for in this course. It will fulfill the second half of the science requirement. It will also count towards my English major. Other than that, I have no expectations, other than that I would like my knowledge about evolution to increase.
In terms of storytelling, I don’t especially enjoy the activity. However, when I write personal essays, they tend to emerge as loosely constructed free writing. In this sense, they are uniformitarian.

Posting 1
Name: Nada Ali (
Date: 01/17/2005 20:27
Link to this Comment: 12055

There is a popular myth that the more classes you take on evolution the less godly you become. Im here to test that because I think thats an interesting view. I find it fascinating that todays class touched upon the tension between biblical interpretations of events or catastrophes, defined in the modern sense and what I suppose you can call modern interpretations.After the Tsunami there were programs on television that alluded to the Tsanumi being an event that was orchestrated by God to basically warn us of our immorality and so called 'wickedness." The very need for that interpretation to be provided suggested that either people wanted to explain the disaster in a manner that was appealing and wholesome or that they really believe that the state of affairs lacks some definition of the way things should be and are. I would have to admit that in order for closure after an event of such magnitude, a biblical type of explanation is often more comforting but at the same time the geological explanation was more realistic for myself. To be fair to the media and television there were several documentaries and other mediums which explained the event in purely scientific ways and that was great. Im rambling on but the point is that many different types of interpretations were made available as people tried to fathom and understand what had happened. In that respect this course is very pertinent. Im very interested in this kind of stuff and the truth is I have to admit that it will fulfill a science requirement that I have left. However this course is not just about the requirement for myself. I am very interested in evolution and dont know a lot about it. I also love literature and dont get much of a chance to take many classes in it. Hence Im very excited about reading books Ive never read and in the process getting a healthy dose of science that Ive always liked but not been very good at.

As far as my writing style goes, I suppose I like being catastrophic just because its fun to be discontinous and surprising. However my discipline doesnt necessarily allow it since continuous writing is perhaps more appropriate for understanding whay things happen in politics. There are many events that are suprising yet their explanation needs to be more uniformatarianistic (is thats a word:)!!) Hence Im a catastrophic soul stuck in uniformatarianism. Thats just another reason for taking this class because I get the feeling Im going to get to unleash my catastrophic style of story telling while at the same time learning a bunch of great stuff.

First post.
Name: Brittany Pladek (
Date: 01/18/2005 00:36
Link to this Comment: 12057

My writing, whew... where do I begin? I guess the basic answer is that I'm a pretty straightforward uniformitarian, storytelling-wise. I took a short fiction class here last semester, and I found myself analyzing my own stories as I wrote them, or in some cases, even before I wrote them---searching for a "point," as it were. With regards to fiction (both writing and reading) I'm pretty anal about wanting everything to have a message, if not having it all "resolved" in some significant way by the last page. For example, "Waiting for Godot" made me want to bash my head against a rock. For an opposing example, I love most types of political and (weird juxtapositoin, I know) post-apocalyptic literature. They almost always contain some sort of social message.

I don't know how this jives with the fact that I'm an evolutionist. It's almost as if I search for meaning in smaller, more identifiably "human" creations in lieu of looking for it in the greater processes of the universe. I *know* humans can, do, and, in my opinion, *should* include some sort of message (doesn't even have to be a moral) in their fiction, even if that point is that there is no point or something equally nihilistic. On the other hand, I like explanations of "scientific" phenomena to be as objective as possible. Go figure.

And now for something completely different: I want to pimp out a book to you all. It's called "The Seven Daughters of Eve," and it uses mDNA to trace human ancestry back to seven "founding foremothers." I'm no biologist, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of the book's findings. But that's not the fun bit... the most interesting aspect of the book is that the author, Bryan Sykes, spends the latter half of the text creating a fictional "story" for each of the seven daughters. I guess he feels that this creative touch will make the scientific parts of the book more accessible. It just strikes me as interesting that religious texts work the same way: they use individual stories to explain the larger forces behind creation. So maybe Sykes is stealing a page from the Bible...?

Uniformitarian Water Imagery
Name: Carolyn (
Date: 01/18/2005 01:28
Link to this Comment: 12058

I believe that I am an uniformitarian storyteller and I think that all stories are continuous. Catastrophic stories are just unfinished, they stop before resolution, before the balance shifts and as people recover from a catastrophe or adapt to it so that it becomes the new norm. The discussion in class reminded me of the theory of ying and yang (or at least my Westernized concept of it). Good things and bad things happen, yet they balance out. Sometimes really wonderful things occur and sometimes catastrophes happen. I believe that having a variety of life events, a diverse human existence helps you appreciate what you have.

I know that we were only supposed to write one paragraph, but I wanted to post a little bit about something that Anne said at the end of class. She mentioned the beauty of the water imagery in the simulation and I can’t help but agree with her. Water imagery also ties into my thoughts about ying and yang. Wave imagery, the ebbing and flowing of tides can easily be used as a metaphor for the ebbing and flowing of fortune and luck. Returning to the Noah Story highlights how water is associated with purity, a means of washing away sin or wickedness, making the tsunami catastrophe even more ironic and, for me, more poignant. For more ties to water imagery, I would recommend Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” which ties back into the topic of evolution because it can be interpreted as a response to the Industrial Revolution, an era that has greatly impacted our ‘modern’ lives.

Storytelling and Expectations
Name: Tonda Shimbo (
Date: 01/18/2005 12:53
Link to this Comment: 12059

To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what my storytelling "style" would be. At first thought, I would think uniformitarian - continuous and very reliant on the present. But when I read further on catastrophism, in the Biblical sense, I would suppose that would be more appropriate. I wish to write children's stories, and those are generally (but not always) didactic in some way - teaching a moral, and usually accounting for past actions or events as a reason for the current situation.

As far as what I'm looking for in this course, I hope to gain a better understanding of the theories of evolution, and also to improve my writing habits and styles. The course material sounds very interesting, and I'm looking forward to a new semester.

Name: Becky Hahn (
Date: 01/18/2005 13:09
Link to this Comment: 12060

The idea that a catastrophe can be generative as well as destructive is a very intriguing one. It's also very difficult for us as humans to enthousiastically support this idea. Especially in our Western culture, we are taught or encouraged to be compassinate and to be greatly saddened by human suffering and death. So when you put a positive spin on catastropes, you can be seen as uncaring and cruel. We also live in such a present-focused culture that it's difficult to appreciate long-term positive consequences when the short-term is marked by great destruction and suffering.

I really respect the Thai viewpoint about the tsunami (as described in the New York Times artice "Meeting Death With a Cool Heart"). They don't really attempt to fully explain the catastrope or wish that it hadn't happened; they just accept it. Their detachment allows them to cope.

Week 1 Response
Name: Liz Paterek (
Date: 01/18/2005 13:32
Link to this Comment: 12061

I am most certainly a uniformitarian storyteller. I feel that often times catastrophic stories are built on a lack of understanding or current knowledge that may or may not be known at some later point. Therefore from the stories I only tend to look for the concrete facts, and ignore the interpretations as to why those things have happened. I suppose the best example comes from my studies of genetics. I have learned how one minor change in the DNA can have huge phenotypic consquences. If one does not fully understand what the mutated gene was responsible for, then the story of what happens seems catastrophic. However, if we understand what is really going on what the gene doesn't function we can predict the results and find a linear path.
I do not know what to really expect from this course other than to perhaps look at a concept of evolution outside the context of science.

Journal writing
Name: Ghazal Zekavat (
Date: 01/18/2005 13:40
Link to this Comment: 12062

Journal writing is a kind of story-telling that fascinates me, in that the more I think about it, the more unitarian AND catastrophic it seems. Each journal entry on its own can stand as a continuous sort of story. The writing style is often train-of-thought and there is often a common purpose to each entry (self-reflection etc). However, looking at the journal as a whole, it may seem rather catastrophic, especially in that the "story" never really ends. Entry dates may be spaced so far apart that each new entry seems like a catastrophic event. For example, I started a journal in high school that I regularly updated. For the past 2 and a half years of college, however, I have only added three new entries to it. I didn't write in the journal at all my sophomore year, so when I picked it up again, I didn't know whether to give an update or just write a "normal" entry. Although journals on the whole may have a discontinuous, catastrophic feel, they are still held together by a common thread (the author), and so in reading the very first entries and the most recent, one can appreciate a change (or evolution, if you will) in the writing as well as the author.

On a SIDE note- There is a very interesting commentary on the tsunami by Hendrick Hertzberg called 'Flood Time," in this week's New Yorker. It starts out with "Nearly Four million men, women, and children have died as a consequence of the Congo civil war." Hertzberg goes on to list more and more events like this until finally reaching the recent tsunami. The reason that the world is so wrapped up in the tsunami, as opposed to other more "lethal" tragedies, according to the author is that "this is a drama that has victims and heroes--but no villains. No human ones, anyway." I found this idea really interesting and applicable to our discussion of catastrophies. Civil wars, massacres, epidemics, and not least of all tsunamis, can all be classified as catastrophes, but I think Hertzberg's idea that the ones we "care" most about are the ones not caused by man. any thoughts?

Name: Annie Sullivan (
Date: 01/18/2005 14:18
Link to this Comment: 12063

I am taking this course because story-telling and evolution, and the connection between the two, have always interested me. My particular interest is 19th century British literature, which is of course hugely influenced by science, Darwinism, changing conceptions of time, etc. I am interested in reading literature backwards, in the ways that writers must--in order to move forward-- tell their stories in reverse, in the ways that memory writing serves as prophecy. The very story of evolution is one grounded in the past--one that maintains a forward looking posture by looking backward.

I thought the discussion in class yesterday was very interesting. In a way, it seems strange to classify stories as catostrophic or continuous.. it underlines the functioning of story-telling itself. We are devising a classification or 'making meaning' of story-telling with our own story. This class, along with all of our writing, this web-forum, and conversations, will be a story--an ongoing conversation that will take various directions, adaptations.

I was also interested in Anne's question about the beauty of the water image as it relates to the destruction of the Tsunami. I also thought it was a bit strange to sit in a classroom, watching a computer demonstration of the mechanics of the Tsunami. The image was silent, indeed beautiful, and explanatory. Yet the image somehow cannot be in conflict with the suffering and destruction of the Tsunami. Anne's question made me think of a really awful movie (sorry to anyone who liked it!!) called "Open Water." The pivotal image we are left with is a view of the ocean's surface and the beautiful, silent movement of the water. This, of course, masks the horrific shark attack occuring beneath the surface. For me, this scene resonated with the image we all watched on the computer screen yesterday. We may say these stories are in conflict with the more real and frightening version--but aren't they looking at the same event, from a different--albeit highly limited-- persepective? I like this scene in "Open Water" because it remindes the viewer of his/her restricted vision, of the struggle to learn a story. Like the computer image we all saw, it underscores issues of perspective and multiplicity. Silence can often be most communicative. Anyway, I guess the point is that YES, competing/multiple stories are GOOD and that it is OK if we cannot ingest a panoptic, 'true' story--as long as we recognize its limitations.

First Post
Name: Laine Edwards (
Date: 01/18/2005 14:22
Link to this Comment: 12064

In response to the questions raised in class about conflicting stories, I think it is imperative that conflicting accounts of events do exist. People are different and they look for different meanings in the events of their lives. The stories resulting from the tsunami are perfect examples of the different types of stories that exist to serve different needs. For the geologists the tsunami continues the story of life on earth, but at a cost. The same story of plate tectonics would most likely not provide comfort to those most affected by this disaster. For them, other stories are created to mitigate the emotional response to the destruction. It is necessary for stories to conflict in explanations or accounts so that all people can benefit from them.

In my own telling of day to day stories I think I use more of a catastrophic approach, but this again depends entirely on who my audience is. I certainly wouldn't tell a story the same way to my grandmother as I would my close friends. Of the two types of catastrophic story-telling I fall under the Biblical category. I like things to be neat and orderly with an obvious conclusion.
I was attracted to this class because it was so different. Most people, including myself, tend to think that the sciences and the humanities don't really overlap. I'm interested in finding more ways in which the two disciplines engage in conversation.

Response: Week 1
Name: L.T.(lt)
Date: 01/18/2005 15:09
Link to this Comment: 12067

I’m really not sure how to characterize my story-telling style in terms of catastrophic and uniformitarian. I think that the best way to describe it would be that I prefer to write many connected uniformitarian stories to create a bigger catastrophic story. I usually write fiction, and I think of my stories in groups. The individual stories are continuous, but read together they show a discontinuous series of events, each with ramifications for the person or people the series of stories is about. I’ve never tried to analyze my story-telling style before this, though, and a greater understanding of my own writing is one of the things I hope to gain from this course.

I think that the idea of many different stories concerning the same event is very interesting. The story of the flood is a good example. There was a time, though a long time ago, when experts were convinced it was true. Now, thoughts have changed so much that to voice a belief in the Biblical account would leave a person open to ridicule. I like the idea of ideas being overturned. It seems like many of the important moments in the world’s history have come with the restructuring of fundamental beliefs. I hope that that idea will be explored more in this course.

Week 1 Response
Name: Haley Bruggemann (
Date: 01/18/2005 15:56
Link to this Comment: 12069

I would characterize my own story-telling style as uniformitarian. I like my stories to be accessible to my audience and easy to understand. I think that while I don’t always set out to make a point with my stories, by the time I’ve finished writing, there always seems to be one. Writing stories in a catastrophic style seems almost foreign to me. I’m not sure that I could write something that didn’t have a real purpose or was discontinuous in plot. I would certainly be willing to try.

I am excited about this class not only because of the subject material but also because I believe having to post my comments and papers online will be a great step of personal growth for me. I have never done something so “public” and that’s why I am looking forward to this class.

Conflicting Stories?
Name: Kaitlin Friedman (
Date: 01/18/2005 15:58
Link to this Comment: 12070

When I read the first New York Times article last night, I was excited to see that notion of deep time that has been prominent in my mind since I first heard of the tsunami's impact. Yes, the damage done is saddening, and of course I have sympathy for those whose lives were lost and those who mourn them. But at the same time, it gave me a sense of confidence in natural processes, that humans only have so much dominion over this planet. As a student of geology, these catastrophes fit so well into the concept of uniformitarianism, and I have a hard time seeing them as conflicting ways of telling a story. Because the plates were moving just as they have for millions of years, this event took place, and there is some sense of pattern to that. This catastrophe gives me faith in uniformitarianism, if that makes any sense.

At the same time, I understand that the story of deep time and the events that occur within these extended periods is not a human story, that these are individual life spans in which this catastrophe is a single story rather than part of a larger one. As much as I'd like to place events in context, it's hard not to tell my own stories as catastrophic ones--continuity just seems so boring and predictable in contrast with catastrophe. It can also be so frustrating, though, too tell these catastrophic stories while in the back of my mind I know that they are part of a larger, uniformitarian one.

Name: Eleanor Carey (
Date: 01/18/2005 16:07
Link to this Comment: 12071

My own way of telling stories is what I would consider uniformitarian; natural and purposeful, developing into the events of the story and reasons not only for what happens in the story but also for telling it. I have told catastrophic stories, when I was younger as an experimentation, though I generally was unhappy with the result- I didn't have a reason for doing what I did, generally. I think I understand the world in a uniformitarian way. In my mind, the unexpected and unimaginable seem to just have to fit in somehow to the way things have been and shall continue to be.

I am taking this class because the topic sounded so interesting to me (and the first day of class only found me more enthused over the course topic), and because finding a class that I wanted to take that fulfilled the science requirement seemed to me such a feat. I, much like Haley, look forward to stretching myself as I shall in this class, making my work public. It scares me, but I hope to grow (evolve, perhaps?)

Is there a "real" story?
Name: Jenn Gerfen (
Date: 01/18/2005 16:17
Link to this Comment: 12073

One of the things I find interesting is the fact that many stories seem to be trying to give an explanation with the fact of what actually happened or is happening. In both “biblical” and “modern” thought there seems to be a search for a single meaning. However, there seems to be a problem because once more than one person witnesses an event there is more than one story for a single event. In order to understand stories or any actual event or concept it is necessary to understand that there is no “real” answer.

I remember the first introductory biology lab last semester there were people who were having trouble with the idea that you can not “prove” anything. Biologists make observations and tell stories about what they think happens. If the stories make sense they stay and are taught, but that is what makes biology so dynamic. There are new things that come up and require the old stories to be revised. In terms of evolution this seems to happen when areas feel the need to place disclaimers on biology text books stating that evolution is “just a theory”. The problem arises that evolution is not the only theory in the textbook.

My story telling style would probably be uniformitarian. I’m fond of making plain continuous shifts since it feels more comfortable.

romance and response
Name: Sarah Klimoff (
Date: 01/18/2005 16:23
Link to this Comment: 12075

I am a firm believer in the validity of uniformitarian stories. I like to think that history proves that there is nothing new under the sun, either human or chemical.

I really don’t understand the uniqueness of catastrophism – just because its unpredictable doesn’t mean that it relies on unknowable forces. Science is ever evolving to explain the world. Moreover if we use the story of generative catastrophe isn’t that an understandable plot that we repeat over and over in our descriptions and analyzations of the world around us? Which in effect makes it uniformitarian because the theory is patterned over and over. Though I think its easy to fall into this paradigm – and its important to recognize the anomalies. Prof. Grobstein’s example of the downfall of the dinosaurs and the rise of the mammals reminded me of this article:

I think it is important not to get *too* locked into the romantic storyline of generative catastrophe.

Also – I’d like to suggest Arthur C Clark’s short story “The Star”. It’s a really beautiful and thoughtful story about a Jesuit priest’s […or some sort of catholic order, its been awhile] scientific studies out in space with a bunch of atheist scientists. They discover a dead solar system whose exploding sun would have shown brightly in Earth’s skies around 0 A.D. I can not recommend it enough.

In response to Ghazal Zekavat’s “Journal Writing” post – (12062) [not really sure how that works] – I think the idea that “the ones [catastrophes] we "care" most about are the ones not caused by man” is problematic. I would suggest that civil wars, genocide and massacres are not catastrophes because they are entirely predictable. Tensions mount and people throw stones. This does not follow the first definition of catastrophe that Prof. Grobstein offered – an overturning of expected events. IT could follow the second definition – the resolution/conclusion of a tragedy. But I really don’t believe that violence can end violence or that there will ever be ‘a war to end all wars’ – moreover the violence is the climax, or is normally portrayed as the climax in movies today. I think these human dramas are tragedies because they are preventable and predictable. Epidemics and tsunamis are scary because we can not control them and until recently we could not forsee them. Now that we are beginning to understand viruses (avian flu) and we can predict geological shifts that cause tsunamis, we add tragedy to catastrophe. What can we prevent by making more vaccines and what could we have prevented by installing the infrastructure for warning systems?

Post #1
Name: Austin (
Date: 01/18/2005 16:30
Link to this Comment: 12076

I am not sure what type of storyteller I am. I really enjoy writing, but I am still exploring different styles and techniques - and still trying to figure out what type of writing I enjoy most. As of now, I feel like I somehow like to include a little of each, and I’m not sure which style I focus on most – but I am hoping this course allows me to find that out. I definitely enjoy writing a story that has surprises, as they are more exciting to write and read in my opinion; but I also feel that a story needs some type of point, no matter how strong and poignant or relatively meaningless that point may be. If I were to decide on the type of catastrophic writer that I am, I would have to say biblical since that style brings in the idea of purpose and meaning. I don’t see myself writing stories that have catastrophic events and surprises that have no greater meaning – but I am definitely willing to try that out.
I am really looking forward to this class since I love to write and absolutely love learning about and discussing evolution. I’m hoping this class will teach me all sorts of new things about myself and writing style and will strengthen my love of writing and make me more confident in my story-telling abilities.

Name: Maureen England (
Date: 01/18/2005 16:47
Link to this Comment: 12077

What is interesting on first reading the "classic" tales of great floods such as Noah's Ark and Gilgamesh, some questions arose in my mind.
I wasn't quite sure why the raven was mentioned in Genisis as initially being sent out to find land but then the dove was used. Is this another instance in which the dove is the "good" and the raven is the "bad" omens? Also, it is interesting the God says to Noah that he will not send another flood to kill living beings. If indeed this story had a preceding event, did the writers truly expect that there would never be such another event? How would those same writers alter their story if they knew that there have been many floods after? It seems as though, even without the benifit of hindsight, closing a story such, claiming that the floods will never come again, is leaving the story open to more criticism than if the story were left open for some interpretation. Thus, the Bible's story seems to represent more of a catastrophe. If the moral had been that vice and sin in man result in God punishing the living things of the earth, than future floods may be explained more. It is also very interesting reading the Gilgamesh story which in many aspects is very similar but also has very prominent differences; that Utnapishtim is chosen by a God not necessarily because he is without sin, and that the organization of the animals is different, leaving the choosing more up to Utnapishtim than the Gods.

Name: Britt Fremstad (
Date: 01/18/2005 17:01
Link to this Comment: 12079

I, like many others, am already enjoying this class. I was told by my older sibling (and sibling-figure) that it's important to take at least one class every semester that makes you think about the meaning of your own life. Some classes can't do that so well. But a class which emphasizes analyzation of how I--and others--tell stories puts some spirituality into academics. Moreover, I like the idea of a team-taught class because it helps relieve the class of ONE single correct idea.

I found Ghazal Zekavat's comment about how the world came together to respond to the tsunami catastrophe BECAUSE it had no human villain very interesting. Is it just very easy for humans to come together as a race when they are fighting against something that is not human? Do they not, then, have to worry about reactions of fellow human beings? Or was it just because huge tsunamis don't happen that often? Famines--killing more than 170,000--happen quite often (in comparison.. RIGHt?I don't know, hence the question marks)... granted, they are somewhat man-made due to soil erosion and deforestation... and there are relief efforts, but seldom as extensive as the ones happening now. Are there more politics involved in such catastrophes?

On another note, I too find some photos of huge waves, raging forest fires, or massive lightening stores beautiful. I think I would have to make a conscious effort to connect the images (which are, frankly, pleasing to the eye) to the horror that they caused in order to be disturbed by them. I think we feel like we ought to act disturbed when we see such shocking images, but maybe that needn't be the case.

Name: Ariel Singer (
Date: 01/18/2005 17:05
Link to this Comment: 12080

I realize that I am taking a different track here, but I thought an interesting point was the origin of the words catastrophe and uniformitarianism. Catastrophe is from Greek, the verb is katastepho. In Greek (according my Liddle and Scott Greek - English Lexicon) it has a number of meanings: to trample upon, to overturn, to turn back, to twist up, or to come to an end (in the Passive it also means to be subdued). The word itself has two components, kata and the verb strepho. Kata simply means motion away from or against, and strepho is to turn, to divert or to twist. Uniformitarianism comes from Latin (all info on this is from my Chambers Murrey Latin-English Dictionary), the root is uniformis (an adjective meaning, shockingly, uniform) which originates from unus and forma, the former means one and the latter shape. Besides the fascinating changes found in the Latin word versus the ones found in the Greek word, it is interesting to note that the ideas are so old, so integral to a large part of our collective culture.

Also the idea that katasrophe is a summation of events at the end of a Greek tragedy makes sense on a number of levels. Most literally it is the final aspect of the play and thus relates to the meaning “to come to an end”. However it could also be argued that it relates to our modern idea of catastrophe because a summation of the events in a tragedy are generally rather disastrous for all involved. Thus the katasrophe is a body of events that are negative, just as a catastrophe would be described today.

Name: Michael Heeney (
Date: 01/18/2005 19:26
Link to this Comment: 12082

I'm taking this class because its unique, and my storytelling and personality type is definately catastrophic. I don't look for the present to shed light on the past, nor do I expect to find continuous patterns of development. This is not to say that I don't like complete narratives or cohesion, which I do, but I like to start with chaos, or to make chaos out of stillness, and get meaning from there. I feel the uniformist perspective too often leads to error by priveledging theories before facts are discovered, or by sweeping facts under the carpet when they conflict with such theories, as Darwin and countless scientists have done. Also, there isn't much room to argue with a uniformist who maintains everything has been occuring at the same rate for eternity. In terms of writing, the stories in my poetry tend to veer away from a didactic biblical style, and stay open to interpretation in a modern catastrophic style, though in both styles the urge to comprehend remains.

In response to the comments about the tsunami being easier for people to make public, I agree because there isn't anyone to take the blame, except God or the environment, and neither of them have much to say. The only finger pointing for the tsunami has been to the watch group appointed in alerting tsunamis, which didn't even monitor Sri Lanka because of perceived unlikelihood, and communication networks for not warning others after it hit. In situations with famines or massacres there are always guilty governments, ideology promoters, dictators, agriculture programs, or idle countries who refused to give aid when they could, so the breadth of blame is much wider. These entities tend to take more time fabricating stories to vindicate their public selves than trying to rectify their mistakes. Why people don't respond with aid more to famines, where there is a long period of suffering far after the start, than to tsunamis, I don't really know, except that I guess since when the story of the tsunami is communicated it reflects less human culpability, and therefore more sympathy on the part of donors.

In response to generative catastrophes, every death is generative of some new form of life, from the nutrients soil absorbs from our corpses to the information you absorbed reading this with the death of whatever time it took you. The forms aren't always considered just or equal, though, as dinosaurs and the tsunami victims would attest to if they could.

Name: Jessica Rosenberg (
Date: 01/18/2005 19:49
Link to this Comment: 12083

I was struck, in class, by the idea of this search for where the flood happened and this logic that if every culture has a flood story, there should be an event. I've always assumed that the reason every culture has a flood story is not because it happened, but because everyone is interested in teaching and learning from what a flood story teaches: The cycle of wickedness, punishment, rebirth; the relationship with nature. I think I read and write things uniformitarianly (is that a word?)because that's how I connect with the past. I read and write assuming that the laws that govern people, the things that matter to us, remain the same. I've also been thinking about the different definitions of catastrophe, both an overturning and a wrapping up. They're not incongruous in storytelling, but often work together,the only satisfying way to end. Originally, I was taking this class to get science credit for an English course. Now, all my classes this semester seem to be about storytelling, and it seems like I should pay attention to that.

Chaotic Rambings
Name: Arshiya Urveeja Bose (
Date: 01/18/2005 21:03
Link to this Comment: 12089


As a biologist, I have always been intrigued by the theories of evolution, the scientific validity of one idea vs. another and so on. As some one who has lived intimately with nature and the environment, and has grown up in the presence of many grandmothers and their flavored interpretations of creation, I am also intrigued with the storytelling aspect of evolution. I don’t think I will be able to shell out a laundry list of what I expect from this class, philosophically or otherwise. However, I do feel that the general journey of this course will tickle various senses, and get me thinking about stories, facts, and observations in ways that I have not yet imagined.

I’m also fairly uneasy about classifying my own storytelling style since I am unsure about the fundamental meaning and differences between uniformitarian, catastrophic etc. This ambiguity stems from my aversion to categorizing things in general since I am a believer that life and nature and human thought follows the Principle of Disorder, and the more we try to streamline trends and patterns, the more chaotic things get. Do I mean that all storytelling is catastrophic to some degree?

Name: Robyn Schelenz (
Date: 01/18/2005 22:19
Link to this Comment: 12092

I think the question of catastrophic or uniformitarianism (oh unhappy term) storytelling can yield a few answers from me (or just one really ambiguous one). Poetry seems to thrive upon catastrophic effects; the line must turn, and poetry is most satisfying when it surprises or astonishes (to borrow a spot-on idea from Apollinaire). For instance, in Wilfred Owen's "To Eros," this stanza:

"But when I fell upon your sandalled feet,
You laughed; you loosed away my lips; you rose.
I heard the singing of your wing's retreat;
Far-flown, I watched you flush the Olympian snows
Beyond my hoping. Starkly I returned
To stare upon the ash of all I burned"

features a fantastic turn, finishing the "I watched you flush" section in the middle of the next line, unexpectedly, with "Beyond my hoping." It's jolting, much as catastrophes are, and expresses by this jolting, a certain measure of human unhappiness. The poem itself isn't absurd, and builds its impressions around a continuous theme, but presents the emotions in a catastrophic way. This isn't the deepest analysis of a poem ever, but the surprises and lack of predictable logic in poems recreate a catastrophe of the senses, although there is a uniform theme. Often poems have a dreamlike quality, which further suggests a catastrophic, surprising nature to them - line A connects to line B but not by way of explanation, just to further the creation of an effect, an emotion. Poems are stories (and I guess I'm just talking about a certain type of poem, a romantic, subjective sort of poem, as opposed to Buckminster Fuller's poetic treatment of industrialization) that duplicate the sort of catastrophic nature of life in general. Ah - it's a difficult question. As for what I'm expecting of this class I don't know yet, I'm open to whatever direction we take and will probably have a better idea after tomorrow.

Wilfred Owen's "To Eros"

In that I loved you, Love, I worshipped you,
In that I worshipped well, I sacrificed
All of most worth. I bound and burnt and slew
Old peaceful lives; frail flowers; firm friends; and Christ.

I slew all falser loves; I slew all true,
That I might nothing love but your truth, Boy.
Fair fame I cast away as bridegrooms do
Their wedding garments in their haste of joy.

But when I fell upon your sandalled feet,
You laughed; you loosed away my lips; you rose.
I heard the singing of your wing's retreat;
Far-flown, I watched you flush the Olympian snows
Beyond my hoping. Starkly I returned
To stare upon the ash of all I burned.

Name: Robyn Schelenz (
Date: 01/18/2005 22:27
Link to this Comment: 12094

Sorry my comment was late, I forgot about the 5pm deadline... :(

my writing style
Name: Alexandra Mnuskin (
Date: 01/19/2005 08:20
Link to this Comment: 12098

I’m not sure if I would classify my story telling into either one of the two categories. I feel as if it would depend on the kind of story it was and on my audience. In general I suppose I tend to like stories that have a purpose, that have if not a didactic moral, at least some sort of structure. I feel that both the uniformitarian and catastrophic styles could provide an understanding of an event, just in different ways. They do not have to be in opposition to each other. The flood can be explained because of plate tectonics or the wrath of God, but in the end, both explanations strive to explain an event in our history, to make sense of a disaster. The bible attributes the great flood to the evil of mankind. However, even the scientifically minded New York Times Article by William Broad, argues that the tsunamis had a purpose and that without them there would be no life. In conclusion, I suppose that what ever style I choose, I think I would always want to find a cause to an event, without which it would be meaningless.

Name: maria scott-wittenborn (mscottwi@bmc)
Date: 01/19/2005 12:28
Link to this Comment: 12105

I suppose that when I think about the stories humans have told themselves over the centuries I view the tales as attempts to make sense of the world, to account for what we see and what goes on around us. It might seem counterintuitive that events such as tsunamis and earthquakes that trigger human suffering on such a large scale are, in fact, necessary for continuing human life, but it only seems that way if we consider human emotional responses to be some sort of accurate indicator about the “goodness” or “badness” of a given event. In my mind, they are not. It seems interesting to me to think about this designation of “good” and “bad” that we create and what purposes those emotional responses serve and in what contexts they are useful. It’s the question of why the emotional response that we have to an image of parents searching for missing children seems incompatible with the knowledge that tsunamis and earthquakes must happen in order for life to continue. We can intellectually comprehend the role that natural disasters play in the cycle of things and the internal dissonance we experience of simultaneously being capable of intellectual acceptance and appreciation and our emotional view of the tsunami as a “tragedy” is due to the fact that our emotional responses stem not from objective assessments of the overall positive or negative impact of an event but rather from the way in which our brain, and by extension the way in which we perceive the world, has evolved.

Name: Rebekah Baglini (
Date: 01/19/2005 12:50
Link to this Comment: 12106

As I've been thinking about the ancient tradition of the flood story and the examples we've read from the bible and Gilgamesh, I've been struck by what we've lost now that we live in an age without such stories. If someone were to argue today that the tsunami was actually orchestrated by the gods in order to punish human wickedness, I think most people in this class would regard such a view as primitive and probably highly disturbing. How could we say that the victims of the tsunami were just receiving what they deserved at the hands of the gods? It's barbaric.

But one thing the flood stories do is preserve the emotional gravity of the event. Now, reacting to the tsunami, we are able to say, "It's tragic, but it's just part of the way the earth works. We're just a bunch of little, insignificant specs on this planet who have no control over such larger forces." We're not viewing ourselves as the center of the universe anymore, we're not able to give a reason for our suffering; humanity seems less meaningful and less important. It takes away from the sense of catastrophe. I certainly don't believe that the tsunami was an act of god, but at the same time I wonder what it means for humanity to feel so humbled and so devoid of control, to have to view ourselves as just little insignificant ants forever at the mercy of the forces of the universe.

on the fence
Name: Becky Hahn (
Date: 01/19/2005 16:07
Link to this Comment: 12114

I find that it is impossible to be either strictly catastrophic or uniformitarian in storytelling style. My style depends on the context, audience, and a variety of other factors. For example, when I tell a story to a friend, I enjoy using surprising, unexpected elements. But when I write academic essays, I tend to use a more continuous approach which relates many elements together.

Also, I think that a good story should have elements of both styles. Without "catastrophe" there is no drama, and without continuity, there is nothing to hold the story together. Perhaps my view is based partly on my indecision, but I find it very difficult to focus on one style when nearly all stories are more complex than that.

Name: Lauren Zimmerman (
Date: 01/19/2005 17:55
Link to this Comment: 12122

As a story teller, I suppose I'd consider myself catastrophic. I may not understand the terms correctly, but I am attracted to the idea that catastrophe may in fact be generative. I enjoy reading and telling stories that have a purpose, something the reader or listener can take away with them. Otherwise, what's the point of reading or listening? In my mind, a good story is one that comes full circle, as the catastrophic supposedly do.

Name: Iva Yonova (
Date: 01/19/2005 22:39
Link to this Comment: 12127

In class on Monday I was thinking about the word catastrophy and catastrophic. the definition professor grobstein gave included sudden and unexpected. i strongly disagreed with that and couldnt help but think about it throughout the rest of the presentation.
the example of the tsunami seemed to be consistent with my ideas so i am going to use it. first of all, the tsunami was predictable, not only that it was discovered some time before it occured (although insignificant). with time and the development of science and technology earthqackes and other similar geological phenomena will be predictable in an enough advance period so that human (and not only himan) loss will be minimized. that is why i would rather substitute sudden and unpredictable with something that humans cannot control (for now).
i realize right now how uniformitarian my thinking is but i do believe that everything in the world is entangled into an intricate web and one thing always be explained logically through its anteceding events. humans do not neccessarily see all those connections and for some reason like to think of them as twists of fate or religion-connected occurences. the continuous way of story telling clearly accounts for that: people egoisticly tell stories largely concerned with the human point of view and miss to account for the "big picture". in conclusion, i wouldnt say that continuous story telling is bad, but only that it is biased.

Name: Jessica (
Date: 01/20/2005 17:45
Link to this Comment: 12135

I found this today. Not sure if we're getting into it later, but just wanted to keep us current.

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