This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
On Serendip

The Usefulness of Stories

Ghazal Zekavat

The two women resembled each other in that they did not resemble women at all. As the biographer, I should note that this odd pair spent the 3rd Tuesday of every month at the corner booth of the café on West 32nd and Middlesex. From her memoirs, the older of the pair can be thought to be quite dramatic, overtly so. Much more is known about the younger woman. Her family history can be mapped back centuries, to one salacious act that resulted in one mutation in one gene rendering the poor woman not a poor woman at all.

Under the obtrusive eye of the media, the so-dubbed odd pair has had to relocate to four different locations over the course of 16 months, alternating days of the week, and with the younger of the pair occasionally appearing as a young man or both women dressed in men's attire, as two men, quite convincingly—often allowing a moment's respite from a fishbowl existence, and yet arousing suspicion at the same time, for, why not just meet in private? the answer to which is, of course, that one would rather believe he has the same privilege as any law-abiding citizen to enjoy public amusements, than to concede that alas, he does not—or perhaps it is a sign that a glimmer of hope exists within this odd pair that the public eye will eventually tire and no longer possess the will to strain in hopes of catching a glimpse of them.

The most interesting thing to concretely come about from the pseudo-clandestine rendezvous of the odd pair is that the speculation about the two women is so divided. Scholars of the Alexina school of thought hold that the all speculation with regard to the younger woman is inherently faulty, as no actual memoirs exist to support them. Whereas the older woman's memoirs do exist, the scholars purport that the resulting speculation is far more reliable. Scholars of the Calliope school of thought conversely hold that while no memoirs exist to support speculation regarding the younger woman, nearly every detail that led to her conception and consequent existence can be filled in by extensive research conducted by other biographers. Since details are known to such great detail, Calliope scholars find it easy, if not natural, to assign words to the younger woman with a fair amount of speculated accuracy. While the older woman has provided memoirs in which she presents her take on her world, scholars find that far less is known about her, perhaps due to the nature of the memoir. Which school of thought, then, is more applicable?

Before I delve into further speculation, I'd like to mention a few words about the younger woman of the pair. Having been so thoroughly studied, she has effectually become mythical, fictional, even. One landmark in the case study of the odd pair was the publishing of a seemingly autobiographical recollection, from the vantage point of the younger woman. One Dr. Jeffrey Eugenopoulos was behind the hoax, which had been elaborately conducted, with the help of the younger woman (who apparently was in need of financial support) that had nearly the entire scholarly community fooled. It was soon pointed out, however, that the writing, although rich and consistent in voice, was a work of speculation, itself, for only a God's eye view could have produced such a recollection. Regardless of the authenticity of such a document, its usefulness cannot be denied. Dissention between the schools of thought arises primarily through the comparison of this document with the true, living memoirs of the older woman. The hotly debated topic—which document is more useful?

For the biographer, a memoir, however poorly written, provides an opening inside the head of the subject. There is a great joy in where this opening may lead, for an incomplete work is an unsolved puzzle. As for the memoir-less half of the pair, the puzzle is nearly complete; the mystery has been already solved. Now, since we are not all biographers, there is no denying the uproar that Dr. Eugenopoulos' work caused within the general public. It became quite clear to me that Dr. Eugenopoulos had, essentially, beaten me to the punch. Within the scholarly community, the concocted document is meaningless, but as a writer of non-fiction, I had forgotten the salience of a good story. Further, I began to question the usefulness of my own work—what good was all my research, the hours I spent deciphering letters, notes, memoirs and artifacts, if one Dr. Eugenopoulos could, in one fell swoop, replicate my work?

To this, I have painstakingly arrived at two answers, neither of which is completely satisfactory. First, as the biographer, I am seeking truths—actual truths—in order to paint a fuller, less incomplete picture of our world and its inhabitants. Second, it is with these truths that I uncover, that people like Dr. Eugenopoulos can create rich and elaborate stories. The question we began with—which document, fact or fiction, memoir, or story, is more useful—must, therefore, be changed, since it can be argued that stories provide multiple uses and varying degrees of utility for different people. Instead, one may find it more meaningful to ask what makes a story useful, and, additionally, if stories evolve in the manner of organisms, toward more fit units. If we have learned anything today, it is not to apply terms such as useful, or worse, "more useful" to stories, as the "fitness" of one such story is not something determined by Darwinian evolution or Mendelian genetics, but it is something completely subjective which follows its own rules of survival all together.


Eugenides, Jeffrey. MiddleSex. Picador, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 2002

Foucault, Michel. Herculine Barbin. Pantheon Books: Random House, Inc., New York. 1980

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando: A biography. A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc. 1956

| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:46 CDT