Telling the American Story
Stories reflect culture, and American stories reflect American culture is Livia Polanyi's provocative thesis in Telling the American Story. Combining linguistic and cultural analyses, Polanyi provides thoughtful insights into many features of conversational stories that have either been put aside or omitted from formal analysis within cognitive science. She also brings to life stories as cultural artifacts in which every evaluation, presupposition, point, perspective, and interpretation is a reflection of popular culture.
Examining the structure of autobiographical stories, Polanyi pays close attention to the storyteller's own evaluation of the events he or she is narrating—why it is being told, and what the audience is to learn by it. This leads to an extended discussion of the ways in which narrative structure is embedded in conversation. Polanyi shows how in negotiating a story and negotiating the point of a story, false starts and repairs can be used to further the narrative.
Polanyi then analyzes several personal American stories such as "Fainting on the Subway" and "Eating on the New York Thruway"—for the propositions they express about American culture and draws these propositions together in a broad compendium, or grammar, of cultural assumptions. These chapters in particular provide perhaps the earliest and best efforts at making explicit the commonsense knowledge that underlies discourse and every other human activity.
The book concludes with the creation of "The American story," a text made up of sentences each of which can be seen as a compressed form of a myriad of "real" stories told in American conversation. Livia Polanyi is with Bolt, Beranek and Newman. A Bradford Book.