Long, long ago, a group of people raised its eyes to the heavens at night, marveling at the celestial bodies in their steady dance across the vault of heaven. Being mortal – and, thus, inquisitive – many of those people did not settle for simple wonder, and this not settling manifested in the form of a question: What are those things? I could discuss flaming spheres of gas caught in a massive, galactic gravity well, but the form and composition of a thing is not the first answer that humans tend to give. Almost as if expecting meaning to spill forth, someone utters a single word: “Stars.”
This word does not prove to be a tempest of meaning and clarity in a dixie cup of a single breath, though, so questions compound. The answers necessary to placate the curious finally lead to a discussion about a particular cluster of stars. “Those are the Twins, the Gemini,” someone cleverly pronounces. “They are stars, but they are special.”
Someone interjects with an obvious, “Why?” before the line of inquiry can be laid aside. After all, why should those stars be special and have a name, while the clusters of lights around them are simply “other stars”? And so, this clever person begins to tell a story of twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, who were the younger brothers of the most beautiful woman in the entire world.
Human kind has always accessed understanding through storytelling. A desire to preserve these stories and their secrets can be imagined as an impetus for writing. Letters make simple stories grow in complexity, until someone saw the need to distinguish mere stories from literature. Liturature is a slippery concept, though. Theseus’ remarks on drama, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, can be extended to understood within the context of the literary form: “The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them” (Act I, Scene I). In other words, literature exposes truths by weaving knots of lies.
With the propagation of so many webs and so many lies, with so many stories to sort tales of eternal truth from, mankind began a new line of inquiry: What are the mechanisms by which narrative functions? How is it that we, as creators of narrative, can make the simultaneous statements, “This is a falsity; it never happened,” and, “This holds truth; it is important”?