Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Use and Overuse of the Word "Narrative" (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

I often hear journalists and politicians use the word "his narrative" or "her narrative" in oral and written speech. At first I felt dissatisfied with the misuse of the word. It's certainly a good word, but its abuse in combination with the substitution of other words made me uncomfortable.

Let me quote some phrases that I highlighted which I came across that were either spoken orally or presented in writing: "The government narrative", "the dominant narrative", "his wife ... is the voice of the narrative", "the narrative with which he politicized", "the historical narrative of our neighboring country", "our national narrative", "killing his narrative", "a new narrative about the relations between Greece and Northern Macedonia is inaugurated", etc. I also found the expression "the narrative of the narrative"!

I was therefore preoccupied with this subject and I began to search for the meaning and significance of the word "narrative", and by reading and asking experts, I came to some conclusions, as presented below.

The term "narrative" (ἀφήγημα) refers to the literary genre of short speech and is contrasted with the term "narration" (διήγημα), since "a narration has a strict order and established form", while a "narrative" "functions as a spoken word and is presented casually, allowing the narrator to use whatever phrase he thinks is most appropriate to give life to his narrative." It is an "autobiographical, didactic, romantic, historical, poetic, polemical" account.

Also, the word "narrative" (ἀφήγημα) as a literary term is contrasted with "recounting" (ἀφήγηση) which means the narration of real events. On the contrary, the word "narrative" (ἀφήγημα), which is a semantic loan from the French language and is a rendering of the word récit, does not refer to the narration of real events, but is in itself an event.

In what now concerns the modern use of the word in political contexts, according to experts, the word "narrative" "is related to postmodernism and postmodernity." It is probably a semantic borrowing from the English language and is related to the concept of storytelling, which "relies on the power of historians to produce reality or to change reality". In fact, it is argued that "in the United States, storytelling, which has become a central element of ideology, is a trend that began in the 1980s under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, when in formal speeches,  'stories' replaced arguments and arithmetic elements".

It is exactly the latter which shows the problem that exists with the misuse of the word "narrative". When used extensively and indiscriminately by politicians, it is usually done to avoid arguments and figures, and to exaggerate "stories", images, or even to produce and alter reality, which is something that usually misleads the listener or viewer. In fact, when it is used too much by journalists by undermining and substituting it for other words and imitating politicians, then it becomes even worse.

Thus, the word "narrative", which is indeed a fine word, is used to replace other important words, such as program, argument, point of view, decision, result, pursuit, etc.

Many journalists imitate what they hear from others, in order to look fashionable and make an impression. However, they should know that language not only expresses our views, but is also a carrier of culture, which is undermined when it is itself alienated.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.