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Tell Me a Story: Narrative and the Grand Conversation

For almost three years I have been talking about the “grand conversation” of the liberal arts. I use that term, taken from my own undergraduate days at the University of Chicago, to point to the way in which conversation about things that matter — about big ideas and hard questions of human experience — lies at the heart of the liberal arts experience.

I see and hear this grand conversation enacted in every aspect of life at Wabash, even when Bachelor writer Royce Gregerson critiques my emphasis on conversation and calls for action. Royce in his criticism of the conversation participates in it.

Yet over the last few weeks I have been struck by the power of one aspect of that conversation: the stories we tell. Story telling, as grand as that can be in our literature, theatre, and rhetoric, is a humbler, more casual craft than argumentation.

Back when I taught composition, I used to try to get the most hesitant writers to describe something, then describe an action, then tell me a story, and finally work to the level of argumentation carrying a thesis.