Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

We Are the Stories We Tell: Narratives, Healing, and the Para-rational

Dr. Rachela Permenter.

Using the works of Native American authors, this paper traces the creative and healing power of narrative. As we confront the desacralization of empiricism, postmodernism reflects a confusion of meaning and of truth in a search for a new "opening" to beyond the purely rational. The new humanities calls for more than simply a new face on the wizard behind the curtain; it calls for some kind of accommodation to the fact that at all times we are both lost and home; we both "have" meaning and are on the yellow brick road to find the meaning we have created.

Much current theory tells us that stories are neither works of art nor static images. This has always been true for Native Americans for whom stories are dynamic entities that combine mythopoetics, spirit of place, and the interaction between the storyteller and the listener. Contemporary Native American authors utilize that pattern and in doing so have contributed to a new worldview that allows for a combination of a "fixed" past with the organic creation of the present. Consequently, the mixing of reality with a culture's narratives allows for every telling of a story to be "making it anew" and for a blending of past and present.

Coming to the surface in the postmodern bubble is an increasing discomfort with the acceptance that classical logic and the scientific method offer the only mode of cognitive experience. Factions of the hard sciences are now openly bewildered by an effort to explain the ideas and modes of experience which were once dismissed as "mystical" or "spiritual." Certainly literary criticism, a field whose primary material is language (replete with things of the spirit and questions of signification) should not shrink from such an endeavor.


Dr. Rachela Permenter  (United States)
Professor of English
English Department
Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Permenter received her B.S. and M.A. from Kent State University in Ohio and her Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University. Her book, The Romantic Thread: Perennial Traditions of Nonduality, is currently under consideration for publication.

  • Narrative Theory
  • Native American Literature
  • Postmodernism
Person as Subject
  • Alexie, Sherman Erdrich, Louise Silko, Leslie Marmon

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)