Monday, August 15, 2005

The Soul of Story

That way of creating synthesis of feeling and thinking that is essential to good storytelling, is also very close to how a number of contemporary writers define soul.

There are many ideas of soul. Basically, "soul" refers to what makes you alive: the breath of life. To many people it means what is essential, what determines who you are. Some cultures and religions believe in an immortal essence or soul. Some cultures believe each person has two or even three different kinds of souls. Some believe the soul is inside the body; others that our individual bodies are inside one great soul.

But there is a body of thought that sees the soul in terms of an active principle, a process, a perspective, rather than a thing. There are threads of this idea in Greek philosophy, early Christian thought, in Buddhism and other systems of belief and inquiry into the human condition.

This idea of soul---which is perhaps best known from Thomas Moore's best-selling books, like Care of the Soul, or James Hillman's The Soul's Code---doesn't exclude the others, but conceives of soul as a mediator, a balancer, even a harmonizer, between the head and the heart, between the physical and the spiritual, between "the doer and the deed."

Both the usual senses of soul and this contemporary sense of soul apply to Star Trek. But two elements of this second sense apply especially to Star Trek as story. First, this sense of soul stresses complexity, balance and synthesis. "Soul logic can be recognized by the fact that it synthesizes rather than analyzes," writes Robert Sardello, in Love and the Soul.

Second, the imagination is very important in doing the work of the soul. In fact, Carl Jung sometimes suggests the soul and the imagination are one. Again, this applies to envisioning the future through story.

"The key to seeing the world's soul, and in the process wakening one's own, is to get over the confusion by which we think that fact is real and imagination an illusion," writes Thomas Moore. "It is the other way around. Fact is an illusion, because every fact is part of a story and is riddled with imagination. Imagination is real because every perception of the world around us is absolutely colored by the narrative or image-filled lens through which we perceive. We are all poets and artists as we live our daily lives, whether or not we recognize this role and whether or not we believe it."

"As long as there is a sense of soul," Sardello also writes, "there is a sense of a future."

Story of the soulful kind is essential to the soul of Star Trek. It is because Star Trek tells stories in a saga, with particular characters over time and in various situations, in a well-conceived, evolving but basically self-consistent and plausible story universe, that it is able to create a memorable vision of the future, shared by so many.

It is that synthesis in the substance of story that sparks the imagination yet provides a basis for understanding. Fans at a Trek convention can share and disagree. They can argue interpretation and meaning, but they are basically talking about the same story universe, the same future. A convention of futurists has no such story in common, nor are the individual stories they tell as realistic---because they lack comprehensive imagination, and they lack soul. They aren't as realistic because they lack fantasy.

Yet, in another way, many futurist projections are total fantasy, because they aren't grounded in human behavior. They are about technological possibility, not how people use technology, or what the technology may mean in the whole of life. They lack the essentials of a good story.

There is much more to tell about the strengths of Star Trek storytelling: why the kind of story it tells is especially apt, and its type particularly powerful. How its first incarnation as a mid-60s television show, by intent and by accident, helped give it the qualities that enabled it to create a lasting vision of the future.

All that is for next time, in the episode entitled: Star Trek: A Mythology for the Future.

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