Tuesday, December 12, 2017

G.R.F. Ferrari's "The Messages We Send"

G.R.F. ("John") Ferrari hs been a professor at the Department of Classics at the University of California, Berkeley, for over twenty-five years. His principal interests are in philosophical aesthetics and in ancient Greek philosophy, especially Plato.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Messages We Send: Social Signals and Storytelling, and reported the following:
If the idea behind the "Page 99" Test is that by that point an author who has lavished attention on a book's opening may be getting slapdash, then my page 99 would hold up reasonably well — at least, it reads much like the opening, even though by page 99 the book is more than half way done.  As it happens, the page also contains one of the book's more adventurous claims.  This tells you two things about the book: first, it is a concise and consistent read; second, it doesn't give everything away at once.  And the adventurous claim?  It's that the mimicry of actors is fundamental to all storytelling — not just to staged drama or to film.  If this is correct, it gives an insight into what the point of telling stories cannot be — it can't be anything personal between storyteller and audience — and suggests a reason why we tell stories in the first place: to transcend the delicate, sometimes tiresome personal negotiations that are the backbone of our day-to-day sociality, while still maintaining human touch with each other.  But the book has in fact spent the bulk of its first ninety-nine pages discussing exactly those delicate personal negotiations — how we dress for each other, flirt with each other, and in general manage the impressions that others get of us.  Why, then, does it spend the bulk of its next ninety-nine pages discussing storytelling?  Because its guiding ambition is to analyze the major types of social interaction that fall shy of full-out communication, assigning them to their appropriate position on an ascending communicative scale.  And it wants to show that the scale applies to formal communicative arts like storytelling as readily as it does to our day-to-day social interactions.  To move easily between established arts and everyday life is in fact among the book's distinctive qualities.
earn more about The Messages We Send at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue