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A Power of Our Own*

Power is a story told by women. For centuries, men have colonized storytelling. That era is over
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Power is a story told by women. For centuries, men have colonized storytelling. That era is over

   

Elena Ferrante’s
novels include Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter
and the four volumes of the Neapolitan quartet:
My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and
Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child

  

 

Power, although hard to handle, is greatly desired. There is no person or group or sect or party or mob that doesn’t want power, convinced that it would know how to use it as no one ever has before.

I’m no different. And yet I’ve always been afraid of having authority assigned to me. Whether it was at school or at work, men were in the majority in any governing body and the women adopted male ways. I never felt at ease, so I stayed on the sidelines. I was sure that I didn’t have the strength to sustain conflicts with men, and that I would betray myself by adapting my views to theirs. For millenniums, every expression of power has been conditioned by male attitudes toward the world. To women, then, it seems that power can only be used in the ways that men have traditionally used it.

There is one form of power that has fascinated me ever since I was a girl, even though it has been widely colonized by men: the power of storytelling. Telling stories really is a kind of power, and not an insignificant one. Stories give shape to experience, sometimes by accommodating traditional literary forms, sometimes by turning them upside down, sometimes by reorganizing them. Stories draw readers into their web, and engage readers by putting them to work, body and soul, so that they can transform the black thread of writing into people, ideas, feelings, actions, cities, worlds, humanity, life. Storytelling, in other words, gives us the power to bring order to the chaos of the real under our own sign, and in this it isn’t very far from political power.

  

  

НА СТРАЖЕ РАВЕНСТВА: Подростки фотографируют скульптуру Бесстрашная девочка американки Кристен Висбал, которая установлена в финансовом центре Лондона и призывает к гендерному равенству в бизнесе

  

  

In the beginning I didn’t know that storytelling was a kind of power. I became aware of this only slowly, and felt an often-paralyzing responsibility. I still do. Power is neither good nor bad — it depends on what we intend to do with it. The older I get, the more afraid I am of using the power of storytelling badly. My intentions in general are good, but sometimes telling a story succeeds in the right way and sometimes in the wrong way. The only consolation I have is that however badly conceived and badly written — and therefore harmful — a story may be, the harm will always be less than that caused by terrible political and economic mismanagement, with its accouterments of wars, guillotines, mass exterminations, ghettos, concentration camps and gulags.

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