“Dropping the Story” in Fiction

Buddhism teaches that we can let go of illusion by letting go of “our story,” i.e. letting go of our insistence on seeing reality our way. Many literary classics teach us the same lesson, sometimes through characters metamorphosing by undergoing evolutionary cycles including tragic moments. We see this struggle and more or less successful letting go performed by protagonists such as the Buddha, Oedipus, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Henry James’ Maisie, Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome,” Ishiguro’s characters in The Remains of the Day, Toni Morrison’s Sethe in Beloved, and Murakami’s un-hero in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle who learns to let go of all his stories by sitting in a dark well for a long time.

The common theme in these fictions as well as in many others is letting go of illusion by letting go of one’s story, all unfolded in fiction. What sort of fiction must one invent to not add to the world of illusions? Does something distinguish these fictions in addition to the theme, something that makes them resist becoming part of our illusions? Or is it impossible not to add to the illusory? Where do commonalities between letting go of one’s story end and differences in consequences thereof open up, according to whatever works of fiction we decide to look at? What do these fictions have to say about what stories we rarely let go of? How does this theme of letting go of story in story speak to the story-telling during the global pandemic in 2020, specifically about the stories we tell of the “before-the-pandemic” world? Are we, like Murakami’s character, in the well, or are we emerging? How can we tell? Tell us.

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