Power is a story told by women. For centuries, men have colonized storytelling. That era is over.
By Elena Ferrante
Ms. Ferrante is a novelist.
May 17, 2019
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 be used only 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 them 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 realunder our own sign, and in this it isn’t very far from political power.
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.
What to say, then? I suppose that I chose to write out of a fear of handling more concrete and dangerous forms of power. And also perhaps out of a strong feeling of alienation from the techniques of domination, so that at times writing seemed to be the most congenial way for me to react to abuses of power.
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