Tale or story?

I’m writing a paper (due out soon…) where I employ a “gedanken-observer”, and I wanted to title a paragraph “Tale of an observer”. Or wait, is “Story of an observer” better? I would have no doubt in Italian, but I must be careful in English.

So I google “tale or story” and find several interesting contributions. This one is just OK, not very deep, and doesn’t help me resolve the controversy.

But then I find this one out, which I paste as it is:

“A tale describes a problem and the attempt to solve it, ultimately leading to success or failure in the attempt. In contrast, a story makes the argument that out of all the approaches that might be tried, the Main Character’s approach uniquely leads to success or failure. In a success scenario, the story acts as a message promoting the approach exclusively; in the failure scenario, the story acts as a message exclusively against that specific approach. Tales are useful in showing that a particular approach is or is not a good one. Stories are useful in promoting that a particular approach is the only good one or the only bad one. As a result of these differences, tales are frequently not as complex as stories and tend to be more straightforward with fewer subplots and thematic expansions. Both tales and stories are valid and useful structures, depending upon the intent of the author to either illustrate how a problem was solved with a tale or to argue how to solve a specific kind of problem with a story.”

Agree or not with this text, I find this a remarkable little piece of “the internet”.  It goes very deep into the fundamentals, the way I like. I have no idea where it actually comes from [I will update this post in case I understand more about it].

Let me expand on this. We could say that tales are pedagogical, while stories are ideological. Tales try to teach you something by example, and they are bequeathed from generation to generation without much critical inquiry. Since there is no control on the subterranean flow of tales, I would dare say that they are not ideological. Not in the sense that they are independent of ideologies (tales take up everything that is around and certainly give a representation of the “spirit of the time”: I can see this from the tales that children tell at my son’s school…), but rather that they are not the organic expression of a system’s “culture” (to the point where often tales are in sheer disagreement with the ethics of the teller…). On the other hand, stories aspire to teach how and why something happens for the good or for the bad (in this sense, the word “story” comes closer to “history”), so they are often drafted by people who certainly have a broader view, but who are nevertheless embedded a system that needs such stories to construct a narrative of its existence and purposes.

OK, I went too far. Am I writing a tale or a story? You will discover this when the paper is out. But then, what is the pedagogy I am trying to instill, or what is the ideology I am serving?

2 thoughts on “Tale or story?

  1. It is a very interesting take on the narrative of research and how it gets disseminated through various media.
    From this perspective, do you consider research articles to be stories or tales?
    In my opinion we have both: Exploration of ideas and variables in order to describe a phenomenon could be considered tales, whereas unequivocally determinations of truths (which are usually done by a series of articles -tales?- written by various groups) could be considered stories. Do you agree?


  2. I agree that the narrative that one puts into single papers sometimes make them tales, because it’s not necessarily true that the author adheres to that particular line, the plot is just there to organize his observations and data. While when a consistent body of work by several people goes into a direction, and the motivations are maybe used for example to obtain funds etc., then that’s a story. I only disagree on the idea that there exist such things as unequivocally determined truths…

    I also think that the weight of the narrative is going a bit too far today in science, but that’s another story…

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