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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The whole story of “The Whole Story”: A&I Convocation

On Friday, Sept. 22, Dr. Susan Jaret McKinstry, Helen F. Lewis Professor of English, spoke about narrative at the Argument & Inquiry Convocation. The talk had a somewhat atypical structure, wherein it briefly explained narrative before breaking into a collection of opinions on from Carleton alumni near and far. 

Professor Jaret McKinstry presented her audience with a broad array of quotes about narrative from former Carls — primarily her own former students.

The testimonies gave many different perspectives on the value of narrative in careers ranging from the medical field to those who return to Carleton in some capacity — educational or otherwise. One testimony from a former Carl now working in emergency medicine discussed how patient narratives are absolutely essential in determining treatment. Another alum with a career in game design and management reflected on how narratives shape character and design, which are essential for a compelling game. The common theme was that narrative is essential to communication and how people understand one another.

Andrew Rose ’27, said that “the alumni testimonies added a lot of value and content” to his understanding of the topic. Part of the premise of A&I Convocation is that it’s incorporated into each A&I class, whether through discussion, free writing or even how the students are evaluate the class and its material. 

Audience questions about bias in storytelling and even about the painting on the presentation cover added nuance to the definition of narrative being presented. In fact, the presentation’s title was “The Whole Story,” which according to Dr. Jaret McKinstry, was a subtle reference to the Kate Bush album, and also an ironic title. These questions generated a discussion about the impossibility of an authoritative “whole story” given that perspective can be a limiting factor. McKinstry argued that accumulating accounts from different perspectives was the best way to approximate a “whole story.”

At the convocation lunch, Dr. Jaret McKinstry led a discussion on narrative models such as the hero’s journey — a common underlying structure in adventure stories — and their ineffectiveness when used in college or job applications. She also discussed her own narrative and the extent to which it was present in the convocation talk.

Jaret McKinstry’s presentation about narrative made her personal connection clear with the quotes she collected from alumni. Some of the quotes came from students who had taken Professor Jaret McKinstry’s first Carleton course on narrative. As a collection of anecdotes, her presentation was in and of itself a challenge to the idea that a “whole story” is achievable or necessary for an effective narrative. A freshman student also commented that the convocation was “really insightful, and gave perspective about what stories can be told with a liberal arts degree.”

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