The dangers of narrative; or why, if Liverpool FC win the league, I’m going to live forever

Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez in Liverpool vs Norwich
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate one more step towards immortality; metaphorical for them, literal for me

If you’re a Liverpool fan, even a soft southern one like me, you can feel it. A sense of manifest destiny, of a story too wonderful to resist. The 25th anniversary of Hillsborough, a city and a club still coming to terms with its wounds, still trying to find justice; the captain, Steven Gerrard, in the twilight of his career, within touching distance of the one trophy he has always wanted but has never really got near, and who lost a cousin at Hillsborough himself; a young team of local boys and last-chance-salooners (and a charismatic pantomime villain) playing swift, devastating, we’ll-score-more-than-you football. The two top scorers in the league. The season after the man who gloried in “knocking them off their perch” retires. A young manager who wants to play the right way. Eleven games won in a row as rivals stumble (I write this just after Liverpool scored their third, so I am jinxing it for the sake of a swiftly written piece; now Norwich have brought it back to 2-3 and Lucas has just missed an absolute sitter with seconds to play).

It’s the only story of the footballing year. If Liverpool don’t win it, every narrative bone in my body will be twanging: it will feel like a piece of music that doesn’t come back to the tonic; unresolved, incomplete. So I’m going to use the opportunity to write a massively pretentious piece about narrative. If someone has five minutes to email Pseud’s Corner, I’d appreciate it.

Humans are narrative creatures, of course. We arrange the world into stories because it’s easier to understand that way; our memories are stories we tell to make sense of jumbled events; our sense of self, really, is the story we tell ourselves about the sort of person we are. There’s a lot of psychological research into this sort of thing; I particularly like the “fundamental attribution error”, in which we ascribe our own bad behaviour to circumstance, but assume that if someone else behaves badly, it’s because they’re not very nice people. We tell ourselves a story in which we are not the villain.

I think a large part of becoming an adult is the slow and sometimes painful realisation that you’re not the protagonist of a story, that there is no grand narrative and no ultimate destiny. You realise it, intellectually, quite early, but when do you start to feel it? Is it when you become a parent and another life becomes more important than your own? (Don’t ask me, I’ve only been a parent for 11 weeks. I still feel like I’m the star; forget this young pretender.)

On a grander scale, the story of humanity, ironically, is one of realising that we’re not the story, and in fact that there is no story. We’re not the central figures in a little drama, we’re a clever species of ape on one particular undistinguished rock among endless trillions. Destiny is bunk, prophecies are false, history has no great arc; there are only events, good bad and neutral by our own standards but always indifferent from the point of view of the universe.

Interestingly, a book I’m reading at the moment, Max Tegmark’s Our Mathematical Universe, hints that there might be reason to think otherwise; that there are an infinite number of universes and that, perhaps, our consciousness always experiences one of the ones in which we stay alive. Will we all end up the oldest person alive in our own universes, he wonders.

I haven’t got to that bit yet so I can’t argue with the idea behind it (I doubt I’ll be able to when I do). But as appealing as it might be that science could put us back at the heart of our own stories, it doesn’t sound likely; it sounds, to me, like wishful thinking. I want to live forever as well. But I doubt I will.

Anyway. I’m uncomfortably aware that this is a vast overreaction to my particular sporting team doing somewhat better than expected this season, and maybe it’s the sleep deprivation and emotion of new fatherhood speaking. But for some reason the Liverpool narrative has become important; almost a test of my theory that there is no real great story. If this story doesn’t come true, then clearly, there are no real narratives.

The final whistle has just gone at Carrow Road; Norwich 2 Liverpool 3, after yet another squeaky, tense, nerve-jangling finish. And I seem to have just written something implying that if Liverpool win the league, I’m going to live forever. As if the stakes on next week’s game against Chelsea weren’t high enough already.

More on football

If Fifa isn’t corrupt, then it’s incredibly stupid
Premiership glamour conceals the collapse of grassroots
Sir Alex Ferguson’s hairdryer has been unplugged

// <![CDATA[
!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');_
// ]]>


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s