Jerome Bruner is widely known for his research and defining theories in the areas of cognition, language, and education. Bruner believes there are two modes—and only two—of cognitive functioning or ways of knowing and constructing reality. The first is reasoning which Bruner refers to as paradigmatic thinking. This is the kind of thinking that is employed in propositional theology. The second way of knowing is the narrative mode. He writes,
A good story and a well-formed argument are different natural kinds. Both can be used as a means for convincing another. Yet what they convince of is fundamentally different: arguments convince one of their truth, stories of their lifelikeness. The one verifies by eventual appeal to procedures for establishing formal and empirical proof. The other establishes not truth but verisimilitude."
In Bruner’s concept it is the very “subjunctivity” of a good story that recruits the listener’s own imagination and allows for the recreation of the story using his or her own life experiences and cultural tool kit. “[It is] the creation of implicit rather than explicit meanings. For with explicitness the reader’s degrees of interpretive freedom are annulled.” Bruner adds, “To be in the subjunctive mode is to be trafficking in human possibilities rather than in settled certainties.” The object is to enlist the listener in the “performance of meaning under the guidance of the text.” In other words, subjunctivity enhances the possibility of participation by the listener in the story event.
The author’s act of creating a narrative of a particular kind and in a particular form is not to evoke a standard reaction but to recruit whatever is most appropriate and emotionally lively in the reader’s repertoire. So, “great” storytelling is about compelling human plights that are “accessible” to readers. But at the same time, the plights must be set forth with sufficient subjunctivity to allow them to be rewritten by the reader, so as to allow play for the reader’s imagination.
Bruner goes on to describe this process:
As our readers read, as they begin to construct a virtual text of their own, it is as if they were embarking on a journey without maps—and yet, they possess a stock of maps that might give hints. And besides, they know a lot about journeys and about mapmaking. First impressions of the new terrain are, of course, based on older journeys already taken. In time, the new journey becomes a thing in itself, however much its initial shape was borrowed from the past.