EARLIER THIS YEAR, the speed of light was exceeded in a highly controlled laboratory experiment. Scientists shot a laser through a chamber filled with cesium atoms, and the light reached the other side before it even entered the box.

It is hard to imagine the construct of this experiment, given the limitations of our rhetorical understanding of time: Did the results of the experiment occur before the experiment began? If so, how could the scientists know these were actually the results of the experiment which had not yet taken place? What would have happened if the scientists, seeing the results, had, in a split second, decided not to conduct the experiment?

Just as Darwinism nibbled the stone blocks of story-centered religion from its foundation, so the state of the world today exquisitely--almost flirtatiously--defies our understanding of narrative. There is no American story, no history; there are no predictable rewards; nothing can be taken for granted anymore, as the swing of the hand of God. What literature was good for--casting a kind of magic-lantern show of lights over our own pale lives, to illuminate and describe them--has been corrupted by the parallel light of television. Still, in a kind of wistful prescriptive desire, we continue to try and find shapes in the shadows. The unslacking popularity of memoirs and coming-of-age stories (bildungsromans) reflects that humans still want to see their lives as narratives, as discourse toward outcome. Why is this? What do narratives do for us? The mirror of the book, of television, of analysis, both captivates and frustrates. Who is the observer? Who is the observed? Who dictates the narrative? Who is the narrative?

In this Stranger Books Supplement, writers and critics address the issues of the truthfulness of memoirs, the boundaries of invention and imagination, psychological realism, the shape of contemporary narrative, and altered states. Charles Mudede defines a new term, John Olson relives a disembodiment, Monica Drake leads us through a theme park, and Jamie Hook and Rachel Kessler test out recipes. Narrative is masticated, tasted like taffy, and swallowed in more than one sense of the word: We must consume it, believe it, take it in and be taken in by it, be altered by it, and spew it out as our own re-creation. Narrative is hardly empirical; it is, rather, gourmet. It allows for infinite tinkering. It's our alibi, confounding the law. It puts us at the end before we know the beginning. It moves much faster than the speed of light.