If you’ve been reading this for the past three weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been reading Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert by Saša Stanišić. While I haven’t decided if I will examine Stanišić for my dissertation, his book provides enough connections to my topic that I may actually find myself using his works.
One particular moment that stands out to me in regards to media theory (I’ve been reviewing those notes), is where Aleksandr explains to his teacher that quotation marks aren’t necessary for his essays. Stanišić’s chapter titles are interesting in general, and the chapter where this happens is: “Was Milenko Pavlovic, gennant Walross, von seiner schoenen Reise mitbringt […], wofuer man Franzosen gebrauchen kann und warum die Anfuehrungsstriche ueberfluessig sind” (87).
Anführungsstriche are “fuer die direkte Rede.” Apparently, Aleksandr has not use for them and that they are useless in general. But his teacher, frustrated anyway by Aleksandr’s tendency to write stories in answer to prompts, demands that he use them.
“Und fuer die direkte Rede, sagt er und stuetzt sich mit den Faeusten auf die Tischplatte, gibt es Anfuehrungszeichen, das weisst du, das brauche ich dir nicht jedes Mal zu erklaeren” (84).
Before I share with you Aleksandr’s response, let me foreground the significance of his answer for you. We learn early in our English and composition classes that quotation marks help distinguish words that are not ours in the text. It’s a way of citing someone else’s ownership. The same is done in a story, but it separates someone else’s voice from the narrator’s. We use them to point out direct speech in a text. By using the marks, we put the written words at a different level than the other words of the text; the way my WordPress theme presents quotes is a good visual for this.
By using the marks, we cut off certain words from the rest and create a multi-voicedness with orthographic means. However, some, maybe like Stanišić, would argue that this divide is too explicit. Leaving the marks out makes the voicedness more fluid. It also represents more accurately what those quote are, namely another invention of the narrator’s creator. That, at least, would be my interpretation.
Aleksandr’s response to his teacher is:
“Weil jeder alles sagen und denken und nicht sagen darf, und wie sollen Anfuehrungsstriche fuer nichtgesagtes Denken aussehen, oder fuer geloegenes Sagen, oder fuer Denken, das gar nicht wichtig genug ist, um gesagt zu werden, oder fuer das wichtige Gesagte, das nicht gehoert wurde?” 87
With his answer, Aleksandr criticizes the way everyone is allowed to say and think what they want, and at the same time they are not allowed. He criticizes the practice of improperly quoting and of censorship as well as the choices made about what is quoted in a text- sometimes the unimportant is quoted while leaving the important unsaid. Aleksadr’s answer seems like the juvenile response of a young creative writer who challenges convention, but at the same time, there is an experienced layer to this response, asking the reader to look more closely. I see the act of putting the mark being challenged as much as the act of putting what comes after the mark. For the magician/writer Aleksandr, this would be an important question of craftsmanship. It is also an important question of written versus oral media. Of course, direct speech is only distinguished in writing, since in oral practice, there is nothing but the direct speech, and no way to distinguish one from the other, other than perhaps the classic English use of “quote; end quote.”
This moment came to mind when I was thinking about orales Erzaehlen, Manuskript Kultur, and Typografie. Orales Erzaelen, or oral story-telling is marked by its ephemeral nature. Typografie is something that does not have to change and can be accessed as removed by time and space. Quotes in a text allow us to access words from another text or person/time/place. On the other hand, as I mentioned, these quotes cannot claim “truth” anymore than the other words in the text. Especially in a fictional text, the direkte Rede are just as true as everything else… there’s no need to distinguish them. Then one add’s McLuhan’s famous principle “the medium is the message,” and realizes that the medium forms the message anyway… and the orthographic signs of “” aren’t going to change the message inherent to the medium of the orthography anyway.
Another important note about Stanišić’s novel in regards to media is his use of the epistolary tradition. This is another form of finguierte Muendlichkeit, or depicted orality. To read more interpretation about those letters: refer to this article.
Work cited: Stanišić, Saša. Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert. Munich: Random House GmbH, 2008. Print.
Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense.
Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.