245/1030: some narrative technique 

My main goal for this week is to begin drafting something, produce actual writing for the dissertation (and I’m kind of motivated because I’m going to need a 10 page sample for a workshop June 1), but in the meantime I’m still bogged down by old notes. 

Oh well. These notes are useful, because looking at what Bakhtin may mean with dialogism and what this discourse looks like prompted me to look up narrative technique. I’ve meant to do that for a while anyway, since the Germans are really into describing literature with narratology terms. 

In Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus (which I haven’t read yet, but I’m going to sound like I have), Bakhtin’s heteroglossia and dialogism  are presented as a kind of free-indirect discourse, which is one kind of representation of consciousness in writing. Free-indirect discourse is a mix between psychonarration and interior monologue where we have a dual voice of the narrator and the character whose thoughts are represented sometimes as relayed by the narrator and sometimes by his/her own “voice.” One could say that the mindstyle is replicated, even if the language is not always replicated. 

Ideas of replication and representation are worth challenging as they come up, but that’s the general idea. 

By having a solid understanding of what dialogism may look like in literature (there’s a lot of it in Modernist works in general  and Virginia Woolf in particular) I may be able to identify it more clearly in contemporary works and talk about it more clearly. 

I should probably write more than that, but I think I just od’ed on coffee. 

As a sort of non-sequitur: My Dr.. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde post from over a year ago, which wasn’t even a real good essay, keeps getting looked at by readers. Maybe I should try and write more essays about famous works? Or not. I mean, I don’t really have time for that, but it would be interesting to begin applying relevant theory to popular works of literature. 

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8 thoughts on “245/1030: some narrative technique 

  1. I find narration, in itself, extremely interesting. It was a revelation to me a while back that the narrator is not the same as the author. That self-evident proposition soon led to a related discovery—although the narration takes place inside the reader’s head, the narrator is not the reader either. While that is another self-evident observation, it led me to consider the interplay among the three different “sentient” voices participating in the text: the author, the narrator and the reader. And the way these three “consciousnesses” are interrelated allows narrative fiction to have many more possibilities than most other art forms. The manipulation is most obvious in works where the separation between author and narrator is apparent (as, for example, Tristram Shandy</em) or the distance between the narrator and reader's understanding becomes apparent (e.g., The Good Soldier. But there are numberless possibilities in this interplay that goes beyond what most people call “technique.” I’ve been struggling with writing an essay, for example, about Melville’s The Confidence Man but each time I try I find the “trust” that the reader might with the narrator, the characters or even ultimately with the author keeps dissolving, as it was intended to. Once I realized that then the other “literary” artifices, the symbolism, the meta-commentary, the self-references take on a variety of “meanings” in “layers” that often contradict each other. Maybe this is simply my imagination, but as a result of this “discovery” taught by Papa Melville, I find it hard not to concentrate on the interplay f the three “voices” in all other narrative fiction. And ultimately the exercise undermines even experimental narrative technique. For example, classical stream of consciousness technique, in, say, Joyce or Hermann Broch or even Faulkner, delivers a third person’s consciousness by means of a narrator. Presumably the same narrator that describes the external events and objects. That narrator selects the consciousness being revealed just as surely as the classic omniscient narrator does. We tend to overlook the “manipulation” of the narrator because we assume we are getting the consciousness of the character. But I wonder …

    But fortunately, I am not required to organize my incoherent views on any schedule. I sympathize with your deadline anxiety. Best of luck!

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    • There’s actually four consciousnesses at work. You forgot the narratee (ideal reader, dear reader). It’s a fine interplay for sure, and your realization was a big one for me as well…probably many students of lit.
      And no! Your comment didn’t get lost in cyberspace! It’s just the first time you commented, so it had to be “approved.”

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      • Actually, I’ve commented many times. Two in particular my declining memory still retains: the request that you review the Pergamonmuseum and the other threatening to demand my money back if you went through with the proposed policy of writing on ly twice a month. The only reason I noticed it missing was I had this sneaking suspicion that I wrote “The Good Wife” rather than “The Good Soldier.” My own consciousness, which seems to be in a state of perpetual revolt against me, plays tricks like substituting a TV program which I have never seen for Ford Madox Ford. I think this is a defensive mechanism that allows me to join the discussion at cocktail parties.

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      • Clearly. It’s a good thing you never try to bring up unreliable narrators at cocktail parties.
        But actually, while I am one blog writer, I have three sites and you haven’t commented on this one before!

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