Monday, December 21, 2009

Quoted monologue

I love being able to answer my own questions. In one of the recent posts, I was trying to analyze a Clarice Lispector story "The Imitation of the Rose," the passage from it where the narrator abruptly switches pronouns from the third to the first-person and introduces the character's voice into the narrator's speech without quotation marks:

"But anyone can repent, [Laura] suddenly rebelled. For if it was only the minute I took hold of the roses that I noticed how lovely they were, for the first time, actually, as I held them, I noticed how lovely they were. Or a little before that? (And they were really hers). And even the doctor himself had patted her on the back..."

The questions I asked about this passage basically had to do with trying to figure why did the author choose to switch the narrative situation so fleetingly here -- if this is even a true "switch" and not the character's direct discource, save the quotation marks.

The fourth chapter of Suzanne Keen's book is called "People on Paper: Character, Characterization, and Represented Minds." Here Keen provides a very precise technical answer to my question about Lispector's narrator. In this chapter, Keen relies on Dorrit Cohn's influential texts Transparent Minds, where Cohn distinguishes three modes of representation of a character's consciousness on paper: 1) psycho-narration; 2) narrated monologue; 3) quoted monologue. I will leave the discussion of the first two for another post; it's the third one, quoted monologue, that interests me today.

Here's how Keen summarizes Cohn's explanation of quoted monologue:

Quoted monologue, ... presents the character's mental discourse (with or without quotation marks and tagging) by shifting from the past tense of narration to present tense and from the third person of narration to the first person of thoughts. ... The entire thought could be plausibly spoken aloud without alteration. (61-2)

Keen continues to say that extended passages of quoted monologue are called interior monologue or stream of consciousness and that quoted monologue as a technique is strongly associated with modernist prose. I suppose, Lispector could be called a modernist writer, so this makes sense. And it's great to know a formal name for this method because I can then use it to further search theory books (how about Cohn's Transparent Minds?) to try to answer my questions about Lispector. Because I think Lispector uses quoted monologue in "The Imitation of the Rose" not because she wants to allow us a more authentic experience of her character's interiority, not in order to bring us deeper into Laura's own mind, but to better illustrate the way Laura's mind is disintegrating, her loss of interiority, her loss of selfhood.

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