Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You are sleepy and tired

A poet I met at Skidmore, Jen McClanaghan, has a poem up on AGNI online, "Greatest Show on Earth." I love how in this poem the most mundane tasks reveal their true nature as acrobatic performances. Also interesting how the speaker of this poem uses second person to address herself and her audience. Narrative theory as it applies to poetry is way beyond my competence at the moment, and I wasn't even planning on touching the second person narrative today, but maybe why not?

"Narrative theory has a weakness for atypical narrative strategies and borderline cases, and it can emphasize the unusual at the expense of accuracy about the ordinary," reports Suzanne Keen (45) initiating her discussion of the second-person narrators. I wonder if one could call second-person "atypical" these days -- as a line editor of a litmag, I do see it quite often. The most interesting examples of it I've been encountering lately use "you" in the imperative, as in the command or instruction mode. One of the fellow students at Skidmore this summer, David Roth, wrote a fun second-person story, the main character of which was a girl on a debate team in high school who communicated with herself in a constant stream of instructions and commands. The usage of the second-person was very much a part of this character's attitude toward herself.

In terms of narrative theory, however, it's important once again to rememeber to separate the second-person pronoun "you" from the narrative situation. Does the narrator exist within the story world or not? Does the narrator have access to the consciousness of multiple characters or use a single focalizer? Who is the "you" addressed by the narrative? It can be the narrator herself as was the case with the narrator of David's story. It can be a character of the story, and "you" used instead of the character's name -- Keen's example is Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, which I haven't read. In a way, epistolary novels can work as this type of narrative. And, of course, by "you" the narrative might try to address the reader -- the implied reader -- as in Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. Of course, even in this case, the implied reader can't help becoming a character. I've started reading this novel about 3 years ago and am still on page 30. But I can already tell, it's a good one, worth imagining yourself as a character of :)

Keen writes, "As both James Phelan and Robyn Warhol observe, the more fully charaterized a narratee becomes in a fiction, the greater the sense of dissonance felt by the reader (whereas the less fleshed-out the narratee, the more willingly a reader may comply with the imputed identification. (46)" Reading the first 30 pages of If on a Winter's Night, I remember feeling as though the author (the implied author) was trying to tell my fortune in a chrystal ball. The most important trick of a skilled fortune-teller: deal in generalities. You are reading this blog post. The screen in front of you is pale brown with a flowery dark brown background. You find this post too long and browse away. You won't leave a comment.

1 comment:

  1. I also like the collective "we" narrator. "The Group" by Mary McCarthy.

    My mind is too creaky this morning too say something clever about the final lines of this post!