Batter my heart, third-person omniscient god

Posted by @ 2:03 am on April 30th, 2010

Unicorn Mask print by Matty8080

What is your preferred point of view? Your go-to voice when you write, if you write, or the one you’re happiest to see when you open a new book? Can you use second-person without feeling like a wanker? Do you love “I” for its accessibility, its steadfastness, its immediacy–the narrative fuzzy bedroom slippers everĀ  at the foot of your crafty little bed? Because I can be “me” but “not-me,” whereas you is always only you, and third-person, well, forget it. That actually starts to feel like work.

Limited omniscience, editorial omniscience. Do you pay attention to such delineations as you read, or does point-of-view work best when it’s hardly noticed, when it simply funnels you into and through the story? Do you think Henry James ever committed a point-of-view violation? Do such “violations” even exist anymore, or can they be argued away by an author’s tenets of style?

I’m thinking recently about effort. The difficult text, and the difficult creating. When does a work feel fussy, overdressed, too meted out? When can such qualities “work”? When do these decisions–about point-of-view, about tense–feel like decisions, rather than inevitabilites? We like, some of us, having to wrestle with our books, go a few rounds before tapping out and letting the work take us…but we also like the love-at-first-sentence. And these things of course are not mutually exclusive.

I speculate a lot about the author’s experience when I’m reading. When something reads effortlessly, I might picture fingers moving confidently over some spotless keyboard sooner than I picture the 3am buzzard-stance over the carrion-computer. But of course I know that fluidity, fluency, vertigo, whatever you want to call it, is usually hard won. It’s not an inverse relationship, for a million reasons–difficulty/effort/lack thereof are of course subjective, yes, but also, often what gets wrought with a lot of pain and guts gets read that way, too. Often, reading is an invitation to suffer, to co-suffer, and to co-create the habitat of suffering. Not just, of course, in terms of content, but more pertinently here, in terms of form.

The notion of reading as escape? I don’t know. From some books, reality is the escape.

(I really have been reading Henry James again. For the obdurate fastidiousness. Which can be comforting, among other things. And I’m generally suspicious of comfort. And besides all of the other big books we could name that might perform some of these ideas, I’d like to nod hard at Kathryn Davis’s Hell and Lynda Barry’s Cruddy.)

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