Monday, August 31, 2015

Unreliable Is the New Reliable

How do you react when your reading of a novel is questioned?  Perfectly logical, ordinary question:  "What did you think about Jonathan Lethem's novel, Motherless Brooklyn?"  "What did you think of the new Murakami?"  

You have, in fact, been asked both those questions, more than once, with the sorts of results you'd have expected, including rankings, say of Motherless with other of Lethem's works, the impenetrability or, conversely, the mysterious accessibility of Murikami's recent works, seeming almost stereotypical in their implications of Asian inscrutability and simultaneous attraction. 

In some cases, your discussions of Murakami have led you to the kind of yoking with which you are fond and others may find inappropriate or not apt.  Murakami is, for instance, the Japanese Faulkner.  Herman Wouk is the Jewish Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Cynthia Ozick is the twentieth and twenty-first century Henry James.

These conversations might shear off from straight logic, take idiosyncratic turns, but never veer off into rancor.  In this context, the question What did you think of--is offered in the curiosity of seeing if the person with whom you are conversing has latched onto things you agree with or that you perhaps failed to consider because you didn't see them.  Still no rancor.

There is more than one interpretation to an individual's reading of a novel or, for that matter, any work of art or philosophy.  At one point, after you'd reviewed a novel for a newspaper, the Letters to the Editor feature received a note that went beyond mere disagreement with you to the extreme of venturing how the writer would from this point regard any work reviewed by you as the exact opposite of what you said about it.

You've put some time in as editor on a scholarly basis.  In a real sense, you've chosen one critical approach, say post-modernism or formalism over modernism or colonialism.  You make no attempt to publish in scholarly venues nor, when you are giving your take or articulating your response to a work, do you follow the language or party line of a particular school of thought.

One of the most heated debates you'd ever engaged was with an avowed Marxist, the conversation turning to debate then to highly subjective argumentation as you began to insist you were of a similar mind with your opponent and he, with some vigor, held the position that you hadn't the slightest notion of what was at the heart of the Marxist position.

In a sense, the two of you may as well have launched into a discussion of the fast food hamburger as a meal of convenience.  For your part, you'd have had the most positive and enthusiastic things to say about the In-'n-Out franchise, only to have your discussion mate inform you that he always buys his hamburgers at the In-n'-Out franchise and that your comments are worthless because of the clarity so apparent that you may think you understand franchise hamburgers, but your entire perspective is flawed, invalid, and inaccurate.

The more you're given reason to consider dramatic, logical, and ethical aspects of point of view, the greater your tendency becomes to believe the reliable narrator is an abstraction, an individual who does not exist in reality.  

You may have examples to support your theory of the universal unreliability of the narrator  (not the process of narration), but you are apt to find an individual of some degree of opposition to the point where you might as well be discussing politics for all the change you will have on your opponent or he or she upon you.

Your observations of humanity and of a wide variety of narrative voices lead you to a comfortable acceptance with your vision.  The more you think of this broad shroud of unreliability, the more you see it as a part of the human condition rather than a universal quirk among the men and women who have carried the dramatic weight of narration over the years.

Narration and unreliability begin at home.  You are unreliable, attempting these past several years to extend the times in which you are reliable to the point where you can recognize that quality in yourself for two or three hours at a time before lapsing into some idiosyncratic vector.

There is more than irony involved in your awareness of the need to surprise yourself with the anarchy of the unreliable rather than the constraints of conventional literature.

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