Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Author-Narrator-Character Merge

From the article by Frederick Reiken (The Writer's Chronicle 37:4):
At its simplest [the author-narrator-character merge] may be thought of as a narrative structure that occurs when an author, for reasons ranging from naivete to authorial narcissism (which often go hand in hand), fails to invent and/or reinvent--i.e. in the case of autobiographical novels--the main character, both visually and in relation to some external context. What is happening, unconsciously, is that the author has not separated himself or herself imaginatively from the character being written. He has not conceived the fictional construct as an other, and hence inhabits that character from the vantage point of being stuck inside the character, usually right behind the character's eyes. What typically results is a narrative in which there is virtually no distance between the story's narrator and the story's character, on result of which may be a sense that the main character is really nothing more than a narrating device and hence not much of a character at all.

Monday, June 25, 2007

RIP Corolla

My Corolla's engine gave out yesterday in Half Moon Bay. We decided not to pay $2000 for a new (used) engine and do what we've been talking about for several years now--donate it and get a new car. I'm finding the whole thing really heartbreaking. My dad and I bought this car together, drove out to CA in it ... I've had it 20 years, almost to the day. Of course old cars never die, they just become something else. In this case I expect it will become a teenager's rally car, since it has rear wheel drive. I've had several offers and expressions of interest from mechanics, hotel valets, and others; they'd want to put a new engine in it anyway. It was nice of it to die where we could get it off the road fairly easily. It could have been a lot worse. The Grey Ghost was always was good to me.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Imagination and background

From Peter Strawson, "Imagination and Perception":
But we must remember that what is obvious and familiar, and what is not, is, at least to a large extent, a matter of training and experience and cultural background. So it may be, in this sense, imaginative of Eliot to see the river as a strong, brown god, but less so of the members of a tribe who believe in river-gods. It may, in this sense, call for imagination on my part to see or hear something as a variation on a particular theme, but not on the part of a historian of architecture or a trained musician. What is fairly called exercise of imagination for one person or age group or generation or society may be merest routine for another.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The God Module

Next week I'll begin taking "The God Module," a course on point of view with Andrew Altschul. From the course description:
All the elements of fiction writing are affected by the author’s choice of point of view. What information can be told and what must be shown indirectly, or hidden? What is the reader’s relationship to the main character(s)? Is the given narrative a reliable account or is it guided by a hidden agenda?

Point of view has been a nightmare for me in my novel. I started over 4-5 times, all from different points of view. I finally settled on "omniscient," which I now know, from reading Jonathan Culler, is a non-category. (See his article "Omniscience" in Narrative 12:1.) Especially if you confuse the author with the narrator, which it's very difficult not to do, you have to ask: don't all authors know everything about all their characters? Is it more a matter of what they choose to reveal? Do we ourselves posit a narrator where there is one, because we have such a strong need for a human presence of some kind? That's been the hardest part of all: do I always need to be in a particular character's head, and if not, do I need to have a narrator with a distinct personality (a la Fielding or even Henry James)? How do I jump from head to head without confusing people and without constantly relying on "he thought," "she thought" tags?

I've been studying The Corrections again to see how Franzen does it. I'm still not sure. He does spend a lot of time in close third person, with the different main characters, but he'll slip in little sparks of other characters' povs in the midst. Also he goes places where the current pov character is not physically present (the kitchen with Mom and Denise, while Chip, the pov character, is in another room). Also I think the very first section is a kind of double point of view, mingling the father and the mother; sometimes they come un-twined but then they merge again.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A public service announcement

...from the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at Stanford, just in time for commencement. I did the voiceover.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The CB2 child robot

This strangely large toddler robot is less cute and more creepy than Paro.
h/t Amy H.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Last day of class

Yesterday was the last day of my Imitation of Life class. The students gave me a card and a stuffed harp seal to represent Paro (company site here, Sherry Turkle's analysis here), whom we talked about as a particularly successful--or creepily unsuccessful--imitation. It was sweet. I was stressed about this class at the beginning, because I only had six students, and my first-day attempt to anaylze the Macaca video fell flat. But they were six truly fantastic students, and the quarter, as I've said before, flew by. I wonder if the next time I teach this it will go as well.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Birthday fun

Trev and I went to Monterey over the weekend to celebrate my birthday. We discovered a great bike path that runs from Pacific Grove all the way up to Marina (maybe beyond?) along the sand dunes. It's a terrific ride, though I was gasping for breath on the way back to P.G. I haven't biked in about a year, I think. But I've always wondered about those dunes while driving past them on Hwy 1--how to get over there, and what the beach looks like on the other side. Now I know.

Today at work they gave me a surprise party, which truly was a surprise. A colleague came into my office seeming slightly frantic and asked if I could help her move a table. I was worried I wouldn't be able to lift it, wondered about my knee, if I should change my shoes, etc.--then I got singing and the works. It was really nice! They made me tell my age, though, which seemed to shock at least some people. I guess the shock is good, but it's also scary. I remember telling a colleague my age, back when I was 35, and she was *horrified.*