Excerpts from "The Storyteller," by Walter Benjamin i
The art of storytelling
is coming to an end. Less and less frequently do we encounter people with
the ability to tell a tale properly. More and more often there is embarrassment
all around when the wish to hear a story is expressed. It is as if something
that seemed inalienable to us, the securest among our possessions, were
taken from us: the ability to exchange experiences.
[[I love this essay,
although it doesn't address what seems to me to be a distortion in the
general view of the narrative process: storytelling. In addition
to the story which is told, there is the story withheld. Attraction, narrative
suspense, emanates from the latter. The story withheld has its own (buried)
structure and tension. The reader marries the hidden story, not the visible
one. That is why we continue to read a story that inspires dread. An attachment
has been formedsurreptitiously. It operates like a craving, which
is how I recognize Benjamin's reference to death. The craving for the
unknown, as it is held by the act of storytelling, points to death (or
its substitute, the body). (Roy)]]
Excerpts from "Fame," by Robert Gluck ii
There are contradictory reasons when I use "real" people in my work, and the contradictions comfort me. Any literary practice should, I think, derive from contradictory sources and motives... I name names to evoke the already-known, to make writing co-extend with the world and history, and to examine the fiction of personality, as well as the fiction of the word.... I propose self-community-story as a tonic for the loss of human scale; by naming self-community-story I participate in their disintegration, their progress from invisibility to something to be named and manipulatedto be reintegrated later in a new context, in a third term that history must provide.
Prolonged scrutiny can become an expenditure of self, a potlatch of self. I've come to experience the unreeling of interiority and sexual disclosure as such a loss, and also part of a historical trajectory. It's a writing activity that privileges the aggression of namingan ongoing colonization of self into one's own language. Once something is named, you are in relation to it. Name the disease to cure it.
We want to see a story
as we see other representations: being hiding behind appearancethat
is, hiding and revealing the body. But the use of real names [in my work]
reorders connections and disjunctions. I do mean fragmentation. I don't
want to make the predictable distinction between story and fragmented
writing. Naming names creates an open form that co-extends with the world.
In a postmodern switch, it applies the open form of modernism to content
by putting quote marks around the entire story, turning the story into
a fragment, an example of a story. The story floatsas gossip doesbetween
the lives of the people who are its characters, and the lives of its readers
(in that thorny field of reader/writer dynamics). The problem of figure
and ground becomes a social one, and some of what is existential in the
content is subtracted and reintegrated in the relation between reader
[[Two aspects of narrative writing have been subjected to devastating critiques: the linearity of narrative, and the credibility of the narrator. (The popularity of the memoir is in part due to the diminished credibility of anything other than an autobiographical voice.) The critical and political forces which produced these critiques have pushed experimental narrative writers to the boundary where form collapses into experience. The searching re-examination of narrative premises becomes part of the practice. (Roy)]]
During this whole
process I have been caught between the need to accomplish this thing,
which is both to posit some new kind of subject and to have the sense
of being a subject myself; and yet to resist repeating, by creating a
"feminist narrative," what Barthes calls ... the staging of
a new "father," a new hierarchy of acceptable concepts. (Every
narrative (every unveiling of the truth) is a staging of the ... father.)
Maybe what my heroine discovers in trying to write her novel is only that
the novel doesn't suit the (diffuse?) women's way of seeing things. Where
there is closure (firm conclusions) in "straight writing" there
are spaces, questions in hers. Even her anecdotes point to other possible
representations, leave themselves open for reader intervention.
[[It is generally true that reviews of experimental narrative do not have a critical vocabulary for what the writer is doing. The goal seems to be attaching a label to the content without "giving it away". Narrative practice, as a field of critical inquiry, is in a practically fetal state. Theory borrowed from poetics is not adequate for describing or investigating how narratives work, what is at stake in narrative, the social field narratives both operate within and set up. The interventions into the social field which experimental narratives perform are usually in practice imperceptible, indistinguishable from background noise, unless the critical piece is written by the writer herself. If narrative writers want the deepest issues in their work to be visible, they must supply the critical ideas that drive their practice. This journal will hopefully be a place that supports the development of that discussion. (Roy)]]
Tysh: "The I expands," you wrote in "Realism." In this age of decentered subjectivities, how do you deploy the narrative machinery of the "I" and the various sensibilities it is associated with? Could you discuss the techniques with which you defamiliarize your use of the first-person pronoun and in general address the issue of the speaking subject in your prose. Who speaks?
Harryman: My answer to this question is complex and leads to difficulties because I associate the I with power, control, destruction, gender, and whatever might transpire or exhibit itself between the poles of animation and passivity. Mine is an unwieldy set of interests, less easy to organize into the kinds of discussion that the problems of "confession" or "authenticity" lend themselves to; even so, as you will see, I am concerned with the relation of the "self" to the limits of knowledge.
When I think about the I, what first comes to mind is omniscience in novels. (My understanding of literary device and the problem of authorship comes as much from reading novels as poetry. ) I will use Balzac as an example, because he has come up in my writing from time to time. Balzac wanted to account for all the history of France as it related to the ruptures of the bourgeois revolution. The expanding I here would be Balzac-as-author-of-France, i.e., Balzac as authorial agent/persona, rather than a deployment within the narrative text, which in Balzac is driven by third-person narration. I am interested in uncovering the hidden, expansive I. What happens when one concretizes it, making it evident in the writing, is carnivalesque. My writing parades various self-conscious positions in regard to constructs such as authorship, omniscience, and agency. It chooses to reflect upon the positions it takes and the relations it draws...
The deployment of the I through the autobiographical, the fictive, abstraction, argumentation is involved in the breaking up of unities. The I, as I think you are suggesting, does not expand but disperses. If the text is the social body, the I is mobile within it. If I is that which is not the body, it attempts to identify with the body's fleshiness. The I can be a code for seeking pleasure and examining freedom. Then it becomes troubled by its demands, for the relation of the self to the world is always troubling; it is never adequate and the I in its freedom is too willing to give up civility, a cherished element of comedy.
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. (Shocken Books, © 1968).