Friday, June 20, 2008


I am, or have been, a dialogue writer. Plays, screenplays, teleplays, even standup comedy is dialogue, and is, as such, a first person enterprise. There is no floating observer, casually coming to conclusions about the characters. In a play the audience is the third person.

But now I am writing prose, and I am plagued by the question of intimacy in observation. Most of my favorite books are in 1st: Lolita (is there a more interesting troubled narrator than Humbert Humbert?) Invisible Man, Jonathan Lethem writes almost entirely in first person, Augie March, Roth's Zuckerman books. But there are beautiful third person books, too numerous to list, Cunningham comes to mind, and Moody, and of course, all the Russians and the French. Intimate tragic books that are filled with she and he rather than I: Of Human Bondage, Madame Bovary, The Scarlet Letter. First person seems funnier, more acerbic, more modern. More American. More ironic. Less beautiful. Dirtier.

But at what cost? To follow one character and neglect all others, it seems unfair!

It is not a negligible decision. It is the decision that defines an entire book.

Sigh. I fear the problem is that I am too in love with the little literary darlings I've created, that I want to have everything--first person voice, multiple character perspectives. Then I read this little passage in a book called Writings by Agnes Martin--an artist. (The set of four lithographs to the left are hers--Untitled 1998.)

Humility, the beautiful daughter
She cannot do either right or wrong
She does not do anything
All of her ways are empty
Infinitely light and delicate
She treads an even path
Sweet, smiling, uninterrupted, free
Sounds good doesn't it? Let the work, and not my ego make decisions for me.

In other news a friend of mine sent me this picture. Subject: Irony
Ilana's beloved replied, "They just take you out back to the range, and have you stand in a bucket?"

There. That was third person. What did you think?

No comments: