Remittance Girl’s recent post on the role of the writing persona concluded with the following thought:
“That doesn’t make us artificial to each other. It doesn’t invalidate or diminish our relationship. Not in the least. We place ourselves in the realm of each other’s consciousness just as we are allowed to reside there. We can only affect each other with mutual permission.”
In 1988 Marie McLean wrote a wonderful book called Narrative as Performance. The book was written at the time when poststructuralism was making itself felt in literary studies. In this book she proposes an answer to the perennial question of interpretation:
How does a text maintain its authority, how does it keep a firm grasp on interpretation? The rules of the game involve control, at first seen as the control of the telling by the teller. Narrative may be seen as a delicate interplay of power in which the narratee submits to the control of a narrator, while the narrator must scheme to overcome the power of the narratee. Each experiences an invasion of his or her territory by the other.
In face-to-face contexts including staged performances it is relatively easy for a speaker to establish authority in terms of interpretation over interlocutors because a speaker is not relying on words alone. However as soon as text is written this relation becomes far more complex. Authors can address readers directly or through a narrator. Nonetheless narrators and narratees are textual constructs with a performative relation.
In the internet Web 2.0 environment, the dynamics shift again. Often the narrator has a nom de plume to protect anonymity. People who leave comments also often use a pseudonym. So who is writing/narrating and who is reading in the position of the narratee? I suggest that the narrator-narratee relationship is being made more explicit through the design and use of various technical functionalities.
Online personas also blur the artificial lines between fiction and non-fiction. When we read biography and auto-biography we assume that the narrator is telling the ‘truth’, that the memories presented are somehow reliable and located in the lived experience of the narrator. But when we read the biography of an online persona, do we make the same assumptions, do we expect that the persona is telling some aspects of the truth about herself or himself? Would we be shocked in the same way we were shocked when Helen Demidenko was unmasked as Helen Darville, if she were an online persona?
So to get back to the points Remittance Girl was making in her post, I wonder what the mutual permissions we give are when we perform writing as personas and I also wonder if we expect ‘truth’ from personas when they appear to be performing memoirs or autobiographical writing. Perhaps we still operate under the same assumptions that lead us to trust the ‘truth’ of autobiography.