Personas narrating

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.


2 thoughts on “Personas narrating

  1. Lovely post..

    To the question of what and why of expectations regarding truthfulness.. I suspect this reveals something in miniature of a greater more deeply rooted sociological hypocrisy… we seek truth and honesty of everything and everyone yet devolve personal accountability by all manner of de facto attributions of social and interpersonal personae which mitigate an almost virtual statute of limitations.

    The ambiguity, to my mind is fascilitated by the realm, scope and potency of what I call ‘anonymous intimacy’ of the cyberspace. There is a distinction, and an important one to be made between ‘presence, personae and narrator’… their implications may overlap and the significance of this is not to be under estimated but, I do think the distinction is important and the fact that here is little distinction plays into the overall perception of a kind of truth we as inhabitants of cyberspace, in various guises, are overly keen to embrace.

    The moral attribute of Truth really flies out the window here and our reticence to accept the fact we all play into the grander deception speaks less for the narrative dynamic of storytelling and the ambience of ‘fiction’ as it speaks far more for a certain cowardice of ownership.

    It is much like plying a party game in which the rules apply to a very different context: we create nothing but a house of cards that play into our own insecurities and play out delusively, all that we would love to be in the eyes of the world, but deep down, like the odd kid out, never really believe we match up to…

    We are the narrative and the narrator.

  2. Great musing from both you and the ever-stimulating Remittance Girl–and what a stunning persona she has created. When I began to blog, I was not on Twitter, and really thought no one would ever read what I wrote or see the photos I posted. I was thinking of it as a kind of archaelogical artifact in the making, some few strange hits might synchronistically occur or be excavated from the depth of Google bowels. With that expectation, and the changes in my life, I made the attempt to state the real me and avoid a planned or improvised persona — that came all too naturally to me, coming from a Theatre family and performing for men most of my life ( a one woman show that became utterly boring for the actress). So, I wrote and photographed with enough truthfulness that my kids don’t want to go read anything on the site!

    After Twitter happened, people were sometimes reading what I wrote. Too late, the attempt to be fearless about what I want to see, show, say, is difficult to do, but has become even more difficult to avoid doing.

    Still, persona-fication seems to happen anyway, as others DO read you, or mis-read you, and do or don’t pierce your mysteries. Ithili, seems to have a life of her own, completely mine but with better luck and more moonlight.

    Thanks for helping me think about it,

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