Monday, January 4, 2010

DFW and the Village Chorus

I just finished James Wood's excellent How Fiction Works. This is a longish quote, but it's excellent. Wood has just described how authors utilize what he calls free indirect style, whereby the character being described affects the perspective, diction, and style of even a third-person narrator. He continues with the following short chapter on DFW and his use of this technique:

A contemporary writer like David Foster Wallace wants to push this tension to the limit. He writes from his characters' voices and simultaneously over them, obliterating them in order to explore larger, if more abstract, questions of language. In this passage from his story "The Suffering Channel," he evokes the ruined argot of Manhattan media-speak:

The other Style piece the associate editor had referred to concerned The Suffering Channel, a wide grid cable venture that Atwater had gotten Laurel Manderley to do an end run and pitch directly to the editor's head intern for WHAT IN THE WORLD. Atwater was one of three full time salarymen tasked to the WITW feature, which received .75 editorial pages per week, and was the closest any of the BSG weeklies got to freakshow or tabloid, and was a bone of contention at the very highest levels of Style. The staff size and large font space meant that Skip Atwater was officially contracted for one 400 word piece every three weeks, except the juniormost of the WITW salarymen had been on half time ever since Eckleschafft-Böd had forced Mrs. Anger to cut the editorial budget for everything except celebrity news, so in reality it was more like three finished pieces every weeks.

Here is another example of what I called "unidentified free indirect style." As in the Chekhov story, the language hovers around the viewpoint of the character (the journalist Atwater), but really emanates from a kind of "village chorus"--it is an amalgam of the kind of language we might expect this particular community to speak if they were telling the story.

And later: "In Wallace's case, the language of his unidentified narration is fairly ugly, and a bit painful for more than a page or two." Even later-er: "Wallace pushes to parodic extremes his full-immersion method: he does not flinch at narrating twenty or thirty pages in the style quoted above."

Anyone who's slogged through the Wardine section of Infinite Jest is here nodding in agreement.

No comments: