Is anything 3rd person omniscient?

Following my last post, I've had some enlightening discussions with a few people. Below are some remarks by Becca Mills which helped me to move along in my own thoughts, which continue below the quotation.

I see your point, here, Harry - the writer is the "real" storyteller, and she's always a third-person figure vis-a-vis the story, even if she's writing biography (because she's writing about the past as the somewhat changed person her past experiences have made her).

The problem I see is that you're treating the third-person-omniscient narrative viewpoint as though it is not itself an artificial construct created for the purpose of narrating a story. You're presenting it as somehow more real or true to the actual situation, but in truth it's just as unreal as first- person and third-limited. The mind of the writer is omniscient vis-a-vis the story the way the Christian god is omniscient -- knowing all persons and events from outside time -- but third-person-omniscient narration isn't that kind of "knowing." That kind of knowing is capacious and alinear and is inappropriate for actual storytelling. TPO narration is still a linear and controlled release of info thru the "narrative voice," which is itself constructed for that purpose.

So I don't think we should think of TPO as the real narrative voice that undergirds all the others, which simply mascarade as being something other. But I do think it's useful to think actively about how artificial all the narrative modes are (and I don't intend "artificial" in a negative way, but just as describing some that is the product of art/artifice).

So I admit I'm glad someone sees what I'm aiming for, even if I don't see the target all that clearly yet myself, and I think that Becca's counterargument is a strong one. Why ought one narrative voice be any more original or authentic than the others? I don't think I have an answer for this. But Becca's clear thinking got me questioning my motivation for pursuing this in the first place.

Although the idea was provoked by a writer in difficulty over points of view, which happened to coincide with a whole cascade of threads on various fora where both readers and writers "rejected" particular narrative voices and points of view, I am beginning to wonder whether it is my background in theatre that is the cause of my desire to find an archetypal, atavistic, underlying voice.

Drama theorists, including Boal, Grotowsky and Barba, have, (guru-like, usually) proposed a sort of "story of the first theatre". They suppose that the primeval theatre can be deduced from study of the whole history of theatre in human cultures, and imagine a seminal event, where primitive hominins use performance for the first time as a conscious means of communicating ideas and (more importantly), culture.

I've never stopped to dismiss this storification of cultural history, even though it is exactly that. I dare say that part of the creation of theatre was a spontaneous act driven by a need to communicate something that could not be communicated any other way, but I also think that artifice is the core of the theatre. A very special kind of artifice, since all those who are members of a theatre's culture collude in the acceptance (known, on little evidence, as "willing suspension of disbelief") that the Stage is all the World.

I think this artifice is absent from story, because while theatre is an act of tribe or of culture—it confirms, reinforces, emphasises, the distinguishing characteristics of the culture to which it belongs even when it is challenging it—storytelling is an act of socialisation. I think that we hear and we tell stories as a way of making sense of eachother and of ourselves.

That's why it's essential that young children go through a phase of "telling tall tales". The child is practising the social activity of relating life and relating to life through stories. The child has observed that when others tell stories of a particular kind, it provokes a particular reaction, and the child wants to participate in this activity and in its consequences, and it makes little difference to the child whether a story is "true" or not. Indeed, the child is not lying any more than a cat is being cruel when it plays with a mouse.

The cat's life depends on its ability to hunt, and every opportunity to practise improves the cat's chances of hunting into it's old age. Storytelling is no less vital a skill for a human being to learn.

So I was wondering whether there was some element of those tall tales told by young children which is universal to, or which underlies, all stories.

One of the people who commented on my previous post suggested that I was failing to distinguish Narrator from Writer. This may have been so, but I am beginning to suspect that if anything, writers are making too much of a false distinction between them.

Even when Conan-Doyle is "narrating as Watson", he is still Conan-Doyle. Philip Marlowe is Chandler. Even Ishmael is largely Melville and Crusoe is much more Dafoe than he is Crusoe. It is all too easy to think of the narrator as someone else; I think that there are times when, even when the writer intends the narrator to be seen as a character, as a creation, that the writer should be careful not to forget that this is an artifice, an artifice in which the reader's complicity is required for it to succeed, and that (therefore) the reader's complicity must be sought.

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