The Ironic Lack of Intimacy in First Person

As often happens, I had a conversation with my husband about a book I was reading and I interrupted myself. I realised that I not only wanted the main character to succeed, but that I also liked her and could describe her personality. This struck me as notable because the book is written in first person present tense. A few years ago, that would have made it difficult or even impossible for me to enjoy the book. I’ve since become inured to it as a style choice, which may be why I don’t notice other people objecting to it anymore. But I do recall that other people dislike first person, whether in present or past tense.

While I’m aware that not everyone who dislikes first person perspective (FPP) does so for the same reasons, I wonder if there might be a common, undiagnosed problem. After contemplating for a few days, my brain tossed up the term “a lack of intimacy.” I tend to perceive FPP protagonists as samey and I often don’t like them, or at least I’m quicker to condemn them for their actions and slower to sympathise. They just feel so… detached from my reading experience.

Isn’t that a weird thought?

Articles and books on writing that cover perspective choice call first person things like intimatedirect, but also limited. The limited nature was possibly my biggest complaint back when I had trouble enjoying The Hunger Games. Katniss just missed so many things that were going on.

In an example like Huckleberry Finn, I certainly recognise the perspective as intimate, but one of the reasons for that is that it’s also conversational. The average YA novel with FPP doesn’t feel like the protagonist is talking to a reader. At worst, it feels like navel-gazing. Self-centred self-narration, like my toddler vocalising his actions because he literally likes the sound of his own voice. As if maybe the reason such a book was written in first person is because that perspective was easier. At best(?), it feels like listening to someone clever talk to themself. Why am I here? is something I have honestly thought while reading FPP before.

Maybe the best way I can really explain it is that for a person who dislikes reading first person books, the experience is akin to being forced to listen to someone recount an incredibly long dream. It’s full of vain little thoughts, meandering asides, in-jokes that only the speaker/author would get, and in the end might be so personal or so predicated on inexpressible feelings that it doesn’t even make sense.

That is not an intimate conversation. That is a selfish speaker and a bored, disengaged listener.


Public Domain Collective Unconscious

There are a lot of public domain characters out there. Some of them have been utilised elsewhere, and this is where they have truly gained their fame. I find this interesting.

Alice, for instance, probably got most of her fame and the public idea of what she is, from works far removed from the source. The Looking Glass Wars springs instantly to mind, although I must admit that I was disappointed. (but then, I really, really wanted to like that book)

English: Screenshot of Alice from the trailer ...

Screenshot of Alice from the trailer for the film Alice in Wonderland (1951). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This ties into two different but related subjects that I have been thinking about lately. First, the use of established characters in a work. The last book I read with established characters was actually about real people from history, but they were portrayed in a very fictional light, so I suppose it counts.

Although I have been thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve really come to any conclusions on this one. People like to come across familiar names and there is certainly a market for using public domain characters. But then there’s things like The Problem With Licensed Games. It’s a very similar issue. People like familiarity, things that they recognise, but they also have an expectation that such things can’t quite be held to the same standard as wholly original work.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is the collective unconscious. A while back, I played a game called 9 People 9 Doors 9 Hours, which used this subject as a large element of the story. It was not handled perfectly, but it did raise some interesting questions. There are certainly things that a large amount of people recognise without knowing why, and assumptions that we all make, again without knowing why.

These two concepts come together nicely, when you think about it. Sherlock Holmes has his place in reality through the collective unconscious. He entered it long ago, and so has some kind of life. The same is true of many other characters, but none so much as or on the same level as Sherlock Holmes. I also bring him up as an example because of Pierre Bayard’s book, Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, which brought up a very interesting concept, that of a sort of super-reality which is inhabited by these sorts of characters that have crossed the threshold from mere story to a commonly shared and experienced idea.

In the story I’m thinking of, things like this might be scrawled everywhere–on buildings, rubbish bins, abandoned cars…

All of this got me to thinking that it would be interesting to see a story wherein familiar characters show up in a sort of impish or fairy-like capacity. Not full characters, but sort of like the random characters that can be found in Kingdom Hearts. That they are there because of the collective unconscious. Not entirely real, but not to be discounted either.

Of course, there are a lot of ways to do this wrong. A LOT. The first one that comes to mind would be to make them part of the cast. No. This is a bad idea. The second would be to make them exactly as one person has interpreted the character, or as the character is commonly misrepresented in the media. This is also a poor idea. Not only does it exclude anyone who is actually familiar with them, but it mistakes the collective unconscious for a traceable source. Usually television.

I don’t know how it would fit in to a plot that doesn’t revolve around it, or what kind of plot would revolve around it, but it’s an interesting idea. I think, anyway.


In Which I Ramble Through Three (or more) Subjects

In order to de-stress, I decided to visit my mother (and the rest of the family who lives here. She’s the most important though). Although it’s only about a forty-minute trip, her house is in another city, and my ears pop every time I drive out there. I find this funny, though.

It was nice to just be here and complain, not have to make or otherwise worry about dinner, and maybe we’ll even get a chance to watch some DVDs I brought by.

When I was a kid, I was a (calmly) rabid fan of the animated series Roughnecks. I was really big on animation, as well as television and film in general. With all of the couch potatoes in the world, I’m probably still pretty strange. I get just as much enjoyment and philosophical spark from some cheap visual media as the deified medium of books.

There’s an interesting subject. It’s one of those thoughts that makes me laugh (apparently) spontaneously. I know few people who actually read. I mean, people who can name the most recent book they finished or are in the middle of (and have been reading in the last few days). And I prefer the ones who don’t even say that they read.

But quite a lot of people I know talk about how great books are, that they are so much better than television. Apparently stealing a book ought to be a crime punishable by murder. I think I’d be more likely to kill someone who stole our PS3. That cost more. I think my most expensive book was fifty dollars, and the only reason I would kill someone for taking it would be because I pr-eordered it and it’s signed by Captain Robert. But most paperbacks run what, USD8? Or part of a gift card.

I find it funny that by writing a book, someone with no talent and a trashy idea can be sure of more validation than if they had turned it into a film.

It’s kind of sad how proud people are of loving books. I’ve seen people trash ebooks by saying they aren’t as good or even real. But they haven’t read anything lately. I wouldn’t say that someone who reads romance but no classics “doesn’t really read”, either. I’m no one to talk–I read dorky stuff just as often as I read masterpieces. I just wish people would be more honest.

Maybe in a changing world where accomplishments of all kinds are cheapening thanks to this app or that website, people need to keep an old god safe on a pedestal. The problem is that part of this changing world is the ridiculous importance of image, and so lip service and wearing hats is all most people will do. You only have to say that books are important, you only have to say that you read. That old god may as well have left, because its loudest supporters/worshippers don’t actually perform its rites or even glance at it.

The highly vocal I LOVE BOOKS stuff, in my opinion, is just more of our age’s crappy I Must Be Special shenanigans. It seems that more and more, the louder someone declares something about him/herself, the less it actually means anything.

By the way, I read a few more chapters of Bitter Gold Hearts. I found my place, and I still don’t like this one as much as the first book. The problem with the Garrett Files is that I feel, at all times, like I don’t have enough information, and that it’s somehow all my fault. (here, I laugh, because I don’t think that’s an intention of the author) I swear that the first book is not the first book. There’s some book that ought to come before, it just didn’t get written.

I kind of admire that. I still think the first book was more interesting. The stupid thing is, I swear I think that because I was never quite sure what was actually going on–because I did not live in the world, connections were made by the characters that I didn’t get.

In this book, I kind of get what’s going on, but I don’t know why I’m supposed to care, because I still can’t make those connections. So either I need to somehow have a Karentine vacation, or I just need to resolve that these won’t be my most favourite series.

I need to add a disclaimer to my Books page: “Will not update, too busy reading.”