Considering the Parenthetical First Person Plural Narrator
In an erstwhile blog post, I noted that my favorite thing about the original Bulwer-Lytton sentence is the parenthetical narrator who speaks in the first person plural.
This opinion has not changed. First person plural is one of my favorite narrative devices, even when it’s only used in brief moments, as it is in the first paragraphs of Paul Clifford and Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Bret Easton Ellis’s Imperial Bedrooms.
The only novel I’ve read written entirely in first person plural is Joshua Ferris’s And Then We Came to the End, although of course the technique almost always owes a debt to Greek choruses. In the case of the Bulwer-Lytton sentence, it’s hard to know—without reading further—what role the first person plural plays. In this way, the sentence does align with my thoughts about treating readers with the Golden Rule; the only aspect of Paul Clifford’s first sentence that inspires me to continue reading is the parenthetical interjection.
I want to know who it is that composes the plural in “our scene”. Is it us created by reader and writer together? Is it an us that results from author and his subject? Is it a we contained entirely within the narrative? These questions might not inspire most readers to keep reading, but they’re the questions that have me considering reading Paul Clifford’s second sentence.
Inspired by this, I spent Days 13, 14, and 15 experimenting with this parenthetical narrator. On this same theme, I continued experimenting with some ideas inspired by 2666. In particular, “The Part About Amalfitano”, in which Amalfitano hears voices.
Here is Day 13, written on 4/15:
The disembodied voice—the one he had labeled the parenthetical voice—spoke again as he looked out the window.
(For it is in London that our scene lies), it said.
Day 14, 4/16
A voice followed him. A disembodied, narrating, nearby voice that spoke without age or gender or accent, always employing the first person plural. He thought of it as the parenthetical voice because its statements always seemed enclosed in parentheses.
Day 15, 4/17
He called it the parenthetical voice because that’s how it spoke to him. Parenthetically.
Are any of these a final product? Probably not.
Are they improving every day? Not really.
But one thing is certain: in each of these cases, I want to keep writing.