Monday, February 15, 2016

Exploring Postmodern Narrative with Salvador Plascencia

Within Ursula Heise’s first chapter of Chronoschisms, she introduces three different narrative strategies used by postmodern novelists that structure the textual organization of these narratives: repetition, “metalepsis,” and typography. She notes the differences between repetition in modernist novels compared to postmodernist ones, stating that repetition in modern novels shows the same event from different characters' points of views that eventually conclude with a “coherent external reality,” but postmodern novels may show the same events from the same character’s point of view, slightly varying the scene to create a sense of an incomplete ending that has multiple possibilities for what constitutes as "reality."

However, while the ultimate consequences of repetition between modern and postmodern novels may vary, “metalepsis” and the use of typography to intervene with the temporality of the novel are two strategies that are exclusive to the postmodern novel—strategies that I’ve found to be extremely interesting that give readers the ability to completely rediscover the possibilities for interacting with novels. 

First, let’s lay some groundwork for what these two strategies actually look like within postmodern novels. Heise describes metalepsis as stories within stories, and states that the boundaries within these stories are crossed by characters or the narrator(s). Temporal continuity is disrupted when characters and/or narrator(s) interact with one another in the text, placing readers in the kind of in-between position of the story being narrated and the story of the narrator as they clash on the pages of the novel. 

Typography is the narrative strategy that intrigues me the most as a reader. Sure, other poets and authors have played around with format to mix up the reading experience (I have shape poems in mind.), but none before the postmodern era have truly affected the temporal play happening within those texts. Heise asserts that changing up the typography of a novel transforms temporal processes into spatial objects, which fractures narrative time, echoing the postmodern concern of fractured social and individual temporality. Changes within the typography of a novel not only fracture this temporality but they also leave the reader uncertain of what is to come (the future of the novel, if you will), which is another concern of postmodern narratives, which famously leave readers with an unsure sense of the future. 

These two narrative strategies that are exclusive to postmodern novels are exemplified in Salvador Plascencia’s first novel, The People of Paper. While the novel employs more of the modernist use of repetition of events through multiple points of view, it is not for the modernist means of creating a unified reality by the end of the narrative. The novel does, however, employ the postmodern strategies of metalepsis and strange typography to create a truly compelling piece of postmodern literature. 

The People of Paper most certainly holds stories within stories, and it was the first novel that I remember reading that the characters of the fictional story interact with the narrator and his personal storyline and visa versa. Their stories eventually become so intertwined that it is hard to tell the story lines apart. One of the voices that the story is told through is that of a (somewhat fictional) Saturn, which we eventually learn is the narrator and author himself, Salvador Plascencia. We switch back and forth between the concerns of those within the story and the ominous presence that shapes this story’s plot line—Plascencia himself.

Throughout most of the novel, Saturn/Plascencia is the one both controlling the lives of his characters within the novels and retelling his own experiences outside of the novel that helped shape its creation. However, during Part Three of the novel, the previously third-person omniscient narrator/first-person narrator, in the two different narratives within the novel, respectively, (in as much as this can be “real” or “true,” since it is fiction) becomes suddenly a third-person, very limited narrator of his characters because of the actions that they have taken within the novel to do so. Eventually, the characters speak directly to the narrator, making the narrator again change slowly back to a third-person omniscient point of view. 

This interaction between the narrator and the characters produced within the novel creates a unique insight into the possibilities that postmodern literature allows for. The stories interacting with one another not only disrupts and complicates temporal time, it also disrupts the temporal reading experience. Readers are left to jump back and forth and in between events that could, in reality, never truly interact with one another. Only narrative allows for these incongruities in time that is so often associated with the postmodern era. 

The typography changes within this text were the most fascinating to me. Like metalepsis, these changes disrupt continuous temporality within the narrative. Some passages feel like they speed up while others feel much longer. Some passages are even intentionally left blank or blacked out completely (caused by an interference with the characters--an effect of metalepsis). Text can be seen in one column within a page or two, or three, and eventually, passages even change direction on the page, allowing for up to nine or ten voices, or passages, to be read on a given page in no particular order. Texts literally fade and are scratched out, and pictures appear within the text. All of these typography changes throw readers from the typical time sense that comes with reading a novel, and the temporality within the plot(s?) of the novel is(/are?) disrupted as well in a very spatial manner. Postmodern culture is associated with being more concerned with space than time, and the changes in typography truly highlight this notion. 

Plascencia’s novel is an exceptional portrayal of the strategies postmodern novelists employ to create contradictory, impossible realities within narrative that reflect the postmodern cultural sense of fragmented time. (And it's worth the read, I swear.)

1 comment:

  1. I never knew the term for the experimentation with form within a text ,typography, which tends to, in your own lucid words, "transform temporal processes into spatial objects." It is difficult for me to assert that space is more of a concern than time in postmodern culture, as they go hand-in-hand, but as far as narratives go, manipulating form in order to represent the uncertainty about time makes perfect sense. PS: The People of Paper sounds like a good read--you really "sold" it!