The Power of Point of View

Responding to How Seaman Would Craft a Performance of Mark 6:49-52

by GARY YAMASAKI   Over the past month, Leon Seaman has contributed two posts addressing ways in which attention to point-of-view dynamics impacts his performance of Mark. The earlier one–Perspective in Live Performance: To Embody or Not to Embody?–focuses on how he embodies certain characters–that is, mimics their speech and gestures–and does not embody others, and he includes descriptions of how he embodies characters in the baptism scene (1:9-11) and the transfiguration scene (9:2-8). However, a crucial element missing from this post is the criteria forming the basis for his decision-making on which characters get embodied and which do not.

That missing piece is addressed in first part of the recent post–Helping an Audience to Get the Point (of View) in Performance–with Seaman finding in informational divergences–that is, situations where the audience possesses information not possessed by a character–a basis for decisions not to embody characters. Further, Seaman specifies the result of such informational divergences: the audience may be distanced from characters whose information databases diverge from that of the audience.

That, however, makes up only a small part of the post; the focus of the post is on how the oral-performance techniques of “repeated-yet-varying scenes” and “forecast/echoes” in Mark 6:47-52 and 6:53-56 function to turn informational divergence into ideological divergence between the audience and the disciples, resulting in Seaman’s decision to embody Jesus but not the disciples, simply narrating their actions without mimicking their voices and gestures. Seaman’s treatment of these oral-performance techniques is solid, but his conclusion that these techniques function to create ideological divergence between the audience and the disciples needs further examination.

In his rehearsal in the sixth paragraph of the textual details involved in these techniques, Seaman cites: they do not recognize Jesus; they react with awestruck fear; they hadn’t understood about the loaves; and their hearts were hardened. Granted, on their face, these details do indeed appear to create ideological divergence between the audience and the disciples. But, it must be noted that with regards to point of view on the psychological plane, all four of these details represent “inside views,” that is, looks into the inner workings of these characters, and this is important on the psychological plane of point of view.

It is well established that biblical narrators provide inside views of characters much less frequently than do most modern writers; therefore, a concentration of four of them in a mere three verses (6:50-52) is noteworthy. And a look at verses 49-50 reveals even more. Verse 49 mentions that the disciples saw Jesus walking on water and that they thought it was a ghost, and the beginning of verse 50 reiterates that they saw him. These seven inside views in a span of only four verses could very well be the heaviest concentration of inside views in the whole Bible.

What is the significance of this concentration? Being given looks into the inner workings of a character provides readers with a subjective experience of the character, and as this post points out, such a subjective experience inclines the readers to pull for the character, even if the character is negatively characterized.

The heavy concentration of inside views in Mark 6:49-52 constitutes strong evidence the narrator intends for the readers to have a subjective experience of the disciples. However, Seaman rightly points out that the informational divergence between the readers and the disciples works to distance the readers from the disciples. Therefore, we have a situation of point-of-view dynamics on two planes pulling in two different directions: the psychological-plane dynamics drawing the readers in close to the disciples, but the informational-plane dynamics pulling them away.

What does this mean for a performance of this passage? Because the narrator goes to such great lengths on the psychological plane to give the readers a subjective experience of the disciples, I do not think Seaman’s suggestion that the disciples’ actions simply be narrated–the ultimate in ‘objective treatment’ of the disciples–can stand. On the other hand, because of the distance-producing dynamics on the informational plane, neither is it appropriate to execute a pure embodying of them either.

Taking point-of-view dynamics into consideration in the crafting of performances is still in its infancy, and the situation of what to do when point-of-view dynamics on two planes are pulling in two different directions has yet to be addressed. If you have any wisdom to share on this issue, consider writing it up in a post and using the “Contact” button to send it to the site administrator.

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