The Power of Point of View

Moving conversation with Tannehill to “Micro-View” of Ideological Plane (part 5) – GARY YAMASAKI

In response to my question “through whose perspective an audience is being led to experience the action” (Apr 4/2013), Robert Tannehill responded that it is the “ideological perspective of the implied author. . .the perspective of the work as a whole as a complex of interacting parts, dynamically arranged” (Apr 8/2013). And while what he says is correct with regards to a macro-view of the ideological component of a narrative work, my question was addressing more of a micro-view.

A macro-view looks for the overarching ideological perspective of a text, and Tannehill is right in asserting that is the implied author’s perspective–the perspective the  readers are intended to accept–and the vehicle for leading the readers toward doing so is the narrator, the “voice” presenting the words of the text to the readers. The narrator has a tool belt full of narrative dynamics for accomplishing this task, the most blatant being narrative commentary in which the narrator can simply state as a fact “this is right and that is wrong.” However, the narrator’s tool belt also contains more subtle means of guiding the readers toward the implied author’s ideological perspective, and perhaps the most versatile of those–the “Swiss-army knife” of narrative dynamics–is point of view.

Within the “point of view” pouch of the tool belt are a wide variety of storytelling devices operating on the various planes of point of view, each capable of contributing toward the readers experiencing the action of a story either through the point of view of the uninvolved narrator, leaving all the characters as mere objects to be observed at arm’s length, or through the subjective point of view of one of the characters. And it is important to note that whenever the readers do experience the action through the subjective point of view of a character, that character becomes a vehicle for communicating the ideological perspective of the implied author.

In this description of the macro-view, there is mention of storytelling devices operating on the various planes of point of view, and a micro-view of the ideological component of a narrative work focuses on the particular devices operating on the ideological plane of point of view to dictate “through whose perspective an audience is being led to experience the action”; this is how the issue I raised at the end of the Apr 4/2013 post was intended to be understood.

I continued the post by lamenting that there had yet to be established any ideological-plane devices fulfilling that function. Since then, however, it has occurred to me that an insight by Janice Capel Anderson is helpful in this regard. Anderson devotes a significant portion of her 1981 SBL paper entitled “Point of View in Matthew – Evidence”– the findings of which are included in her Matthew’s Narrative Web: Over, and Over, and Over Again (Sheffield Academic Press, 1994)–to the issue of how the ideological viewpoint of Jesus becomes identified with that of the narrator in Matthew’s narrative, and she asserts that one means by which this occurs is through the bestowal upon Jesus of the “badge of reliability,” citing the genealogy, the angelic appearances and fulfillment quotations of the birth story, and the baptismal scene as contributing toward establishing Jesus as a reliable reflector of the ideological perspective of the implied author (pp. 56-57).

Here, Anderson envisions narrative devices executed in the early chapters of Matthew contributing toward an effect that endures for the rest of the narrative. This differs from the micro-view dynamics envisioned in the earlier posts, that is, devices contributing toward shifts in point of view from one episode to another, or even from one scene to another within a given episode. However, it is totally conceivable that the badge of reliability could be used to effect a micro-view dynamic, with its bestowal functioning to establish a given character as the point-of-view character for just a particular episode, as opposed to the whole rest of the narrative

An example of this dynamic will need to wait for a future post, but it is hoped that introducing the concept of the badge of reliability into the discussion may be a helpful first step in developing a useful model for analyzing point-of-view shifts on the ideological plane of a narrative text.

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