The Power of Point of View

S.B.L. Book Review Session on “Perspective Criticism” (part 8): Response to Yamasaki’s Response

landy photo - croppedby FRANCIS LANDY   I really profited from Gary’s response to my response. It showed me where we differ, and where I have misunderstood him. I think he is right, or at least partially right, in his criticism of my reading of the climactic moment in the story of the Akedah, in which the narrator/narrative focuses so intensely on Abraham’s every movement. But we do have our areas of disagreement, which ultimately, I suspect, are disagreements with Uspensky, and evidence of the gulf between structuralist and what could loosely be called postmodern approaches to narrative.

I would note a few points where Gary (or Uspensky) diverges from me:
1. I don’t think there are rigid distinctions between “inside” and “outside” – nor does modern cognitive science. Our skin, including our psychological skin, is porous. Humans always live in a world, and get their ideas of self and interiority from the world (as well as, of course, having an immensely complicated psycho-physical apparatus for engaging with that world).
2. Point of view is frequently split in narrative, perhaps more so than in film (though I have not thought about it). One may see a character from the outside as well as looking from the inside. For example, in Gen.22.9-10, one may be gazing very intensely at Abraham, but one may also, as the sequence progresses, wonder empathetically about what Abraham experiences. This is especially so at the climax: “And Abraham sent forth his hand and he took the knife to slay his son” when it would be hard not to have a tactile, physical sense of the hand going forth. This of course may be subjective – but one of the greatest disagreements between “postmodern” and “structuralist” approaches is the structuralist idea that there are objective quasi-scientific laws that determine literary response. Conversely, even when point of view is determined by such data as “and the angel of the Lord appeared to him”, “On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the mountain afar off,” we still may be on the outside, looking at Gideon seeing, or Abraham lifting up his eyes.
3. As I said in my comments, the main technique for establishing point of view in the HB is dialogue. One thing that Gary misunderstood, I think, is that in dialogue one frequently adopts the point of view of one of the participants. For example, in dialogues between a human and a divine being, one will usually adopt the point of view of the human (because it is more familiar, or the divine is more imponderable). This would be true for instance of Gideon’s first encounter with the angel. Likewise, in the scene on the threshing floor there are numerous textual markers (and I noted one or two of these) that we see the miracle of the fleece from Gideon’s point of view.
4. Gary neglects the importance of imagination in reading. We are constantly thinking, guessing, and filling in gaps (as Sternberg shows). Every word directed towards another in dialogue carries with it an implicit “and he/she heard.”
5. What I really love about the Hebrew bible is its ambivalence. For example, when Jehu come to dispatch Jezebel, she stands at the window, made up, regal, in a typical woman at the window scene. We see her from the outside, and we also hear her speaking from the outside: “Is it well/peace, Zimri murdering his master” (2 Kings 9.31). At the same time we can see that there is a world looking out of that window, and that in a sense she is invulnerable.
6. Finally, I would argue that the story of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19 is focalized entirely from the point of the woman, even though she does not speak a word – it is her silence that is speaking. But that would take more explication than I have time for here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: