Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The depressive third person

At Public Books, my colleague Nick Dames considers St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels (I'm teaching the first one and the opening chapter of the last in my style class this semester):
The Melrose novels, incipiently in Never Mind and baldly by the time of At Last, are also dramatic reassertions of the novel’s standing as the form best capable of describing consciousness without trying to “solve” it. Even more curiously, they insist on the flexibility, diagnostic acuity, and delicate modesty of traditional third-person narration, as if it alone—the odd habit of transforming an I into a he, she, or it—could begin to describe what it is like to be aware of our awareness, to be tied down to the only force we know that promises any freedom. If anything can light up the dark room stealthily enough to tell us what darkness looks like, St. Aubyn suggests with a bit more than diffidence, it might be the oldest and most ordinary of fiction’s resources. The decision to write his own story in the third person is more than legal caution or familial reticence. It is also a strong philosophical claim: only by using that linguistic sleight-of-hand might I get a sense of how I am.

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