Wednesday, 18 December 2013

ABC blog: Z

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Z is for zero focalisation. You didn't believe I would find a topic beginning with Z, did you? But I have written a lot on narrative perspective, and zero focalisation is one of the most common narrative devices in children's literature. It is not quite the same as omniscient narration, because focalisation is about seeing rather than speaking. Zero focalisation is a view from nowhere, a vantage point taken by an anonymous agency, and you almost feel guilty spying on somebody's life. Zero focalisation is not a tremendously exiting device because how can you engage with characters if you never share their point of view? It's like watching fish in a fish tank. In practice, it is most often shifting multiple focalisation, when the point of view moves from character to character, sometimes going inside their minds, sometime staying outside.

Z is also for zigzag temporality, when the narrative moves back and forth between two or more moments in story time.

Z is also for zoomorphism, which is a common device in children's literature when humans appear in animal disguise. It is the opposite of anthropomorphism, in which animals are endowed with human traits. You may think it is the same, but it isn't. However, we have now come to the end of the alphabet, and you may need a break.


Anonymous said...

I read A-Z this morning and learned a lot as well as being highly entertained. Random comments:

Your book From Mythic to Linear is amazing and everyone in our field should read it. As a side note on time, you introduced me to Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden, which has the most haunting treatment of time I have ever read.

You also introduced me to Peter Pohl's 1985 masterpiece Johnny, My Friend. I must read more Swedish YA.

Ventriloquism is, I agree, a key concept in books written by older people for young people, but I use this term only as a negative judgment for putting words in a character's mouth in a fake and usually oppressive way (my favorite real life example is the bumper sticker we see a lot in the US on commercial trucks: "How's My Driving? Call [boss's phone number]").

You and I disagree about a lot of narratological terms (the French ones, not the ones you invented), but I really enjoyed reading your quick perspective on them. I enjoyed the ones you invented even more.

One of Genette's terms I do appreciate and use: iterative vs singulative narration. When I read novels, I am particularly drawn to scenes (i.e. sections of singulative narration in "real time" or stretched time) and Proust provides memorable scenes in the midst of iterative and compressed narration. However, I recently read an excellent book --The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao--that had almost no scenes in it at all! Although I loved the book for other reasons, I had this nagging sense of never sitting down to eat.

Count me as a fellow enthusiast of Bakhtin, but --abashed to say --count me also among those who didn't realize that heteroglossia and polyphony were translations of the same Russian word. I wondered why there were two words for the same thing (but since polyphony is a musical term perhaps it has some resonance that heteroglossia doesn't have?).

In conclusion, thank you for writing this delightful alphabet, and I look forward to seeing it as a picturebook.

Your anonymous fan, Mary Galbraith

(Google wouldn't let me submit under my account for some reason)

Maria Nikolajeva said...

Thanks, Mary. I really appreciate your comments. Please share the blog with whoever you think may enjoy it