Narrative, objectivity, and viewpoint

What follows is a post-format storify of my tweets, which are in themselves a follow-up to my previous post on “merit”. The real storify of these tweets is here– with many thanks to Serena @activehearts.

I do not have spoons to elaborate on these tweets, or to cite references. If you want to read good scholarly discussions of this stuff, I recommend “Narrating the Self” by Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps, and Eve Sweetser and Barbara Dancygier’s works on narrative and cognition, such as their latest Viewpoint in Language.

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No storytelling, or its consumption, can be divorced from viewpoint. Viewpoint is an inherent part of human narrative activity.

Narrative theorists argue that narratives more complex than a sentence tend to happen on two planes – that of action & that of consciousness. Viewpoint is cognitively embedded in our narrative activity, both as storytellers and as listeners/readers. If you think you are reading “objectively”, it is highly likely that you are reading from a hegemonic viewpoint, where there is no dissonance between your viewpoint – your plane of consciousness – and that of hegemonic storylines. It is likely that you did not have to question the validity of your viewpoint, and saw it reflected continuously in mainstream narratives. To put it bluntly, if you think you’re objective abt a narrative, your viewpoint is very likely aligned with hegemonic view of what is right – of what constitutes the “right” narrative form and arc, the “right” kind of protagonist, the “right” kind of resolution.

There is no such thing as a viewpoint-less reading of a narrative. But we can be oblivious to our own viewpoints under certain conditions. Those conditions under which you may remain unaware of your own subjectivity are usually conditions of privilege – of hegemonic positioning.

From where I stand, the concept of “objectivity” is not worth bargaining for. It does not give us strong tools to build or analyze narratives. From where I stand, a much better bargain is a better understanding of viewpoint: its psychology, its sociology, its history. Its multiplicity.

A better narrative is a narrative that acknowledges the multiplicity of viewpoints – of cognitive and social positions from which we – narrators of stories, readers, as well as our protagonists – come at our varied and complex understandings of the world, and of relationships. In acknowledging and fronting the multiplicity of viewpoints within accomplished and complex narratives, we do the same in life. Acknowledgment and appreciation of diversity comes from this understanding. It is complex, intricate, and worth working for.

I am leaving comments open for now, but will reevaluate in the morning. Spoons are low to nonexistent. Thank you for understanding.

One Comment

  1. CiaraCat says:

    Thank you for spending spoons on these well thought-out posts.

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About

Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Tiptree, Elgin, Rhysling, and Crawford awards.

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