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Danielewski-isms in narrative vs. dialogue

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  • Danielewski-isms in narrative vs. dialogue

    MZD has a small handful of beloved linguistic flairs he employs constantly throughout The and more sparingly in his other works. These can serve as reminders that what is being read is part of a larger, consistent whole. But at times, I found that the predictability of these devices, and their usage by characters who we are supposed to believe are not simply avatars of MZD, took me out of the narrative. Maybe that's intentional, given the multiple layers of subjectivity in MZD's body of work.

    I'll give you an example. In almost every chapter of TF, there will inevitably come a paragraph that starts with the words "Not that" or "Not like". Not that elastics and pretty can answer rain. Not that the headbutt is all that. Not like jingjing see flying jin or tinkerbell. Not that her mom didn't try her best. Et cetera.

    If the book were written in a singular narrative voice throughout, this would not seem remarkable in any way; it would simply be evidence that this particular author likes to use that kind of sentence. Yet, this book portrays at least 9 distinct tones, from the tense-less verbs that mimic the shaky English of Shnork in his sections, to the authoritative and aggressive mood of Luther's chapters, and of course the sometimes inscrutable Singlish of jingjing. Despite all of this linguistic and tonal variation, we still get the sense that this story is being told by the same entity by way of these Danielewski-isms, which serve to anchor the story as a coherent stream of connected events, rather than 9 similar novels shuffled together.

    Another example is harder to put into words, but it has to do with how MZD gives agency (as in, the ability to think and/or act) to abstract concepts. On page 150 of The , for instance:

    And then as if to deprive injury of hurt, something else as well. [...] As if begging for the comfort of just knowing itself to be begging could suffice.
    A beautiful passage, to be sure, and many others like it are peppered throughout the book, but always at the narrative level, not the level of dialogue. The only time I can remember off the top of my head that this rule is broken is in Clip 4, (, on page 179. Toland Ouse, the 80 year-old man that Realic is supposedly interviewing says:

    "Loss like that, it does things to you. Strange things. Changing things. Until things are no longer things. And grace is only what grief taught to lie still."
    This quote, and especially that last sentence, is so unbearably MZD that I could not bring myself to believe that this character was actually saying it. He is figuratively imparting to the concept of grief itself the ability to teach another concept, grace, to lie still. No actual person speaks that way (except perhaps MZD himself). This is one of those rare times where a Danielewski-ism, which normally serves to glue together disparate threads when used in narration, becomes a roadblock to believable dialogue when spoken by an actual character. It puts the in-universe veracity of Clip 4 into doubt to hear a character speak in a way we are normally only accustomed to hearing the narrator speak.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that MZD is always hinting at something about the layer of existence inhabited by narrators, and how it occasionally bleeds into the layer of existence inhabited by the characters. One way that he does this is by inserting meta-elements into the actual story, such as the Narcons or the hierarchy of narrators in of Leaves, but also through the more subtle means I am describing here.
    Last edited by crumbledFingers; 06-19-2015, 09:16 AM.

  • #2
    The repetitiousness of style troubled me sometimes. I noticed a lot of T50YS in Anwar and Astair chapters, for example when I see this...
    Xanther's fidgeting [{escalating too} how she'd shuffled and shimmied {a soft-shoe without taps <and sweated too>} with that weird heat {never a fever} scalding her forehead].
    ...I can almost see the text jumping left-right-down, stitched together by eye movement.
    Don't really mind it now, I love his style(s), I'm just worried that, come Volume 14, I will grow really tired of it.


    • #3
      It kind of reminds me of how any movie or TV show written by Joss Whedon has that Whedon-ish dialogue running through everything. Only instead of it being the dialogue, it's (usually) just the narration in MZD's case.