October 1st, 2007

Faulkner-Pamuk-Picasso, or how we stopped fearing the void by rejecting omniscience

By using the shift of perspective in My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk has created a work that is simultaneously about art (and its history), about perspective in art, and the purpose which is distilled in our modern understanding of what constitutes art.

In prose, the omniscient perspective is the objective 3rd person perspective, that is, the disembodied narrator whose lens is a magical fourth wall that can be spliced in anywhere. In visual art, the omniscient perspective is flat, that is, without perspective. By introducing perpective into illustration, as per Enishte's book, there is the recognition of the individual as the viewer, the subject. By introducing "style" and "signature" and carrying it further, in the portrayal of a particular horse, tree, dog, etc. as different from a generic horse/tree/dog or from the Platonic form of a horse/tree/dog, there is recognition of the individual as the object. Identity now not only matters, it is of utmost importance, as we learn not to completely trust any of our 1st person narrators (and not just because any of them could be the murderer, though that does not help us trust them more). We have now elevated the individual perspective to the same level of importance as the deity.

On the wedding day of Black and Shekure, Black considers portraying a sequence of events on a single panel, the official taking a bag of gold in one hand and rejecting the couple with the other, fragmenting time and putting the artistically relevant pieces together. In gluing fragments from different visual perspectives together, fragmenting the perspective, the viewer of Geurnica is similarly led to a greater understanding of the whole. Likewise, Pamuk has fragmented the first person narrative such that the artistically relevant pieces of the story form a whole, but in doing so, we have moved onto a different type of transformation. By shifting perspective between individuals, we come to see each character as both lens and object.

Thus, the first transformation or realization is the existence of the individual; the second transformation is the realization that there cannot exist an omniscient 3rd person narrative. The whole is not something that can be contained in an individual perspective; it requires the collective to gain an understanding, the moon all the fingers are pointing at. At the same time, we have come to reject the omniscient perspective completely, not because it fails to be personal or close enough to be true, but because it doesn't even exist. There is no set of words that can unfailingly tell you the truth and make you understand; that is something you, the reader, have to realize yourself. There is no disembodied 3rd person narrator or higher power guiding your way. The kaleidescope of pictures, fragments, and narratives are all manners of pointing at the truth, and they exist to make the reader gain that understanding, the real understanding, which can't really be expressed in words.

We resort to dance, visual art, music, and lovemaking as a way to express things that are not expressible in language... There is no separate audience and performer. -- from Byrne's interview of Levitin
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