Friday, July 20, 2012

Thesis Extract- "Reading Focalization"

Focalization provides a sense of perspective in reading that sets up a shifting structure of first, second and third-person address in the works. Focalization is “the perspective in terms of which the narrated situations and events are presented; the perceptual or conceptual position in terms of which they are rendered (Genette)” (Prince Dictionary of Narratology 32). Focalization establishes reader perspective in relation to the narratives of the digital works through the interconnectedness of situations, events, and perceptual and conceptual elements via a single point of awareness. In this sense, focalization is “the textual representation of specific (pre)existing sensory elements of the text’s story world as perceived and registered (recorded, represented, encoded, modeled and stored) by some mind or recording device which is a member of this world” (Margolin 42). The inter-relationships between these focalizing elements represent a logic based on third-person address within the structures of narrative. In Egypt, Jeanette relates the activities and speech of Ross to us, the readers,from such a third-person perspective. Second-person perspective is present in Last Meal Requested in the speech audio of victims and perpetrators of violence and in the dream diaries of Dreamaphage, where “you” are drawn into the temporal presence of narrative events. Herman classifies this second person address as “address you,” which in turn can be broken into “fictionalized address” (from within the story world) and “actualized address” which “exceeds the frame (or ontological threshold) of a fiction to reach the audience” (quoted in Bell and Ensslin 2011 314-16). I relate this excess, where address spills over into the life of the reader, to narrative metalepsis. In the following analysis, I will attach addressive modes to the focalizer in narrative as a means of identifying the restrictions the two features combined placed upon reading. In order for narrative to develop, the reader must obey the logic of perspective these modes represent as part of the interpretation and navigation of the text.
Perspective operates in narrative by filtering events, places and actions through the focalizing character or voice as part of reading. In such a situation, “the difference between the nonfocalized narrative and the internally focalized narrative lies in the agent ‘who sees’” (Bal 2006 10). The focalizing character sees in Façade (the guest) and Egypt (Jeanette), which drives narrative progression forward for the reader. In each work, only the focalizing character perceives a particular element and, via that perception, so too does the reader. Bal identifies the role of the focalizer as “an interpretation, a subjective content. What we see before our mind’s eye has already been interpreted. This makes room for reading of the complex structure of focalization” (Narratology 166). It is important to understand that the perception of the focalizing agent in the digital works is often multimedia, including but not restricted to the visual. In Dreamaphage and Last Meal Requested, nonfocalized narrative occurs from the positioning of the reader as the work is manipulated. Any focalization here is achieved through a mixture of design specifics and address, which is consistent with Genette’s statement that “focalized can be applied only to the narrative itself” (1988 73).  Focalization in this case is the sum of the narrative structure in how it focuses reader attention and direction.
The focalizer has agency in narrative, not exclusively as an embodied agent but as a set of structures operating on the same temporal and spatial plane as the addressee (See Bal 2006 14). These structures shift during the course of the narrative, and the addressee follows this during the course of the interaction with the text. Agency in focalization can be developed further according to whether the narrator is omniscient or restricted in her knowledge. Bal, referring to Genette, highlights this difference:

Genette distinguishes the narrative whose narrator is traditionally called omniscient (the narrator who knows, if not ‘everything,’ at least more than the character knows) from whose narrator knows only what a given character knows. This character, ‘from whom’ the narrative is recounted, is the ‘focalized character’ (Bal 2006 9-10).

Genette’s internal or character focalization as a means of determining literally ‘who sees’ is a common technique in the digital works. In Egypt,the focalized character is the first-person narrator Jeanette, who leads the reader through the narrative revealing events at the same pace in which she herself experiences them. In Dreamphage and Façade, the focalized character is the avatar character of the reader, an interactive presence in the representational space of the works. In Last Meal Requested, the focalized character shifts between a first-person avatar spatial perspective generated by visual and auditory positioning, and the second and third-person narrators in each section of the work who relate the events to the reader. In these situations, the focalizing character and focalization in general can be understood as “the relation of knowledge between the narrative instance and the character” (Kuhn 263). The reader is channeled by focalization, establishing perspective and guiding navigation through the digital work both as a material instantiation and in the interpretation of narrative.
Narrative focalization emerges as part of address; however, it is not a constant in the digital works. As Nelles correctly points out, “focalization is always variable over the course of a narrative” (Nelles 372). Nelles is just one of several scholars to further re-evaluate Genette’s narratological concept of focalization (1972, 1983, 1988), particularly in relation to its visual slant. Nelles redefines focalization beyond the visual components of narrative originally associated with it to include all the senses of the reader (366). In this way, Nelles (1990) along with Bal (1997, 2006) and Kuhn (2009), refine Genette’s concepts to include mixed media narratives, in an approach that can be called post-Genettian. The focal point in the narrative structure results in the reader sharing the visual, spatial and temporal perspective of a character. This perspective can be shared via reported speech, or first-person audio or in an architecturally derived point of view such as in Façade. The effect of this arrangement for the reader, as Bal points out, is that narrative is based on perspective. A level of control is thus asserted over reading via the limiting nature of focalization, which is multimedia and that this dissertation argues is effective in limiting and guiding the possibilities for reading.

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