One history of narrative voice might tell on the obscene third person.

What does this third person give into the scenes they relay?

What makes that gift obscene? When it’s never given – as though the third person were always merely parasitic?

A character’s voice, driven forward by its proximity to the scenes relayed, need not do nothing but sponge off others’ events. That is, its “psychological” consistency feels itself contouring encounters with its own logic of sensation.

To return to the notion that bearing proximity to an event grounds the claim to narrate it: with this, of course, the novel sets its narrative out as though from a courtroom. As though it were collecting, or transcribing, and bundling depositions. Yet depositions rubbed across the presumably unique grain of an individual sensorium’s efforts to discern figures.

Courtrooms make the obscene surplus of juridical force look like a standard procedure. Not to say its procedures don’t offer something. What they offer is, at least, the assumption of a ritual form allowing for contestation, appeal, and revision. Compare this with the accelerative sensations of lynch mobs – where the obscene surplus appears as such – and the court might seem attractive. Nonetheless, it reserves the administration of corporal force – the same force appropriated by the lynch mob’s “popular sovereignty” – and thus the administration of the right to make die.

If the novel is a courtroom, then its anonymous transcription may be said to cling parasitically to the chain of vocal relays or show, obscenely, the irreducibility of narrative to any figurable voice. This is the sense in which Paul de Man would identify voice as disfigurative. Some voice that can’t be called “the author” supports, or sets an armature out for, each voice in the sequence. And yet this voice never itself achieves figuration. Even if it did, the problem would recede indefinitely. Obscenity is the name for this disfigurative machine driving the figuration of voices as characters because it’s what happens constitutively off-scene. Law is a third person bursting in the room while you’re enjoying yourselves. (to borrow an img from Zizek)


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