I was reading an essay called “Art and Answerability” by Mikhail Bakhtin the other day, where he makes the claim that one of the most important differences between novels and dreams is that in novels, we see the main character from the outside. And as so often happens when I’m ostensibly reading something for my real job, I immediately started thinking about how I could squeeze a blog post out of it.
With regard to literature and dreams, this statement of Bakhtin’s is one of those ideas that seems accurate, but can never be tested. I’ve never heard of anyone having a dream where another person was the main character, but that doesn’t mean it can never happen (and I did once dream a non-representational laser light show, which was pretty weird), and even if it never does happen, that doesn’t mean that this is an important differance. And Choose Your Own Adventure books aside, there’s not a whole lot of novels out there that situate the reader as the experiencing subsect of the book. Yes, rewriting The DaVinci Code in the second person might make it more dreamlike, but while writing in the second person might create a dreamlike effect, but it’s mostly just going to jump out at the reader as an affectation. It’s too unnatural to be taken seriously. So pointing out that a narrative needs to depict its characters from the outside is accurate, but it’s also nigh-tautological, kind of like pointing out that the story needs to be made up of sentences and words.
That, at any rate, was the state of affairs when Bakhtin was writing. Luckily, the times have now caught up with him, and we have a new form of narrative where both 2nd and 3rd person narration are common. I’m talking about video games, and will continue to do so after the jump.