This week, as we wrap up our reading of Three Horses, a little background on the concept of the implied author.
(Whiny voice: Are you kidding me?)
Wayne Booth was the first to coin this term in The Rhetoric of Fiction, where he defines it as a second self that a writer creates in the construction of a text. He quotes Jessamyn West: “Writing is a way of playing parts, of trying on masks, of assuming roles, not for fun but out of desperate need, not for the self’s sake but for the writing’s sake.” Booth goes on: “However impersonal he (the author) may try to be, his reader will inevitably construct a picture of the official scribe who writes in this manner—and of course that official scribe will never be neutral toward all values. Our reactions to his various commitments, secret or overt, will help determine our response to the work.” James Phelan says: “In Booth’s view, an author will necessarily construct a version of himself or herself…as someone with certain attitudes, beliefs, and values, and these matters necessarily inform the narrative text. Implied authors cannot choose whether to be neutral or positive, they can choose only the ways in which they will express their partisanship.”
Booth—cited by Phelan—"makes three main points: The implied author is the source for the assumptions, beliefs, norms, meanings, and purposes of the text. Every feature of that text can be understood as a stroke in the service of the implied author’s portrait. The reader’s task is to reconstruct both the implied author and his or her assumptions, beliefs, norms, meanings, and purposes.”
I have previously thought of the implied author as a book’s style, but the above definitions expand this to produce a richer palette that includes ethics.
I believe there is a question from the audience. Yes.
(whiny voice: Mr. Pretentious Bully, ‘scuse me. Are you the first person narrator of this blog?)
I suppose so. Yes. Don’t call me that.
(Then aren’t you unreliable the way you’ve been saying? The answer has to be yes, so why should we pay any attention to what you’re saying? It’s all made up, anyway. Mr. Big Shot)
Beloved whiny voice, yes, first-person narrators of fiction are often unreliable, but this blog is not fiction, and in any case, much of what first-person narrators say is reliable.
(Cold, objective voice: Are you an implied author?)
There is an implied author of this blog, let’s call it Mr. Bray, but I am the narrator. Could we move on?
(Whiny voice: It is all fiction. You make it all up.)
‘Kay, let’s search for traces of the implied author in Three Horses, its values, assumptions, beliefs, norms, and style.
A distinct style is evident. An unnamed narrator tells the story in first person voice and relentlessly present tense—even when writing about the past. “At twenty, I have no knowledge of embraces and I decide to wait.”
The language is poetic and at times, elliptical, although some of this may be due to Michael Moore’s fine translation to English. Not all of it, though. “Beneath the weathered cardboard of my face, I feel the face I used to have…I tell her that what she has to do is bring to the boy from the old days the embrace she conceals inside…What I tell her, in other words, is: I’m not me.
“If you’re not you,” she says. “you never were you.”
We learn from Michael Moore that De Luca is very interested in translating the Hebrew Old Testament to Italian. Alas, I’m no expert on the language of the Old Testament, but my guess is that its style influences Three Horses.
Many paragraphs begin with the subject pronoun, “I,” which serves to heighten the sense of first-person narration, as in, “I am doing something.”
There is a smooth transition from an imperfect to perfect or specific mood. The story begins in imperfect. “I only read used books” This is not a specific scene, a particular point in time. It refers to an on-going activity. The passage continues: “I turn docile pages, slow morsels, then I tear my head away from the white of the paper and the tablecloth…passing behind the two black pupils of a woman…They’re staring straight at me.” This is a beautiful example of moving from a non-specific time into a specific scene, and Three Horses has many of these.
How does the implied author ask us to judge the narrator and the others? What values are expressed? Three Horses has to do very much with issues of right and wrong. The epigram at the beginning comes to mind: “Woe to those who do not practice their purity ferociously.” The narrator’s story is a lot about the woe he experiences because he failed Dvora in Argentina, and now has a chance at a ferocious redemption with Laila. But his chance is ironically “stolen” by Selim, who acts out of a need to reciprocate generosity. These three characters are potentially morally compromised people—the narrator and Selim are murderers, and Laila is an escort who must sell herself to earn money. However, the implied author indicates that all three are to be seen as righteous, that certain killings are justified, and that Laila is more a victim than anything else. The man Selim kills is shown as being relentlessly evil in a one-dimensional way. How different the story would be if he were shown as having a kind side—his killing, and the characters’ actions, would be very much morally compromised.
There is a value conveyed of reciprocating generosity, of the need to “square things up” with others in an ethical way. If I help you, I must allow you to help me in return.
And there is a strong value concerning the dignity of manual work and of workers, of growing things.
All of us involved in writing this blog are grateful to Signore De Luca for Three Horses. Next week, a new adventure. Till then.