Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Something Nasty

From: Juri Nummelin (
Date: 11 Sep 2000

On Fri, 8 Sep 2000, Mark Sullivan wrote:

> What bothers me is its gratuitous use to appear hip or street. Anthony
> pointed out a very important distinction between narrative voice and
> dialog. Nasty words could be well put in characters' mouth to express
> anything from friendship to anger depending upon context. They may even
> be very effectively used in portraying a character as a phony, someone
> not nearly as hip as they would have you think, just as the misuse of a
> high-falutin' word may expose a social climber. It's fine, just part of
> the story, if I think a character is a phony. It's another thing
> entirely if I believe the narrator is.

The literarary critics use the word "focalization" in order to talk about the values that are being described through the point-of-view characters. (It doesn't have to be point-of-view character to be focalized, just check Vladimir Nabokov, but it's the most normal case.) You can write: "He watched through the window and saw some filthy animals." Now, these animals were not necessarily filthy, but because of the focalization of this character they are filthy.

What I mean with this is that you don't have to use dialogue to show the values and opinions of the characters. Ellroy does just this. When he writes "nigger", he's trying to show in one word what are the values and opinions of his characters. Same goes with "fuck" and "fucking". An example from "American Tabloid" (badly remembered and rendered from the Finnish translation): "He had made up a fucking bomb shield." This is not dialogue, it's narration, but the word "fucking" implies the point-of-view of a speaker, who therefore is focalized. Never is there an implication that it's the point-of-view Ellroy.

Juri who should get back to work immediately

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