The Female Narrator

The Female Narrator

2004-06-29

Judy Malloy on the voice of female narrators.

The female narrator - in Carolyn Guyer’s Quibbling for instance, in M. D. Coverley’s “Fibonacci’s Daughter,” in Deena Larson’s “Ferris Wheels” - speaks for herself. She is not the subject of a male-made narrative, but rather is the shaper of the information that discloses the story. At the same time her presence in the story blurs the line between writer and subject.

There is no one female approach to narrator/narrative. I speak only for myself. And in my work, each narrator speaks for herself.

For instance in Dorothy Abrona McCrae the narrator is an 83-year-old Bay area figurative painter. In Dorothy’s distinctive voice, simultaneously archaic (in the classical sense) and iconoclastic, the work discloses a recollective meaning - augmented by a series of events that are revealed through letters, artwork, and conversations with curators and other artists.

Dorothy - the “I” of this story - is blunt, opinionated. She speaks the way artists often speak among themselves, explaining initially her reason for setting down the story in this way:

Rather be in my studio. But it is necessary to set the record straight. What those idiots write about me after so many years of insulting silence is incredible.

The story that she relates is filtered not only through her work but also through the ideas that inform it. When confronted with criticism (of things she wrote about other artists):

Parts of your narrative are excellent, particularly those in which you describe your works,’ Sid said. `But you know Dorothy, speaking as your dealer, the general public doesn’t know how artists talk among themselves. I fear that your comments about other artists may not be well received.’

She responds:

`Screw the general public and their sacred cows,’ I said. `If they want to know what artists are like they should read this instead of harboring stupid fantasies of artists discussing higher vision and filling in the empty spaces in their conversations with praise of each other’s work. Mostly you know, we talk about who is doing what with who.’

In contrast, Gwen, the narrator of “l0ve0ne,” “The Roar of the Destiny,” and “Streaming Media Trail” is a hyperpoet. Because she is a writer, who seeks to convey experience rather than what she herself is like, her own personality is submerged in the narrative.

In Streaming Media Trail, with a diffuse clarity of vision, she relates a series of events that initially appear to be random life memories but later accrue added meaning:

But Gunter did not hear me. He had found an old IBM 360 system computer manual, and was standing there reading it while I salvaged coffee cups on which scenes of some magical land were imprinted.

Or she integrates her daily life with past histories:

The higher up the mountain I walked, the colder it became. I stopped to take my hat and gloves out of my backpack and put them on.

Gunter’s Grandparents trapped in Marseille in 1940 when the Vichy government had orders to arrest the Jewish and anti-Nazi exiles:

`Wir konnen nicht hier bleiben.’

In a more reporterly fashion she documents conversations and key events:

After lunch, we went back inside the house. In the front room, everyone gathered around Sid. Gunter and I sat together on the floor.

On a table beside us was a copy of Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia, the book, not the video. I picked it up, remembering that when I had read it, the quality of the language had impressed me, and I had liked it better than the performance. I think because Gray’s physical presence reinforced the American male centric viewpoint that pervaded the monologue, whereas, in the book, the magical reality - the innovative fragmented construction of the text - were more apparent. Yet in retrospect, the artist’s deliberate highlighting of this male viewpoint - its pervasion in foreign policy, in shaping this country’s treatment of other nations, was an important aspect of the work.

Or, describing a performance that is central to the narrative:

Reading from a report by CNN investigator Linda Hunt, he described how in 1984, faced with charges of murdering slave workers in Nazi Germany, Saturn Moon Rocket Project Director Arthur Rudolph fled back to Germany.

As if he had been hit by invisible force, Archie’s leg crumpled under him, and he fell to the ground.

He got up slowly, in obvious pain. Images of exploding spaceships: the Challenger, the Columbia were projected on his body.

From the uneasy mix - of her poetic memories and her more prosaic observations of people and conversations - difficult truths emerge. The reader, like Gwen, seeks disclosure in the gaps between memory and reliable information.

In Gwen’s words:

…it was as if I had known all along what was really happening or as if I should have known all along what was happening. Sometimes there are things that you know intuitively but you have not overtly processed.

Link Resources

Carolyn Guyer. Quibbling (Eastgate Systems). http://www.eastgate.com/catalog/Quibbling.html

M. D. Coverley. Fibonacci’s Daughter. http://califia.hispeed.com/Fibonacci/choice.htm

Deena Larson. Ferris Wheels. http://www.deenalarsen.net/ferris/ferris.htm

Judy Malloy. Dorothy Abrona McCrae. http://www.judymalloy.net/dorothy/

______. l0ve0ne. http://www.eastgate.com/malloy/

______. The Roar of Destiny. http://www.well.com/user/jmalloy/roarofdestiny/control.html

______. Streaming Media Trail. http://www.well.com/user/jmalloy/gunterandgwen/