Narrator: Dead or Alive

15 Feb

“The main defect of this book is you, reader. You’re in a hurry to grow old and the book moves slowly. You love direct and continuous narration, a regular and fluid style, and this book and my style are like drunkards, they stagger left and right, they walk and stop, mumble, yell, cackle, shake their fists at the sky, stumble, and fall …” (111).

The structure and style of the narration in The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas struck me as following as similar path of several Russian novels. Dostoevsky, Gogol, Nabokov and so many others tease the reader by self-consciously playing with words/thoughts/ideas. While in Speak, Memory Nabokov starts his memoir before his existence with the image of a crib before his birth, this narrator starts with the end of his existence. The narrator is not dying, but already dead, which makes the reader question his intentions from the very beginning all the way to the final page. Throughout my reading, I’ve been trying to figure out what this element adds to the story. Is there a significant change in a narrator who is dead or alive?

There are two types of unreliable narration: the naïve and the manipulative. This narrator is more than the manipulative unreliable narrator because of the fact that he is dead; it’s almost as if death has given him a step back by not only relating past events but looking at it knowing that nothing can change or be added. But as he says that death has allowed him to express his memoirs without a filter, doesn’t he still have a filter? And isn’t Cubas exactly the same as before he died? As we mentioned last class, there is a “nonproductiveness of time” in the novel that Schwarz discusses. When we believe a thought it about to be explained, it is turned around; when we question an idea, the next chapter takes it back. So is there really value in having the narrator tell this story “not exactly (as) a writer who is dead but a dead man who is a writer” (7)? Or is this an element solely used to stress the volubility of the novel?

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