When Authors Wink Out Loud

March 23, 2009

posted and written by caroline picard


I’ve always despaired when an author breaks the third wall of narration. It is a point where the illusion of their practice shatters into an infinite many shards. By speaking up with a separate voice, a voice outside of the world the author is creating for you, my reader, she ruptures the illusion. As any actor winking at an audience. Just as surely dispelling the reality of the world on the page, so she does the world at large.

This is a step, I grant you. Why, for instance, would I suggest that anything an author does in a book influences the more substantial physical world at large, outside of the book? I don’t mean that the author changes the world directly, but I do think that an author taking such liberties destabilizes a reader’s relationship to the theoretical world of fiction. Further, that such the resulting instability would impact the way he or she relates to the world at large. Breaking the third wall creates a shared awareness of artifice. It breeds suspicion.

While I don’t think it’s always terrible, I am disappointed because such a strategy can so easily be reduced into a post-modern category of existential, again, ambivalence.

My brother has been writing a book for ten years. Every day he wakes up and takes notes on yellow legal pads, notes on what the book will be about. He says he cannot find the necessary voice to tell the story he’s planned for so long. The search for tha voice has become an essential morning ritual – as basic as his cup of coffee, the news paper. During that time, he sits in silence.

Over the years, the story has changed with the whittling of his mind. His handwriting has also changed slightly, though it’s only obvious when you look at the earliest pads and compare them with the latest. Now he has a collumn of some 100 legal pads, stacked haphazardly in a corner of his closet. I’ve a suspicion that his notes might be better than the book he’d otherwise write.

When I brought it up, however, he was horrified. 

“You damn post-modernists,” he said. As though he was 80 years old.


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