Monday, September 19, 2005

A Novel Commentary

I have been thinking lately of the book as a form -- meaning as a singular form for conveying an idea -- in the way that painting or film is a form, a delivery vehicle. Specifically, I have been thinking about the techniques writers use to discourage, hide, or sometimes illuminate the machinations of the novel -- as opposed to the way they do this in film.

For example, most DVDs these days come with an audio commentary by the actors, directors or writers, and often, if the film is of a certain genre, or appeals to a certain audience, the art directors, animators and costume designers are also given a commentary track. The whole purpose of this is to allow a window into the way the film was created, to show what is fake and what is genuine, to expose the Wizard behind the curtain.

But our purpose in books -- at least as far as I can tell -- is to remove all trace of the handiwork. It should appear to the reader as if it was never cut in fourteen pieces and splayed out across the floor, was never filled with four question marks in a row (my way of saying fix this,) or sometimes even FIX THIS, all caps, when I'm not completely sure what the problem is, and it's just too frustrating to work on at that moment.

What interests me lately is the possibility of providing an audio commentary for novels. The writer giving a kind of play-by-play of the book's creation -- how images appeared or were drawn out, which characters asserted themselves first whenever he sat down to work, what lines of dialogue were stolen from strangers on street corners.

But here's the problem I can't figure out: Would that defeat the privacy that a novel allows? We appreciate knowing the camera tricks if the images are on a screen. But would we feel cheated, feel betrayed, if someone talked us through a book, because the camerawork, the art direction, the costume design is all in our own imagination?

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