What “I” See

How do you “see” in novels and in film?

As I had just noticed Mike mentioned he may have went a bit “off topic”, I also decided to go off of something very specific from the reading. In the section discussing oral narration or voice over MacFarlane writes “voice over, may serve important narrative functions in the film…but by virtual necessity it cannot be more than intermittent as distinct from the continuing nature of the novelistic first-person narration.” (Page 16) He adds, “one no longer has the sense of everything’s being filtered through the consciousness of the protagonist-speaker…one now sees everything the camera ‘sees’, not just what impresses itself on the hero-narrators imaginative responses…[and] one’s sense of the character to whom it is attributed is more likely to be the product of his involvement in action directly presented then of his occasional comment upon it”.

As I read though this and really thought about it, I’m not completely sure if I personally as a viewer/reader get this effect.

While I agree that in watching films with voice-overs that comment upon action only give a small glimpse at the thoughts of a character and cannot be the same as a novel filled with a first person narration, I found myself questioning the difference in effects that MacFarlane discusses. He states that in the film scenario, when the voice-over occurs one sees everything that the camera sees, the viewer is essentially all knowing. When watching a film (in most cases) we see the character head on and everything that comes with them, the story, any narration or voice overs, any conflict or triumph, is played out in front of you. I think the viewer already “sees” as the camera does and the voice-over has now just added a bit more to the equation- although I agree as he argues the characterization and the audiences take on it really still comes from the actions of the character played out and seen, rather than the small moments heard. What I found myself wondering was if this same effect was not actually present in reading a novel. While in first person narration a character might say, “I…”. I’m not personally sure that I “see” through the eyes of that character exclusively as I read, but rather see my interpretation of the text and the images that I create based off the reading, from an (more often) objective view rather than the view the character literally describes. For example, if a first person narrator describes their view of a room, and all of its detail, I think I would indeed “see” it how it is written. However, if that character is involved in a conversation or confrontation with another character, let’s say the author writes, “and then she smacked me against the face” I wouldn’t see a hand coming at my face, but one person smack another. I guess this comes back to the question of the cinema influencing the way in which we visualize the text if the novel. Would I see it this way if I have never seen a film before?

How do you “see” when reading novels/ watching films?

Aside – The question of voice overs and imagery also reminded me of Adaptation and I was thinking about the opening of the film with the black screen and Charlie’s voice over narration about his appearance. Perhaps Jonez/Kauffman wanted to comment on the fidelity issue- that people get so disheartened by the image on screen not matching their own interpretation. Perhaps Adaptation is showing how the written words can never match your expectations when brought to film- ever. Charlie describes himself and while you listen you create your own mental image of what he looks like. When his image appears, it technically matches the description but it can never be exactly what you pictured.

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2 Responses to What “I” See

  1. Darwin Eng says:

    I think you raise an interesting point about “seeing”. Another word that “Seeing” reminds me of is perspective. The example you gave of reading a first person narrative of being smacked in the face shows that there can still be a sense of of omniscience; not from the first person protagonist but the very act of the reader. I believe (and you might have alluded to this in your post) that this sense of omniscience/all knowing can be extended into film, regardless of if there is a voice-over or not. In both cases (with/without voiceover), the viewer can see the action happening–seeing a person get slapped, we don’t necessarily feel the slap ourselves, but we can see it. A voiceover can help contribute to the viewer understanding the slapped and/or the slapper. But what if the film was done filmed in the first person perspective (the character IS the camera?)

  2. When I think of voice-over, I think of the novel and film, The Lovely Bones. Both mediums open with a direct narration from the main character (so this comes across as voice-over in the film). I understand what you are saying – readers see what the narrator shows them through their own eyes. So for my example, Susie explains her death (reporting from a heaven-like place) and the readers see the tragedy of her death unfolding. However, we do not picture ourselves enduring the things that she describes. In the film, she is narrating the events of her death as the camera pans away (not allowing us to see anything). In this case, I still picture what she is describing.

    I think the question that you are posing might be difficult to answer because stories and films are usually not narrated in second person. I could see and appreciate your point IF you were referring to narrators speaking in the second person…. “You are watching this movie right now. You are questioning adaptations.”

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