Monday, 1 October 2007

The Poppet

Apparently, that's what those voodoo dolls are called: poppets.
Y'see, nobody cares about those poppets when the pins go in: instead, we focus on the 'real-life' person whom the poppet represents:
When that child Maharaja impales the Indiana Jones-shaped poppet, we worry about Indy and not the poppet.
Or do we?

Does the reader truly care about our protagonist, or does he care for himself - how he felt when he was scared, not how the protag feels when she is scared?
If I do terrible things to my protag, what have I really done? Have I not simply used the protag as a vessel to translate that emotion across to the reader? Have I not simply used the protag as a vehicle for triggering a particular memory or expectation based on experience within the reader?

How am I supposed to feel about this line from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God?:
'Dat school teacher had done hid her in de woods all night long, and he had done raped mah baby and run off just before day.'

Who do I empathize with, and how? Who should I extend my sympathies to?:
The poor mother of the rape victim?
The daughter (some minor character about whom I know next to nothing)?
The narrator who is recalling this conversation?
And then, how could I know what it would be like to be the mother, or even parent, of a rape victim? Or how could I know what that victim must feel like, or how the narrator might feel in relating these memories?

Then, my powers of empathy are everything?
The author imparts information and I apply that information to something I know from my own experience. I would imagine something horrible happening to someone I love - someone to whom I have a duty of care - and conjur that emotion and translate it across to the poppet - the receptacle of my emotions.
I imagine a response based on my own experiences of the world and of my perception of the responses of others, and I find the closest emotional match within myself.

So the author has invited me to experience a best-fit emotion. And when I can find close matches within myself, I feel a resonance. Indeed, Zadie Smith says of Their Eyes Were Watching God: 'There is no novel I love more.'
How does the author ensure that I experience this emotion deeply?
Or, what might prevent me from experiencing this emotion deeply (or at all)?
I would hardly empathize with a poppet: I would no more empathize with a poppet than I would with a sheet of paper.
But I would empathize with another person.
In the cocoon of a novel, I might allow myself to believe that the poppet is/was real (it's suspension of disbelief y'know) - provided that the author encourages this belief and/or does nothing to damage it.
Perhaps it is true to say that the more 'real' the character seems, the more likely I am to seek that resonance - that match. And the more I resonate with this character, the greater my emotional response.
Therein we might see the true power of familiarity: we cry not for the protagonist but for ourselves.

Thoughts ongoing.

No comments: