Interiority vs. Self-Referentiality

For this entire quarter, I’ve been conceptualizing interiority as merely a character’s internal thoughts and feelings. A character’s ability to talk about themselves was an acknowledgment of their interiority and their interiority in action.
However, when the narrator and the General are in the car headed to the golf course (239-240), the narrator seems to be talking to himself so the general asks him if he heard anything and the narrator responds saying he must have been talking to himself. The narrator, then, goes into this musing on “the problem with talking to oneself.” (240) His use of oneself rather than myself indicates a distancing of himself from the very act which he was doing. It was almost as though he was referring back to himself as more of a concept than an actual person.
Obviously, this is nothing new. It seems to be the narrative style of the novel. However, this passage stuck out to me because it highlighted the degrees of referentiality that is happening in the novel where the narrator seems to be an observer of his own self. In his negotiating of his various identities that are in active opposition with each other, the narrative style of observing an interiority-being able to observe and call attention to one’s own interiority rather than interiority being the telos of an individual’s recognition of their thoughts and emotions- creates a more dynamic-almost slippery- character to comprehend because the stability seems to come from being able to stabilize the opposing identities but the narrator rarely seems to be able to reconcile them which makes the character known to the audience more from how he observes and describes himself rather than from how he first-hand experiences his emotions, thoughts, and actions. In this novel, we’re not really getting insight into a character’s interiority, but more how the character parses through his interiority. We’re getting a character’s self-referentiality. Not really his interiority.

1 Comment

  1. I agree that we’re getting a character’s self-referentiality for the most part and that it is worth thinking about the implications that the interiority the reader has access to is filtered (for the most part). However, I think the claim that we’re not really getting his interiority goes too far. There definitely is some filtering going on, where the narrator in the story/past is being described/interpreted by the narrator telling the story/ confessing. But, there are moments in the text where the narrator is more in the present time, and present moment feelings and ideas (interiority) come through (especially in the beginning, such as the declaration “I am also a man of two minds” (1). The act of parsing through interiority seems to me be the act of an interior accessible to the reader.

    Going back to the implications of filtered representation, this reminds me of the narrator’s thoughts during the making of The Hamlet. He is disturbed that the Vietnamese cannot represent themselves (“They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented” (179) and that white America/ Hollywood owns the means of representation). The “problem of representation” (194) brings up the loss of power and agency when someone is represented by others, because the represented self has been commandeered by the representer. The narrator then makes the connection: “I cannot help but wonder, writing this confession, whether I own my own representation or whether you, my confessor, do” (194). Here we can see the split you identified in your post: the “I” and the confessor. The narrator doesn’t see himself as the confessor, the confessor is a “version”(?) of him forced out of him by political necessity. Filtered representation, even when directed at oneself, can be a problem when one self has been forcibly coerced by an external other.

    ^ Note: Looked up confessor and the meaning can be ambiguous, it can be both the person who makes the confession (as read above) or a priest who hears confessions (connection to Sara’s post on confession narrative)

    Who represents? Who is represented by who? Who decides who represents? are some good questions to consider, along with power structures that exist within them.

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