I was thinking about this towards the end of class and came up with a coherent thought as soon as the clock struck 9:49 (as I often do). Given the complicated personal relationships and dramatic family trees, it’s difficult to make sense of what is truly happening in the novel. Each chapter explores different relationships and it feels, to me, that we are learning so much about the characters and the drama and gossip that surrounds their lives. We are getting so many different perspectives and because of the ubiquitous gossip it’s hard to tell what is fact or not. The outside dialogue, the speech from President McKinley, the sign “NO YAYAS SWIMMING IN THE POOL” provide some grounding and tie the reader to reality when Hagedorn makes reality and truth so hard to understand. Of course, these passages come with their own “truths” and therefore their own lies but they are more objective than the gossip from the characters. They are a step outside of the gossip and maybe more importantly, they provide a frame for the personal stories that the bulk of the novel is. McKinley’s speech does not reference a character, but it provides context for the characters in a more objective sense. Again, clearly still not objective and cannot be trusted entirely because of McKinley’s white man burden rant and “his sleeping soundly.” But maybe that’s the point? That reality and truth are always subjective? That everyone’s perspectives will always be challenged? What is Truth? Did anyone read it this way, too?

purpose of outside dialogue (?)

2 thoughts on “purpose of outside dialogue (?)

  • October 30, 2019 at 9:23 am
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    I think you’re right, and this is how I read it, too. What interests me about it, though, is that EVERY work of fiction asks the reader to accept certain “truths” or realities of the characters’ situation, like you describe. So that isn’t unique to this book. The unique part is the author’s choice to include these “factual” outside voices–the McKinley speech, the book about the Philippines, the news articles (which are themselves fiction)– as the framing mechanism to tie the characters’ stories together. These sources aren’t any more True than the stories of the characters, of course–except for the fact that some of them exist outside of Hagedorn’s novel. But the book asks us to trust them simply because we, as readers, are conscious of their intentional inclusion in the novel.

    So…I think the “outside voices” are there to make us wonder WHY they are there. So in some ways, the book is about story–whose stories do we trust and what makes them True? Does a story have to be True in order to be believable?

  • October 30, 2019 at 12:04 pm
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    I hadn’t thought of it quite this way, but this is certainly how I’ll be unable to avoid thinking about it from now on; I like this take on it so much. Voices that exist outside of character and serve at first to ground the reader in the truth , but then ultimately to back up the lack of truth within any voice. No such thing as objectivity. And I also love what you said about “their own truths” automatically coming with “their own lies”.

    I think that very much ties into what we discussed on Monday about *dreamy sigh* heteroglossia. (disclaimer: I am only familiar with this term through secondary descriptions.) But like…. rather than there being any kind of voice, narrative or historical or otherwise, that can give us a ‘truth’, the closest we come to ‘the truth’ is hearing every possible voice intersecting with the other voices and ideologies of its time.

    Is ‘truth’ all I talk about in this class now? wow.

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