Contraints in Literary Structure of Only Revolutions

Constraint #1: Both stories are told from an extremely strict first-person view. Neither character ever knows (and barely ever even assumes) what the others are thinking, and it is made clear that often wonder about each other, rather than making assumptions. The first-person perspectives are so strong that even their narratives differ from one another in gross ways (e.g. Sam sees the boys off in the distance; Hailey sees the girls).

Constraint #2: The whole text, including the historical columns, are all told in the present tense. The irony is that while “history,” by definition, has already occurred and therefore is in the past, it is still referenced in the present tense with words like “goes.” As for the stories, the present-tense tone, along with infrequent and subtle dialogue, gives their narratives a very stream-of-consciousness feed. Instead of retelling the audience a story that already happened, it’s like you’re experiencing it just as they did.

Constraint #3: In the phrases within the historical columns, the predicates are always a single word. Not every one of the phrases even has a verb, but for those that do, the verb is always the last word of the whole phrase. Some examples: “Krakatoa skies” “Greenbacks back” “James Doolittle quits” “Jehol’s Ch’eng-te falls.”

–Scott Marnik

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~ by n00neimp0rtant on February 21, 2011.

5 Responses to “Contraints in Literary Structure of Only Revolutions”

  1. Scott’s points were, as far I could tell, not mentioned in any previous blogpost. One thing I found interesting is that his constraints focused heavily on sentence structure, tense usage, and conventions of language and novels in general as opposed to patterns unique to this particular book. I do think that everything is provided is by definition a constraint despite its common occurrence in other literature. By writing in the first person present tense, the author has already restricted their range of what can be expressed. Perhaps it is not an element of “constrained writing” since it is not a quirky method of arrangement, but it is indeed a self imposed condition. It does, in fact, “forbid certain things” such as switching to third person from within the story (which the author could have done, but chose not to. Thus, a system is imposed).

    Perhaps Scott could elaborate more on the significance of his constraints – if the significance is apparent, of course. This is something I, as well, didn’t discuss adequately. His constraint #2 was definitely an interesting observation. But what about #1? It’s a first person narrative told from two points of view – what is the impact of this as opposed to a third person narrative detailing both characters? His writing style was very straightforward and unassuming, so his constraints were definitely stated in an interesting manner. His comments on “experiencing the past as [Hailey and Sam] did” by the use of referential present tense were very insightful and expressed clearly.

    Overall, very intriguing constraints. !!!

    • I forgot to sign my name! The above comment was made by Victoria Lang. So is this one, actually!

    • Victoria successfully pointed out a few places at which Scott could have expanded his discussion of the constraints. She believes Scott was guilty of pointing out but not explaining, and posed questions that might pull those thoughts out. Again, this is effective.

      My only qualm with this post is that Victoria was not particularly harsh on distinguishing between a feature of the novel and a constraint of the novel. In fact she says that “Constraint #2 was definitely an interesting observation.” but then does not go on to discuss the differences between these two, or if they are one in the same, which I doubt they are.

  2. Victoria was very eloquent and dead-on in her critique, in my opinion. I agree that while using first person present tense is a style often employed in other works of literature, it’s still a constraint on his writing intended to give a certain effect (be it unique/novel or not).

    I also think it was right for her to note that he could have critiqued the use of the first person more, as its use in a mirrored narrative such as this gives the reader a much more subjective view through Hailey’s and Sam’s eyes and can make them question the narrators’ authority.

    I would have also probed the use of such fragmented sentences that he mentions in constraint #3. What effect do they have? Do they read almost like a Twitter stream? Do they disconnect us from the events if we aren’t familiar with them, or create pictures in our head if we are?

    Overall, excellent critique.

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