Sunday, April 11, 2010

Skaz - from Twain to Leonard

Skaz is a rather appealing Russian word (suggesting "jazz" and "scat," as in "scat-singing") used to designate a type of first-person narration that has the characteristics of the spoken rather than the written word. In this kind of novel or story, the narrator is a character who refers to himself (or herself) as "I," and addresses the reader as "you." He or she uses vocabulary and syntax characteristic of colloquial speech, and appears to be relating the story spontaneously rather than delivering a carefully constructed and polished written account. We don't so much read it as listen to it, as to a talkative stranger encountered in a pub or railway carriage. Needless to say, this is an illusion, the product of much calculated effort and painstaking re-writing by the "real" author. ... For American novelists, skaz was an obvious way to free themselves from the inherited literary traditions of England and Europe. The crucial impetus was given by Mark Twain..."

-- David Lodge, The Art of Fiction (1992)
James Wood's notion of the "free indirect style, ” in which “we inhabit omniscience and partiality at once,” leaves open the possibility that writers who never use the first-person could also be skaz singers.


Tulkinghorn said...

Holden Caulfield ?

Generic said...

HC is, in fact, Lodge's lead-off example, in the chapter
Teen Skaz."