Postmodernism and the unreliable narrator

In my Human Behavior in the Social Environment class, we recently had a great discussion about what paradigm we agree with most:

  • positivism – using a rational approach, we can figure out the cause and effect of everything (if I promote my book on Twitter, I’ll increase sales)
  • post-positivism – using a rational approach, we can figure out correlations; there are too many variables to be definite about anything (I had increased sales after promoting my book on Twitter, but I also promoted it on a Saturday night when more people were home and online, and several people retweeted my posts who normally don’t, and…)
  • postmodern – everyone’s experience is unique and therefore no conclusions can be drawn (I had increased sales after promoting my book on Twitter, but you may not)

Most of us seemed to fall between post-positivism and postmodernism – we think it’s useful to have categories for people in order to identify them (posting about your book on Twitter vs not posting, maintaining a blog vs not having a webpage), but you need to take into account personal differences (having 100 real people following you on Twitter vs 10,000 bots, blogging consistently for 5 years vs not updating it, etc).

Just because I had a good (or bad) experience with Twitter doesn’t mean you will, but that doesn’t make what happened for me any less valid than what happened to you.

Or does it?

This is where the unreliable narrator comes in. What if that narrator’s experience is completely invalid? Just because he perceived something one way, doesn’t mean that’s how it really is.

I think of the male MC in my upcoming novel, The Lone Wolf (out December 2nd from Evolved Publishing). Andrew is every bit the unreliable narrator; he views the world through a very narrow lens, shaped by an abusive childhood. Everyone in his life needs protection, whether they want it or not. Everyone is either a saint on a pedestal, or a fallen hero; there’s no middle ground for him, no shades of gray – including how he sees himself.

As a writer, it’s my job to portray the story through Andrew’s eyes, while subtly letting the reader know his POV is flawed.

What’s your view on postmodernism? Is everyone’s POV just as valid as the next, or do we as readers and writers need to be aware that the way someone sees the world is wrong? Do you prefer reliable or unreliable narrators – and is there even really such a thing as a reliable narrator, when no one truly knows what’s going on in everyone else’s heads?

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