Unreliable narrators

November 21, 2021

Just about everything I’ve ever read by Jaan Kross has featured a narrator who’s recounting things second-hand, rather than from their own personal knowledge. A short story from the point of view of someone overhearing a conversation on a train; a novel from the point of view of someone who discovered a long-lost diary of a historical figure; that sort of thing.

After establishing that the narrator doesn’t actually know, the storytelling may shift to the story-within-the-story, but the framing is still there. The narrator might not be lying, probably isn’t lying, seems to be acting in good faith — but could very well be mistaken, could just be recounting baseless hearsay.

This comes to mind as I am trying to develop the habit, the ability, of introspection. (I am now, finally, trying far later than I should have.) This is a terribly, needlessly abstract and indirect way of fretting that, despite my best attempts, I might still deceive or mislead.

Whom might I deceive or mislead? Well, anybody, I suppose. But most importantly, myself.

I’m not the same person I was this morning. More importantly, I’m not the same person I was 30 days ago, or 33 days ago, or six months ago, or whenever.

When you’ve spent a lot of time in deep denial, you can look back, but you’re still looking from the outside in. You can do your best to remember, but can you really know what was going on in your mind when you were trying very hard at the time to block it all out? It really does feel secondhand.

And if it’s hard for you yourself (rather, me myself) to decipher, how much harder must it be for someone else?

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