Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The naïve persona

Recently, Irmelo Aro posted a link to the Logicomix site on her Facebook page which was accompanied by an extract from the site

The role of narrator is given to the most eloquent and spirited of the story’s protagonists, the great logician, philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell. It is through his eyes that the plights of such great thinkers as Frege, Hilbert, Poincaré, Wittgenstein and Gödel come to life, and through his own passionate involvement in the quest that the various narrative strands come together.
This set me thinking about the role of the narrator in a narrative and the skill that it takes to create such a persona. In particular, I thought of two very different books in which the narrator is anything but a great logician, etc. I had never thought about what it was that these two books had in common. But over the past few days it has dawned on me that the authors have used a similar device, albeit very differently applied, to similar effect. In both cases, the reader has the advantage over the narrator.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee creates Scout Finch, a tomboyish girl being raised -together with her older, more insightful brother - by her widowed father. Scout has little insight into the events playing out in her life, but she records them just the same, knowing that they are important but not sure why. We, the reader understand the nuances she has missed, and see a world of prejudice and injustice of which she remains blithely unaware.

In Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, the autistic teenager Christopher shares with us the contents of his photographic mind without any insight into what it is that those photographs show. Faithfully, he reproduces the minutiae of his observations, allowing us to piece together a story that is deeper and more poignant, with a greater impact on Christopher's life than he realises.

I wonder if there is a way to translate this device to the design of a learning resource - placing the user in the position of advantage, where they are able to make connections and draw conclusions which we have only obliquely revealed.



Phil Greaney said...

Ernest Hemingway made use of a narrative perspective sometimes called an 'absent narrator'. This narrator rarely, if at all, crept inside the mind of the characters, nor coloured the narrative with its own perceptions. The ideal was a transparency that offered no easy answers.

My argument is (expressed in my PhD, the introduction of which you can find here http://literaryminimalism.wetpaint.com/page/An+introduction+to+literary+minimalism ) that as a result of this unwillingness to provide an interpretative and moral centre, the reader has to provide one themselves. (There's a lot more to it than I have quickly captured here.)

So - can this be applied to learning? And how? Perhaps we do so already when we invite learners to 'do it for themselves'. Did you have in mind a narrative in learning materials, etc that approximates that you describe - and absent educator?

The upsycho said...

@Phil Thanks for your comments, and the link to your intro. Oddly enough, my dissertation also uses Wetpaint!

I didn't really have anything specific in mind, I was postulating that it might be worth exploring. I worry that elearning resources join the dots too much. Quite often, they seem to major on behaviourism and tell, tell, tell.

I think your idea of the absent narrator would allow for this approach, although I confess that I am not an expert on the subject. However, if you ever get a chance to read the two books I referred to in my post, you will see that the two personae relate instances of which they have no understanding. The reader must therefore use what has been presented to draw his own conclusions.

I wondered if it would be possible to recreate this in an online learning situation.

Perhaps, for example, one could create a scenario in which the perspective of a naive persona is given. With the facts as that persona would see them, without demonstrating any prior knowledge of where these facts will take them, thus allowing the user to move ahead of the persona.

This might be useful in development programmes for people whose job it is to know more about a situation than is related, and to draw conclusions based on the data given by a non-expert. For example doctors and vets, stockbrokers, investment brokers, etc.

Would it be accurate to say that this would add an anthropological element to learning resources?