Credit: Photo Iris Paris
“That may be right from your point of view, Barber, but I see it differently!”
So, what IS this Point Of View then? For a writer, it is the voice of the character, what the character sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels and touches in his imagination. He creates the Point of View of the character but often it is part of his own, made up from his own experiences, or pure imagination. For the reader, it is how that Point of View opens up his own imagination. When I read a book I see skies, people, shapes, hear noises, smell a restaurant, taste the wine the character drinks, feel the knock-out or the kiss, or the touch of a compassionate hand, as if I had created the images myself.
Point of View and imagination are inseparably linked, for the writer as well as for the reader. Do they see it with the same images? That’s a mystery. We all know bad smell, awful taste, false sounds, horror sights, hard blows. The film maker interprets the story as he or she sees it, the director stages it how he or she imagines it.
It is one of the most remarkable features of the human being. Each of us lives with a view in our mind that is totally our own, though we can commonly see, hear or feel the same images transmitted onto our Cinerama-visional brain. Cameras, film screens, bill-boards are attempting to broaden their fields, but they seem incapable of matching the almost infinite size of the images our brain can produce at will.
When I get up, I see this Cinerama around me, and millions of other human beings do the same at the same time. Collectively we see the world around us wherever we are, as one of the some 7.000.000.000.000 people on earth. I am just a little spot on earth, seen from space. My goodness, I completely disappear in that sea of people! All those people! How do you feel walking in New York, London, Paris, Rome, Lagos, Johannesburg, New Delhi, Calcutta, Dhaka, Bangkok, Hongkong, Manilla, or Tokyo and Rio?
All those people! To use a cliché, we are like ants in a huge ants heap. It’s true. But the strange fact is that we don’t feel it that way (well, unless you have to live with 7 in a one bedroom apartment). We feel that the world we live in is our own that only we see the way we see it. It is our own from OUR vantage point, how it was shaped through birth, location, education, religion and social environment.
However, our point of view is by no means homogeneous. We think it is because that’s how we are. Then we discover that not all of us have the same point of view. Migration of peoples from one region to another has had a great impact on mixing up point of view. Religion and social background, inluding race, are major influencing factors. If a writer writes a book from his point of view, there will be those who can identify with it and those who cannot. We do not see things the same way, even though as human beings we have the same brain facility. In many ways we are very different, and when we move to totally different areas this poses serious assimilation problems: peoples of the same cultural background group together because of language, customs, religion and social values, and become enclaves of disengagement from the country they fled to, to survive, or were taken to as slaves or contracted as indentured labor.
Common laws may force us to adhere to a system of rules drawn up by a collective legislature over time, but does our current point of view, influenced by so many more recent events and group pronouncements, still identify with these rules and their origin? How do we interpret them? These questions are, for example, at the core of current divisions about the configuration of the Supreme Court of the USA. But they also arise in recent racial controversies where opposing views have become so apparent over the last decade. They play a role in juries, jury selection, and judgments; in school councils, student councils and rotary clubs; in labor issues and work places.
How does a writer deal with this? A writer writes for an audience. There are as many different audiences as there are genres (thriller, mystery, romance, etc.). But due to the influx of new societies, these audiences are constantly changing with new influences, new mores, new social values. I am still finding out where mine are. In my job it was pretty clear (almost) how different people are in the Middle East, East and West Africa, India and the Far East compared to Europe or the USA, and how to approach these differences. And this is even measured with a very broad brush. People who have never set foot in these places to understand them or don’t have a mix in their families that gives them a natural enhancement of their point of view will have a hard time to understand these differences. Lesson: broaden your point of view from an early age on and learn from those who did!