“When modern writers wish to set their tales outside of time, they often employ this technique. The characters in Franz Kafka’s subversive fables “In the Penal Colony” and “A Hunger Artist” are named for their roles or vocations; Philippe Claudel’s more recent “The Investigation” (2012) centers, naturally, on the Investigator. Realist novels occasionally do this to evoke a sense of folklore, giving us the Whiskey Priest of Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” and the Consul of Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano.” Sometimes, the unnamed figure is a pure narrator, so to speak: a character with no part in the book except as an intermediary between tale and reader. We don’t have anything to call the person who tells us Marlow’s story in “Heart of Darkness,” because we have no reason to refer to him. He is simply the Storyteller.
…Behind this effacement, there seems to lurk a deepening distrust in writing itself, a crisis of faith in the ability of words to either capture the essence of a life or else speak truthfully to its essenceless condition. Consider the Bible, one of the earliest textual cases to deal with the conundrum of naming. In much of it, God is identified by what theologians call the tetragrammaton, four letters that cannot be spoken—because the word lacks vowels, no one really knows how it should be pronounced—and must be substituted with generic placeholders. If God had a commonplace proper name, He would merely be distinguished from other deities. Being the one true God, His name is sacred and unutterable.”
Read the rest at The New Yorker.
[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]