The discussion in the previous post has been quite interesting. Let me try to recap the major points, as I see them and hopefully we can keep the conversation going.
As I understand, Ben was making three basic arguments:
1) That the terms “narrative”, “narrator”, and, in particular, the phrase “unreliable narrator” are all terms that have originate in, and only have clear definitions within, literary criticism. That any application of those sorts of terms to music is always going to imprecise, and somewhat poorly fitting.
He also points out, specifically, that the use of the phrase “unreliable narrator” that I quoted is not accurate, even allowing for imprecision.
2) If we want to use those terms in talking about music then it’s worth figuring out what we think they should mean.
The distinction that Ben found most helpful as a way to think about possible analogies to music was that of storytelling vs. theater. A storyteller is, practically by definition, a narrator. They directly address the audience and present a story. The storyteller can, and probably will, adopt a persona for the telling of the story. Based on the note in literary criticism that the narrator of a written work exists within the fictional world of the work, Ben would take the adopted persona as the “narrator” of a story, not the real world storyteller.
In theater, the actors are not narrators. they do not address the audience directly, and they do not present the fictional world. They play a character within the fictional world and, in character, they have no awareness of the audience or of the story being told. The character is just representing themselves within their own world.
3) From this Ben takes the important point that it’s possible for an audience to watch a story, without the telling of the story involving a narrator, with theater as an example.
The question he then asks is whether, as an audience, you feel like listening to music is more like watching a play or a storyteller.
RS asks the related question of whether the performer feels more like an actor or a storyteller.
In both cases, the answer will obviously vary based on the given performance. One can easily think of examples that clearly fall closer to one end of the spectrum or the other.
But the question then becomes which end of the spectrum feels more descriptive of pop music in general. Do we believe that pop music is paradigmaticly closer to theater or storytelling?
I’m still considering this, but hopefully that is a reasonable summary of the question.