Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

watercolours of an earlier period. [28.] While the young of all nations hurtled off to the sun and the beaches, jamming the roads and the airports, the Hotel du Lac took a quiet pride, and sometimes it was very quiet indeed, in its isolation from the herd, knowing that it had a place in the memory of its old friends, knowing too that it would never refuse a reasonable request from a new client, provided that the new client had the sort of unwritten references required from an hotel of this distinction, and that the request had come from someone whose name was already on the Huber family's files, most of which went back to the beginning of the century. (13-16)


NOTES
1.
Bourdieu's sense of politeness in many ways matches what Brown and Levinson describe in their exhaustive and groundbreaking work on "politeness phenomena." Like Bourdieu, they insist on the social significance of styles of expression: "We believe that patterns of message construction, or 'ways of putting things,' or simply language usage, are part of the very stuff that social relationships are made of (or, as some would prefer, crucial parts of the expressions of social relations)" (60). But their theoretical assumption of mutuality ("In general, people cooperate [and assume each other's cooperation] in maintaining face in interaction, such cooperation being based on the mutual vulnerability of face" [66]), which is essential and productive in the context of their research, directs attention away from the reciprocal of deference--domination. Bourdieu's core insights are more sympathetic to my purposes. Nevertheless, Brown and Levinson's inventory of politeness offers many valuable supports to my analysis of the occurrence of the forms I have identified in Hotel du Lac.
2.
Although Brown and Levinson concentrate on speech acts that call on the addressee to act or react in some face-threatening situation--that is, one in which positive wants (desire for approval) or negative wants (desire to be unimpeded) are at stake--they acknowledge that the conventions which render these speech acts polite can appear where wants are not so obviously at stake: "The wants . . . are [not] the only motivation for using these linguistic means. Indeed, there are very general social motivations for using various techniques of positive politeness and negative politeness; they operate, respectively, as a kind of social accelerator and social brake for decreasing or increasing social distance in relationships, regardless of [Face Threatening Acts]" (98; emphasis in original), and "We should . . . stress that the wants . . . are not the only motivations a speaker may have for using the linguistic realizations characteristic of negative politeness. The outputs are all forms useful in general for social 'distancing' (just as positive-politeness realizations are forms for minimizing social distance); they are therefore likely to be used whenever a speaker wants to put a social brake on to the course of his interaction" (135). Each of these observations, however, has to do with contexts of exchange, where speech is directly addressed, as in conversation or letters.

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