Talk Fiction: Literature and the Talk Explosion

Talk Fiction: Literature and the Talk Explosion

Talk Fiction: Literature and the Talk Explosion

Talk Fiction: Literature and the Talk Explosion

Synopsis

Everywhere you turn today, someone (or something) is talking to you-the television, the radio, cell phones, your computer. If you think some of the novels and stories you read are talking to you too, you're not alone, and you're not mistaken. In this innovative, multidisciplinary work, Irene Kacandes reads contemporary fiction as a form of conversation and as part of the larger conversation that is modern culture. Within a framework of talk as interaction, Kacandes considers texts that can be classified as "statements," that is, texts that wholly or in part ask for their readers to react- to talk back-to them in certain ways. The works she addresses-from writers as varied as Harriet O. Wilson, Margaret Atwood, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Graham Swift, Günter Grass, John Barth, Julio Cortázar, and Italo Calvino-conduct their interactions in certain modes to accomplish different sorts of cultural work: storytelling, testimony, apostrophe, and interactivity. By focusing on texts within these groupings, Kacandes is able to relate the different modes of talk fiction to extraliterary cultural developments in our oral age-and to show how such interactions, however contrary to the dominant twentieth-century view of literature as art for art's sake, help to keep literature alive and speaking to us.

Excerpt

Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation. — LAURENCE STERNE, Tristram Shandy

As a graduate teaching assistant in a course called "Comedy and the Novel, ” I had an encounter with a student that has intrigued me to this day. Indeed, in many respects the kernel of this book lies in that interaction (and for this reason I am particularly sorry I have long forgotten the name of the student). The professor had assigned Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, and just before we began our small-group discussion on the novel, a male undergraduate rushed in and blurted out: "This book was so cool. It was talking to me. I never read a novel before that was about me.” I wasn't amused. I was puzzled and annoyed by his reaction. I had read the novel for the first time to prepare for this class and had been thoroughly irritated by it, so the student's enthusiasm alone irked me. My initial hunch about the differences between this student's affect and my own was based on gender: the inscribed reader in Calvino's novel is male, and this student was able to identify with him because he too was a "he”; in contrast, I was put off by yet another instance of the "male” masquerading as the "universal.” That the student hadn't overtly noticed the inscription of gender in the text didn't particularly surprise me; after all, it is less immediately apparent in the English translation the class had read than in the Italian original (a topic I take up in chapter 4). But I continued to be perplexed — and initially discouraged — by how a Harvard undergraduate who'd been through an entire semester of a novels course could think that the text actually "was talking” to him or could actually "be about” him. Hadn't I spent a significant proportion of our discussion time in the previous months introducing narratological terms, distinguishing, for example, between the narratee, the inscribed reader, and the flesh-and-blood reader? Ironically, I appeared to have failed as a teacher where this student succeeded, for his conviction that the novel was talking to him eventually taught me to revise how I read — at least how to read certain novels like Calvino's. More precisely, I realized that this novel aims for readers to have both the . . .

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