Dreadful Games: The Play of Desire in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Dreadful Games: The Play of Desire in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Dreadful Games: The Play of Desire in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Dreadful Games: The Play of Desire in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Excerpt

■The novel has always been an almost enigmatic literary form, its rules debated and its characteristics enumerated, often without consensus or resolution. Writing in the 1920s, Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin defined the novel as a "diversity of languages and a diversity of individual voices, artistically arranged." The "language" of a novel, he claims, "is the system of its 'languages.'" Each novelistic character speaks in a distinctive voice, which addresses itself to the voices of other characters. The fictional narrator speaks as well, often in different voices: sometimes using the language of everyday written or oral discourse, sometimes the language of literary narration, sometimes even the language of "extra-literary" discourse -- the languages of philosophy or science or history, for example. Each of these languages uses its own unique and characteristic vocabulary, each of which reflects a different mode of perceiving and speaking about experience. When one "voice" addresses itself to another voice in the text, these vocabularies reverberate across the text. Thus, as Bakhtin says, "the dialogic orientation of a word among other words...creates the potential for a distinctive art of prose." Unlike other literary forms, where readers expect to find a distinctive and consistent vocabulary -- what is meant, for instance, by "poetic diction" -- in the novel, competing vocabularies clamor to be heard.

Fiction differs from other literary genres, from poetry and drama, precisely because it possesses this "dialogic" dimension. And the . . .

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