Academic journal article Style

Linguistic Incantation and Parody in Women in Love

Academic journal article Style

Linguistic Incantation and Parody in Women in Love

Article excerpt

She knew, as well as he knew, that words themselves do not convey meaning, that they are but a gesture we make, a dumb show like any other.

Lawrence, Women in Love

Words belong to nobody, and in themselves they evaluate nothing. But they can serve any speaker and be used for the most varied and directly contradictory evaluations.

Bakhtin, Speech Genres

The spoken word is a gesture, and its meaning, a world.

Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

Through the polyphonic use of language, D. H. Lawrence shapes dialogues, actions, and movements of consciousness that constitute character in Women in Love. Language is the medium in which being, with its conative and intuitive impulses, is most intimately disclosed. Through a self-testing, dialogic style, Lawrence attempts to overcome the inertia of the written word. Critics who look closely at the novel's discourse from a Bakhtinian or Heideggerian perspective find in it a complexity of cross-references, contextualization, and semantic shading. Rather than simply looking through the text at sensational or visual scenes, such critics open the intricacy of Lawrence's verbal operations to view. Lawrence himself speaks of a "trembling instability of the balance" in the novel ("Morality" 528), and Bakhtin's work affords a clearer sense of how Lawrence's experimental Prufungsroman or Entwicklungsroman(1) generates meaning from a multiplicity of interacting "voices" while subjecting knowing and being to constant testing.

Pioneering studies of Lawrence's language and discourse - Michael Ragussis's "The New Vocabulary of Women in Love: Speech and Art-Speech," Avrom Fleishman's "He Do the Polis in Different Voices: Lawrence's Later Style," David Lodge's "Lawrence, Dostoevsky, Bakhtin," Michael Bell's D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being, and Michael Squires's "D. H. Lawrence's Narrators, Sources of Knowledge, and the Problem of Coherence" - demonstrate that "an utterance can only be understood in context, a context that is partly non-verbal and involves the status of and relations between speaker, addressee, and the object of reference" (Lodge 58). Lawrence's novels also reveal a "comic, ironic or parodic" stylization that Bakhtin describes as double-voiced discourse, in which the narrator's discourse is "refracted" through the character's, "internally dialogiz[ing]" it (Dialogic 324).

In Women in Love, Lawrence foregrounds language in the characters' speech, exposing the distance between speech and action, word and world and giving the reader a sense of the autonomous momentum of language and ideas. "In every successful work," writes Merleau-Ponty, "the significance carried into the reader's mind exceeds language and thought as already constituted and is magically thrown into relief during the linguistic incantation" (401; my emphasis). Language achieves a kind of "presence" through repetition, incantation, and refraction, evoking for the reader more meaning than is actually conveyed in the text. While acknowledging that "fault is often found with the continual, slightly modified repetition" in his style (Foreword 486), Lawrence says that he uses such repetition to show how biorhythmic impulses are sublimated in thought or language. What I am interested in here, however, are subtler forms of repetition involving single words (go/do/use/will) or chanted phrases, often in a variety of languages, mimicry (skaz), caricatural echoes of a character's words or concepts in the speech of another, and the double- (or treble-) voiced discourse of parody, in which language is doubly refracted in the written text of one character and the mocking incantation of another. In various ways, Lawrence puts words to work to point beyond words, for example, by juggling with a few monosyllabic key words that are voiced, repeated, pondered, traded, and played on in dialogic contexts (such as those in the chapters "Diver," "Carpeting," and "Rabbit"). …

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