Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel

By Bronwen Thomas | Go to book overview

4
Dialogue in Action

As we saw in the previous chapter, dialogue can play a crucial role in immersing us in the social worlds of the characters in a novel. Dialogue also plays a vital role in advancing the plot, both in terms of informing us about the actions of characters and providing what “action” there may be in the guise of important revelations, disputes, and discussions. As with character, in the Modernist and Postmodern novel there is often a shift away from both the depiction of large-scale events and from the attempt to force events to fit into some kind of logical order or design. This can mean that conversations between characters come instead to take center stage, possibly as meaningful “events” in themselves, but equally as diversions from anything too momentous or even purposeful. As we will see, the dialogue novel can be especially provocative in this regard, as is the case in Henry Green’s Nothing ([1950] 1979b), where the title itself sets up the challenge for the reader to search for something of substance in the characters’ seemingly vapid and repetitive interactions.

This chapter will explore the complex relationship between speech and action in narrative fiction, drawing on narrative theory, linguistic models of speech acts and their contexts, and approaches influenced by cognitive science. Specific attention will be paid to the ways in which “action” is conceived in the dialogue novel, and the chapter will also critique static conceptions of context, which focus exclusively on the performance of actions and their immediate effects. The chapter will conclude with an analysis of Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker (2004) which specifically addresses issues of intentionality and the implications of talk.


Speech, Action, and Plot

Although it might be thought that foregrounding talk, especially informal conversation, must inevitably result in the action of a novel being halted or pushed to the background, this very much depends on how we define

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Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Theory 13
  • 1 - Debates about Realism 15
  • 2 - The “Idea of Dialogue” 36
  • Part II - Narrative Cornerstones 55
  • 3 - Speech, Character, and Intention 57
  • 4 - Dialogue in Action 74
  • 5 - Framing 95
  • Part III - Genre and Medium 111
  • 6 - Dialogue and Genre 113
  • 7 - The Alibi of Interaction Dialogue and New Technologies 129
  • 8 - Stuck in a Loop? Dialogue in Hypertext Fiction 152
  • Conclusion 170
  • Appendix - Last Orders- An Analysis of a Chapter from Graham Swift’s Novel 175
  • Notes 183
  • Bibliography 187
  • Index 201
  • In the Frontiers of Narrative Series 213
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