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

By Bronwen Thomas | Go to book overview

7
The Alibi of Interaction
Dialogue and New Technologies

The Emergence and Impact of New
Communication Technologies

Writing in 1930, Evelyn Waugh remarked upon the “infinitely expanding means of communication” available to his contemporaries, but he expressed concern that this might also entail “an infinitely receding substance of the communicable” (40). A sense of anxiety and bewilderment in the face of the emergence of new communication technologies and mass media forms is evident in much of the writing of this period, leading to what Brantlinger (1983, 34–35) calls “negative classicism.” But it is far too simplistic to suggest that this was the only reaction, and Waugh’s own writing provides ample evidence to suggest that writers were fascinated with and excited by the possibilities that these new forms opened up, both in terms of their narrative potential and their impact on “the communicable.”

This chapter will explore how novelists in the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries have reacted to the emergence of new technologies such as the telephone, radio, television, and computers, all of which mediate spoken interaction. I will analyze the innovative ways in which novelists remediate (Bolter and Grusin 2000) these new forms, and also consider the extent to which the “logic of remediation” is emancipatory or reactionary. I will also argue that novels representing these new technologies offer valuable insights into their cultural impact. Although I will briefly discuss mass communication forms such as telegraph and film, I will concentrate primarily on technologies that have come to be absorbed into the domestic routines of the home. The main emphasis will also be on technologies associated with “secondary orality” (Ong 1982) rather than literacy, where speech is transmitted or reproduced, or where characters talk to, or talk around, various technological objects. However, I will argue that maintaining a dichotomy between orality and literacy becomes much

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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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