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

By Bronwen Thomas | Go to book overview

Conclusion

One of my prime motivations for writing this book was to provoke a discussion of fictional dialogue that goes beyond describing the extent to which it is or is not realistic or that simply views the dialogue as a transparent portal into the minds of the characters and the worlds they inhabit. I hope I have demonstrated that there is much more to be said about fictional dialogue, more than I have been able to do justice to in this study.

As I have shown, rather than just provide descriptions of speech styles, we can begin to analyze the interactions that take place between fictional characters in terms of power dynamics and in terms of situating these exchanges within specific social and historical contexts. We have the tools we need to provide this kind of analysis, thanks to the efforts of linguists and ethnographers of communication, and thanks, too, to the work of stylisticians in demonstrating the applicability of these models to fictional speech situations. However, it is important to go further than merely acknowledging that power is displayed in scenes of conversational interaction or analyzing that display in unidirectional terms, as tends to be the case, for example, with speech act theory. Instead, we need to accept that power, in Foucault’s (1978) terms, is not necessarily “held” by any one participant but exists only as it is exercised and put into action, so that the distribution of power is constantly shifting, sometimes within as well as between utterances.

At the same time, this study has shown how theories of dialogue based on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin allow us to understand how heteroglossia and polyphony help define the modern novel, and how the very concept of dialogue carries with it certain ethical and political norms and ideas that require careful scrutiny. In particular, I have been concerned to challenge the notion of dialogue as an ideal or normative idea that circumscribes certain patterns and standards for conversational behavior and which perpetuates the myth that such behavior is always equitable and sensitive to the needs of the other.

-170-

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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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