THE WRITING SELF: IRONY AND AUTHORITY
We saw in the last chapter that dialogic fiction has much in common with irony. Not only do both involve the representation of discourses, but both also make evident the limitations of the discourses they represent. The diversity of discourses in a dialogic text emphasizes the limits of each monologic perspective but also shows how these limits are transcended through dialogic interaction. And while verbal irony--the rhetorical device in which the speaker seems to express a certain point of view while tacitly deriding it-- treats the discourse it represents as an object to which a derogatory attitude is adopted, epistemological irony acknowledges the intrinsically flawed nature of all language and its inadequacy to the speaking subject even as he attempts to articulate this insight. Here, too, transcendence of the limits of expression is a function of the dialogic reception of the ironic text.
That irony permeates all of Nathalie Sarraute's work has been noted in passing by several critics and explored in some detail by a few ( Racevskis 1977; Minogue 1987a). Generally, the focus has been on local instances of verbal irony and their possible motivations, rather than on ways in which the text might try to undermine the authority of its own discourse. Thus for Karlis Racevskis, Sarraute's irony is a vehicle of social criticism, specifically of the 'cultural establishment' ( 1977: 37) which includes both the represented readers and writers of her novels, and their real readers in so far as these reflect their fictional counterparts. Valerie Minogue, on the other hand, sees Sarraute's use of irony as inseparable from the project of articulating the prelinguistic tropism, for 'l'utilité de l'ironie c'est [. . . ] de suggérer sans définir' ( 1987a: 8).
The aspect of irony which concerns me in relation to Nathalie Sarraute's work is how, beyond simply illustrating the expressive inadequacy of conventional language (whether another's or the ironist's own), it simultaneously indicates that dialogue can overcome that inadequacy. Irony, whether verbal or epistemological, actively acknowledges the interlocutor's importance, for its critical