Unreal Nature

December 31, 2017

Double -Voicedness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… We will recognize the naively self-confident or obtusely stubborn unity of a smooth, pure single-voiced language (perhaps accompanied by a primitive, artificial, worked-up double-voicedness).

This is from the essay ‘Discourse in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… All forms involving a narrator or a posited author signify to one degree or another by their presence the author’s freedom from a unitary and singular language, a freedom connected with the relativity of literary and language systems; such forms open up the possibility of never having to define oneself in language, the possibility of translating one’s own intentions from one linguistic system to another, of fusing “the language of truth” with “the language of the everyday,” of saying “I am me” in someone else’s language, and in my own language, “I am other.”

… In such discourse there are two voices, two meanings and two expressions. And all the while these two voices are dialogically interrelated, they — as it were — know about each other (just as two exchangers in a dialogue know of each other and are structured in this mutual knowledge of each other); it is as if they actually hold a conversation with each other. Double-voiced discourse is always internally dialogized.

[line break added] Examples of this would be comic, ironic or parodic discourse, the refracting discourse of a narrator, refracting discourse in the language of a character and finally the discourse of a whole incorporated genre — all these discourses are double-voiced and internally dialogized. A potential dialogue is embedded in them, one as yet unfolded, a concentrated dialogue of two voices, two world views, two languages.

… There — on the rich soil of novelistic prose — double-voicedness draws its energy, its dialogized ambiguity, not from individual dissonances, misunderstandings or contradictions (however tragic, however firmly grounded in individual destinies); in the novel, this double-voicedness sinks its roots deep into a fundamental socio-linguistic speech diversity and multi-languagedness. True, even in the novel heteroglossia is by and large always personified, incarnated in individual human figures, with disagreements and oppositions individualized.

[line break added] But such oppositions of individual wills and minds are submerged in social heteroglossia, they are reconceptualized through it. Oppositions between individuals are only surface upheavals of the untamed elements in social heteroglossia, surface manifestations of those elements that play on such individual oppositions, make them contradictory, saturate their consciousness and discourses with a more fundamental speech diversity.

… double-voicedness in prose is prefigured in language itself (in authentic metaphors, as well as in myth), in language as a social phenomenon that is becoming in history, socially stratified and weathered in this process of becoming.

… If the novelist loses touch with this linguistic ground of prose style, if he is unable to attain the heights of a relativized, Galilean linguistic consciousness, if he is deaf to organic double-voicedness and to the internal dialogization of living and evolving discourse, then he will never comprehend, or even realize, the actual possibilities and tasks of the novel as a genre.

[line break added] He may, of course, create an artistic work that compositionally and thematically will be similar to a novel, will be “made” exactly as a novel is made, but he will not thereby have created a novel. The style will always give him away. We will recognize the naively self-confident or obtusely stubborn unity of a smooth, pure single-voiced language (perhaps accompanied by a primitive, artificial, worked-up double-voicedness).

[line break added] We quickly sense that such an author finds it easy to purge his work of speech diversity: he simply does not listen to the fundamental heteroglossia inherent in actual language; he mistakes social overtones, which create the timbres of words, for irritating noises that it is his task to eliminate. The novel, when torn out of authentic linguistic speech diversity, emerges in most cases as a “closet drama,” with detailed, fully developed and “artistically worked out” stage directions (it is, of course, bad drama). In such a novel, divested of its language diversity, authorial language inevitably ends up in the awkward and absurd position of the language of stage directions in plays.

My most recent previous post from Bakhtin’s book is here.

-Julie

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