Unreal Nature

January 7, 2018

The Image of a Language

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… our speech is filled to overflowing with other people’s words, which are transmitted with highly varied degrees of accuracy and impartiality.

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

… The novelist does not acknowledge any unitary, singular, naively (or conditionally) indisputable or sacrosanct language. Language is present to the novelist only as something stratified and heteroglot. Therefore, even when heteroglossia remains outside the novel, when the novelist comes forward with his own unitary and fully affirming language (without any distancing, refraction or qualifications) he knows that such language is not self-evident and is not in itself incontestable, that it is uttered in a heteroglot environment, that such a language must be championed, purified, defended, motivated.

… It is precisely this that defines the utterly distinctive orientation of discourse in the novel — an orientation that is contested, contestable and contesting — for this discourse cannot forget or ignore, either through naiveté or by design, the heteroglossia that surrounds it.

… Individual character and individual fates — and the individual discourse that is determined by these and only these — are in themselves of no concern for the novel. The distinctive qualities of a character’s discourse always strive for a certain social significance, a social breadth; such discourses are always potential languages.

… Usually a hero acts no less in a novel than he does in an epic. The crucial distinction between him and the epic hero is to be found in the fact that the hero of a novel not only acts but talks, too, and his action has no shared meaning for the community, is not uncontested and takes place not in an uncontested epic world where all meanings are shared.

[line break added] Such action therefore always requires some ideological qualification, there is always some ideological position behind it and it will not be the only one possible; such a position is therefore always open to contest. The ideological position of the epic hero is meaningful for the whole community and for the whole epic world; the [epic] hero does not have any particular ideology that functions as one ideology among other possible ideologies.

… In the epic there is one unitary and singular belief system. In the novel there are many such belief systems,with the hero generally acting within his own system. For this reason there are no speaking persons in the epic who function as representatives of different languages — in the epic, the speaker is, in essence, solely the author alone, and discourse is a single, unitary authorial discourse.

… If the subject making the novel specifically a novel is defined as a speaking person and his discourse, striving for social significance and a wider general application as one distinctive language in a heteroglot world — then the central problem for a stylistics of the novel may be formulated as the problem of artistically representing language, the problem of representing the image of a language.

… The transmission and assessment of the speech of others, the discourse of another, is one of the most widespread and fundamental topics of human speech. In all areas of life and ideological activity, our speech is filled to overflowing with other people’s words, which are transmitted with highly varied degrees of accuracy and impartiality.

[line break added] The more intensive, differentiated and highly developed the social life of a speaking collective, the greater is the importance attaching, among other possible subjects of talk, to another’s word, another’s utterance, since another’s word will be the subject of passionate communication, an object of interpretation, discussion, evaluation, rebuttal, support, further development and so on.

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




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