Saturday, September 9, 2023

Discourse In the Novel, Part 5

Summary of Part 5: The Two Stylistic Lines of Development in the European Novel

This section starts with what might be called Bakhtin’s manifesto of the novel:

The novel is the expression of a Galilean perception of language, one that denies the absolutism of a single and unitary language—that is, that refuses to acknowledge its own language as the sole verbal and semantic center of the ideological world. (366)

[Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence in A Thousand Plateaus that they as authors are not “Gods” comes to mind.]

This Galilean, earth-shaking perception “has been made conscious of the vast plenitude” of national and social languages, which are all capable of being “languages of truth” (367). [And this lack of one truth-position is what makes it particularly “Galilean;” later on he will contrast this with the geocentric “Ptolemaic” consciousness.] The novel is a move of “verbal and semantic decentering of the ideological world,” a “linguistic homelessness of literary consciousness,” aware of its own contingency and situatedness in relation to a multitude of social and national languages. The novel is thus revolutionary, it is the “liberation of cultural-semantic and emotional intentions from the hegemony of a single and unitary language,” and the end of language as “myth,” aka “an absolute form of thought.” He then embarks on an investigation of the “specific sociohistorical conditions” that made this consciousness possible in the case of the novel.

What is essential is a consciousness that “begins by presuming fundamentally differentiated social groups” (368). The “sealed off cultural universe” of a unitary, solitary group has to lose its “uncontestably authoritative unitary language” and be thrown into the context of heteroglossia. “It is necessary that heteroglossia wash over a culture’s awareness of itself and its language, penetrate to its core, relativize the primary language system underlying its ideology and literature and deprive it of its naive absence of conflict.”

However, it is not enough in itself that a society recognize itself as being composed of a multitude of languages and groups; the nation itself has to be situated in an “ocean of heteroglossia,” of other competing and mutually influencing national languages. “A deeply involved participation in alien cultures and languages (one is impossible without the other) inevitably leads to an awareness of the disassocation between language and intentions, language and thought, language and expression” (369).

What is important about this “disassociation” is that it destabilizes and disables “mythological and magical thought, which depends on “the absolute fusion of word with concrete ideological meaning;” that is, a fixed, unquestionable reality. [Everything is true, nothing is permissible.] Mythological thinking and language generates “out of itself a mythological reality” that “substitutes itself for the connections and interrelationships of reality itself.” This domination of language by images “fetters” language intentions, and limits flexibility and expressiveness. Disassociation, by contrast, results in a consciousness for which “Language, no longer conceived as a sacrosanct and solitary embodiment of meaning and truth, becomes merely one of many possible ways to hypothesize meaning” (370).

Thus, the novel originates in the “poly- and heteroglot” Hellenistic era, then again whenever there is a “disintegration of stable verbal-ideological systems” (371). B briefly discusses the variety of ancient genres in which he finds “germs” of the novel, in the form of “an orchestration of meaning by means of heteroglossia.” This subject is pursued at much greater length in the Dostoevsky book, and I believe also in the Rabelais book. He begins to lay out the history of how this developed through the Middle Ages into the modern novel.

He discusses sophistic novels (which are covered in more depth in the Dostoevsky book); he notes that parody is not always easy to identify in texts from other or ancient cultures, “without knowing the background of alien discourse against which it is projected, that is, without knowing its second context” (374). B asserts that in world literature “there are probably very few words that are uttered unconditionally, purely single-voiced.”

B now begins to outline his two stylistic lines of development of the novel. The “First Line,” (arbitrarily so named, he states), is stylized and unitary after the manner of the Sophistic novel; it “leaves heteroglossia outside itself.” Yet “even its perception presumes heteroglossia as a background, and … interacts dialogically with various aspects of this heteroglossia.” The Second Line, in contrast, “incorporates heteroglossia into a novel’s composition, exploiting it to orchestrate its own meaning and frequently resisting altogether any unmediated and pure authorial discourse.”

The two lines actually interweave and influence each other; they merely represent trends in the balance and interaction of stylization, versus “heteroglot orchestration” (376)

He covers chivalric romance in verse, and the first prose novels; he discusses and defines “style,” making a distinction between “individual consciousness” and the “literary-language consciousness of the epoch” (378). He discusses the effect of the printing press, which acted to “shift and displace” the audience of the chivalric romance, sending it on a “period of wandering between social classes” (379).

He discusses “general literariness,” or the “extra-generic literariness of language,” in a way related to his concept of social language from earlier sections; he seems to be talking about the way a regional or class group or groups will use the writing and reception of literature to form a sort of community, but also the way nation-states create a sense of “Frenchness” and so on. The romance Amadís, for example, spawned derivative texts on how to converse nobly: “The chivalric romance provided a discourse proper to all possible situations and events in life, while at the same time everywhere opposing itself to vulgar discourse and its coarse ways” (384). Cervantes is brought up as an exemplar of the Second Line, who in contrast to the First brings such courtly discourse in the mouth of Don Quixote into stark contrast with the lower-class dialects of Sancho Panza and other characters.

He goes on to the pastoral novel, and in particular the Baroque novel, focusing on the trial or test of the hero, which distinguishes the novel from the epic, in which

From the very beginning the epic hero has stood on the other side of the trial; in the epic world, an atmosphere of doubt surrounding the hero’s heroism is unthinkable. (388)

[Obviously this goes against the common doctrine derived from Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” And there are plenty of epic heroes whose initial weakness is integral to the story: Sundiata, Theseus; though I suppose it is true that at no point does the reader really believe those heroes will not succeed; instead, those characters in the story who doubt that the epic hero will succeed are just being foolish, and we readers or listeners laugh at them knowingly.]

Anyway B traces the idea of trial through the various historical forms of the novel (sophistic through baroque), on the way making an interesting connection with the Christian idea of confession.

The Romantics go beyond the mere testing of a hero, to his shaping or character development through the story, markedly in the Bildungsroman. Bakhtin contrasts this with the older use of trial/testing in epic and earlier novel forms (which contrast is also a theme of his Chronotopes essay):

Life and its events no longer serve as a touchstone, a means for testing a ready-made character … now, life and its events, bathed in the light of becoming, reveal themselves as the hero’s experience, as the school or environment that first forms and formulates the hero’s character and world view. (392-3)

This is the concept of Bildung, meaning education or shaping, which becomes more central to the modern worldview than destiny. Testing/trial and Bildung can be combined.

He discusses dialogue in the Baroque novel, and spends a lot of time on “pathos.” The concept of “zones of contact with still-evolving contemporaneity” reappears (395); then, shortly later, the term is used to indicate the pathos or feelings of specific spaces and architectures of interaction, as they are evoked in the Baroque novel:

Public-square and private-room zones of contact and familiarity (“proximities”) are very different, as different, from this point of view, as are the palace and the private home, the temple (cathedral) and the more house-like Protestant church. It is not a matter of scale, but rather of a special organization of space (here parallels with architecture and painting could be drawn). (397)

[The spatial relevance makes it also interesting to consider the idea of “zone of contact” in relation to chronotopes.]

He contrasts Baroque and Sentimental novels, and how the use of pathos in the latter is a reaction to the former. Both Baroque and Sentimentalist novels engage in “one-sided dialogism” encountering heteroglossia outside the novel as an opposing, shaping force, but not allowing it into the novel. Still, “social stratification of language in the process of evolution is the basis for the stylistic shaping of discourse even in this First Line of the novel” (399).

Novels of the First Stylistic Line approach heteroglossia from above, it is as if they descend onto it …. Novels of the Second Line, on the contrary, approach heteroglossia from below: out of the heteroglot depths they rise to the highest spheres of literary language and overwhelm them. (400)

While the first line novels of the Chivalric era, etc. try to maintain a pure language in contrast to the heteroglossia that surrounds them, the precursors of the second line exist in the “minor low genres, on the itinerant stage, in public squares on market day, in street songs and jokes.” Here we get the representation of the speech corresponding to different stock characters or social positions. “Every discourse has its own selfish and biased proprietor; there are no words with meanings shared by all, no words ‘belonging to no one’” (401). This results in a better understanding of language (from the Bakhtinian point of view) than modern linguistics has:

When we seek to understand a word, what matters is not the direct meaning the word gives to objects and emotions—this is the false front of the word; what matters is rather the actual and always self-interested use to which this meaning is put and the way it is expressed by the speaker, a use determined by the speaker’s position (profession, social class, etc.) and by the concrete situation. Who speaks and under what conditions he speaks: this is what determines the word’s actual meaning. All direct meanings and direct expressions are false, and this is especially true of emotional meanings and expressions. (401)

Modern linguistics is being targeted here. for always taking this “false front” of meaning at face value, instead of learning from double-voiced discourse, with its “radical scepticism toward any unmediated discourse and any straightforward seriousness;” this kind of writing counters the “lie of pathos” (which B has identified at work in the Baroque and Sentimentalist novels) with “gay deception” practiced by the “merry rogue.”

He introduces the fool, who fails to understand everyday conventionality and “prosaic forms of stupidity” (404). The fool is stupid, and renders the stupidity of the conventional world clear. The fool can play the only-one-who-is-not-crazy kind of role, or on the other hand can be a foil, used for exposition, commentary, etc. The narrator can even despise the fool, “but the author needs the fool,” because as a representation of stupidity, it makes “prose intelligence” and “prose wisdom” teachable.

A failure to understand languages that are otherwise generally accepted and that have the appearance of being universal teaches the novelist how to perceive them physically as objects, to see their relativity, to externalize them, to feel out their boundaries, that is, it teaches him how to expose and structure images of social languages. (404)

Next he discusses the clown, a coupling of the fool and the rogue: “a rogue who dons the mask of the fool:” “the clown is the one who has the right to speak in otherwise unacceptable languages and the right to maliciously distort languages that are acceptable” (405). These three figures (rogue, fool, and clown) tie back to the prehistoric roots of prose thought in folklore.

He dwells on the importance of the rogue in the first novel form of the Second line, the picaresque novel; without using the word, he shows how the picaresque is the origin of the [antihero], since earlier first-line novels had to show the main character as either purely good or purely bad; the picaro is the first hero to be both and neither.

The effect of the rogue on popping the balloon of convention:

All the old links between a man and his act, between an event and those who participate in it, fall apart. A sharp gap now opens between a man and the external position he occupies—his rank, his public worth, his social class. (408)

[On the one hand he is describing the advent of modernity and individualism, the man-made, arbitrary order replacing the eternal god-given one. It is interesting to see this as a gap or disconnection. as he is also describing to some extent the context of the emerging disciplinary society with its interest in interiority; an attention could be paid to the forms such transformation or anxieties might take in the disciplinary to post-disciplinary (aka, circulation to routing) shift of today...]

What had been accepted truth now becomes seen as a mask; B calls this “radical re-accentuation” which at first I had understood as being like revoicing, the words and images which had at first had one “accent” of a given social class within a privileged novelistic discourse relating to that social group, being “re-accented” with the voice of the rogue, himself voicing a different social interest/language. However, from his later discussion of re-accentuation at the end of the essay, it appears the meaning is more like accentuation or markedness in language; a word or image or language which had been marked (accented) as serious (for instance), now becomes comic, and so on.

B discusses two differences between the First and Second lines, illustrating their different relationships with heteroglossia: 1) their use of inserted genres, and 2) their relation to literariness in the novel. The First line incorporates inserted genres but subsumes them, eliminating their “brute heteroglossia” and replacing it with “a single-imaged, ‘ennobled’ language” (410). The Second line, in contrast, uses inserted genres to bring heteroglossia fully into the text. Second line novels also exist in response to the literariness of the First line, as most clearly exemplified by Don Quixote and other characters who attempt to live life imagined through literature; the First line had thus tried to create and purify a single-voiced literary language, which the Second line brings back into conversation with the world, as just one voice among others.

Around the beginning of the 19th century the two lines converge, leading to the 19th and 20th century domination of the Second line, which fully makes use of the novel’s potential, allowing it to become “what it in fact is” (414). The “being in itself” of single-voiced language dialectically becomes the “being for itself” of language fully conscious of heteroglossia:

Languages of heteroglossia, like mirrors that face each other, each reflecting in its own way a piece, a tiny corner of the world, force us to guess at and grasp for a world behind their mutually reflecting aspects that is broader, more multi-leveled, containing more and varied horizons than would be available to a single language or a single mirror. (414-5)

[And the Kantian in-itself/for-itself language is fitting, since what B is celebrating here is a form of the Enlightenment consciousness that refuses to be guided by a totalizing single-image worldview, instead preferring to find its own way among heteroglossic fragments.]

Situated after the revolutions of the Renaissance and the Reformation, “which destroyed the verbal and ideological centralization of the Middle Ages” (415), the novel is fitting the age of great discoveries and inventions, “that destroyed the finitude and enclosed quality of the old universe;” the novel provides the “Galilean language consciousness” required by such an era. The modern school of “traditional stylistics,” against which B is rebelling, understands only a “Ptolemaic language consciousness,” and is thus incapable of correctly understanding the novel as a form. Lacking a properly Galilean consciousness of heteroglossia, such an approach is limited to trying to describe the “language of the novel,” which is a fool’s errand, because no such unitary language exists. In contrast to this he neatly sums up his overall position:

What is present in the novel is an artistic system of languages, or more accurately a system of images of languages, and the real task of stylistic analysis consists in uncovering all the available orchestrating languages in the composition of the novel, grasping the precise degree of distancing that separates each language from its most immediate semantic instantiation in the work as a whole, and the varying angles of refraction of intentions within it, understanding their dialogic interrelationships and—finally—if there is direct authorial discourse, determining the heteroglot background outside the work that dialogizes it... (416)

B makes a form of the argument which in D&G will take the shape of insisting on the primacy of pragmatics in language. In B’s case, this is an insistence on the necessity of understanding the multiple social languages and intentions at work in the background, the “dialogue of languages as it exists in a given era” (417). Our lack of understanding in this regard is why texts in ancient languages, for example, appear flat and lifeless, because we know so little of their heteroglot context; socio-historical research is needed to recreate a “third dimension” in which to better understand these.

The last several pages concern the competing processes of canonization and re-accentuation, which he discusses with great nuance, and a characteristic dearth of concrete examples.

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