In “Discourse in the Novel,” Baktin writes that novels are artistic organizations of individual and community voices and languages. This definition emphasizes two things worth noting: “organizations” and the idea of multiple languages and voices. What happens when we think of a writer as an “organizer of voices?” This differs somewhat from the ideas of Campbell, who wrote that authors can be thought of as “points of articulation” (5) rather than as originators. However, I don’t find that these two definitions are opposite of one another, rather, they resonate with each other. Campbell and Baktin both emphasize that the authors – the creators of written discourse situations – are involved in cultural discourses and are negotiating cultural intuitions (Campbell 5, Baktin 302). I find that Baktin’s imagining of the novel as artistic organizations of multiple discourses, and by extraction the author as the “organizer,” expands and complicates the role of author as Campbell theorizes.
To demonstrate, I’ll draw on The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, a recent addition to my list of favorite books. This book chronicles the journey of two African American maids employed by white families as well as young white woman as they write and publish book about the experiences of African American maids in Jackson, Mississippi. The book chapters alternate between these three women as narrators. Stockett, as author, created the story, though she did not “originate” many parts of the story. The cultures, collectivities, and institutional powers Stockett negotiated among in part created the story – without Southern history, law, customs, and racial dynamics, along with Stockett’s family experiences, there would be no story. Stockett articulated a story within (and beyond) these institutions. This particular book was inspired by these institutions and challenges them.
Stockett negotiates these institutions through language. Baktin writes, “Actual social life and historical becoming create within an abstractly unitary national language a multitude of concrete worlds, a multitude of bounded verbal-ideological and social belief systems” (288) and that languages “are specific points of view on the world, forms for conceptualizing the world in words, specific world views, each characterized by its own objects, meanings, and values” (291-292). The languages within English that Stockett draws upon certainly include various Southern dialects, but they do not stop here: the languages are not “local color” necessary to the accurate portrayal of characters; rather, they communicate the characters’ belief systems and specific worldviews. Stockett is the organizer of all of these voices, artistically (and effectively) arranging them into characters and a series of situations that make the book.
It is perhaps the intersections of all of these “languages” that create conflict-ridden discourse situations (what one might call “news” in real life and “plot” in the novel). The author can articulate discourse situations where these languages intersect and organize them in ways to create an extended discourse situation, which is the novel.
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009. Print.NPR Interview with Stockett: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120966815