Monday, October 10, 2011

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of Discourse in the Novel

When I was reading Bahktin's Discourse in the Novel I was having great difficulty in defining heteroglossia. Bakhtin discusses heteroglossia several times through out the novel, but I just couldn't put a nail in the deffinition. It wasn't until we were in class discussing it that I was really able to nail it down and I did so with the help use of a metaphor, and an Indiana Jones metaphor so it is even more awesome. There is a scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where he has just assembled the staff and the looking glass and is using the sun to pin point the exact location of the treasure in a small replica of the city. Well, in my metaphor, Indiana Jones is the author who has assembled his staff and is hoping for the best. The sun is the passage of time, as it seemed like time played a large role in how easy it is for an audience to understand the message in the text. The staff is the authors intended message, or messages within messages depending on the author. And the city is us, placed in seperate houses and seperate work places depending on out background. Here is where my metaphor takes some creative liberties. Now, the author is hoping that everything lines up just right, but that just isn't going to happen with everyone, let's face it. There are too many factors in play. A large portion of the audience is probably not even going to get it at all. And there are still more who will understand that something is going on, but will not come to the conclusion that the author intended them to arrive at. And then there is the few who are able to understand just what the author meant because everything has aligned just right. Is anyone's interpretation wrong? No, some may even get more interesting interpretations then the author intended. Case in point, Dracula. Bram Stoker had no idea what his book would become or all of the different ways that his book would be read.

1 comment:

  1. James, your metaphor is interesting -- in fact, I would love to see the clip, to get a better sense of the clarity that Jones has at the very moment he realizes the precise location of his treasure. In a way, that metaphor calls up Lockeian notions that the "treasure" (in this case, the singular unified meaning) is somewhere outside of the discourse, and it is only a matter of time and circumstance before Jones finds it. While his staff may lend their voices (or messages) to the search, ultimately, everything has to line up precisely for Jones to see where the sun makes its point. Do you think that is what Bakhtin is after? Another way of asking that is, How much do you think Bakhtin's "heteroglossia" is about the interpretation or negotiation of meaning, and how much do you think it is about the embeddedness of speech?

    Since his overall aim seems to be positing the novel as discourse (or, more likely, verbal discourse as a social phenomenon) (259), I imagine heteroglossia helps him to justify what he sees as a "diversity of social speech types" in a single work (262). No doubt Bakhtin has much to say on the interpretability of a literary work, but in this essay I get the sense he wants me (and all of us) to believe a more fundamental principle first: that the novel contains a plurality of voices and it is worthwhile considering the explicit or implicit disputes between them (Bedford Glossary 224).

    In the middle of his essay, he makes an argument that seems almost (Kenneth) Burkean:

    Every socially significant verbal performance has the ability--sometimes for a long period of time, and for a wide circle of persons--to infect with its own intention certain aspects of language that had been affected by its semantic and expressive impulse, imposing on them specific semantic nuances and specific axiological overtones; thus, it can create slogan-words, curse-words, praise-words, and so forth. (290)

    In my own words, I think this is a statement about the possibility of various sociological languages co-existing, powerful enough to influence each other but only sometimes actually doing so, and yet their co-existence really means they intersect with one another. In short, languages "do not exclude each other, but rather intersect with each other" (291), and this is where Bakhtin might differ from Derrida in some respects.

    I'd say, if it is still confusing, focus on his discussion of "double-voiced discourse" (324-326), where two characters (or narrators) in the novel are being served at the same time, perhaps speaking as one person but in fact expressing two different intentions. That "refracted" intention makes me think Bakhtin sees this as somewhat of an oppressive act, i.e., that the embedded dialogue will always allow one voice to be heard a bit more clearly than the other. For example, in Dickens’ Little Dorrit, the narrator interjects with a slight commentary that parodies the language of ceremonial speeches, and yet all he is conveying are the details of Mr. Merdle’s mundane day (Bakhtin 303). While it is his voice speaking, it is the other voice as communicated through the parody that we “hear” (or read) more dominantly.

    If the examples that Bakhtin analyzed from Little Dorrit don’t show enough of what you are hoping to see, you might think back to Scott McCloud's essay today, as we watched him take on and off his mask and presume he knew what we were going to question or how we were going to object. In those moments, he double-voiced, so to speak. Another example I can pull off the top of my head is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman called "If I Were A Man," in which the main character, Mollie Mathewson, inhabits the psyche of her husband Gerald, and vice-versa, resulting in a more enlightened social commentary for both of them. I'll be curious to know what you think.

    Link to Gilman's short story:


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.