Why Novels are not written in Prose: A Bakhtinian Enquiry

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

CHARLESLOCK: Why Novels
are not written in Prose: a
Bakhtinian Enquiry
Tuesday, May 29th | 6:00 pm
SIFK (5737 S. University Room 104)
This talk attempts to identify the linguistic characteristics and implications of what
Bakhtin termed the dialogical and the polyphonic. This involves an understanding
of what happens when people start reading in silence, the novel being the one
literary genre, so Bakhtin insists, that has no 'oral prehistory' and that is subject to
the 'mute perception' of readers. Beyond the social, gendered, cultural,
architectural, and physiological consequences of silent reading, there are
implications for writing and written language. Most importantly, language
undergoes a transformation when an utterance is no longer governed by register,
and it is this that accounts for the representation of the polyphonic. Prose has an
oral prehistory and is normatively monological. Free indirect (or 'novelistic')
discourse happens in novels when the Aristotelian distinction between dialogue
and diegesis no longer holds. In graphic terms, quotation marks are in the novel
put to uses antithetical to their function in prose.
Charles Lock holds the Professorship of English Literature at the University of
Copenhagen. Educated at Oxford, he was previously Professor of English at the
University of Toronto. He has published widely on M.M. Bakhtin, Roman Jakobson
and other literary theorists, as well as on poetry and the novel from the medieval
to the postcolonial. Some of his recent work has been on book history and the
history of scripts.