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Lecture 10: Who's Speaking, and What Can They Say?

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Slideshow for the tenth lecture in my summer course, English 10, "Introduction to Literary Studies: Deception, Dishonesty, Bullshit."


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Lecture 10: Who's Speaking, and What Can They Say?

  1. 1. Lecture 10: Who’s Speaking, and What Can They Say? PATRICK MOONEY, M.A. ENGLISH 10, SUMMER SESSION A 7 JULY 2105
  2. 2. Theory, reading, culture “He was already telling me about the very important book —with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.” (Solnit 2) “I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.” (3) “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.” (3)
  3. 3. “ ” […] let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends. […] Still, there are these other men, too.” (3) But men have agency, too
  4. 4. (Some reminders from Foucault) “we all know the rules of exclusion. The most obvious and familiar of these concerns what is prohibited. We know perfectly well that we are not free to say just anything, that we cannot simply speak of anything, when we like or where we like; not just anyone, finally, may speak of just anything.” (216) “We have three types of prohibition, covering objects, ritual with its surrounding circumstances, the privileged or exclusive right to speak of a particular subject; these prohibitions interrelate, reinforce and complement each other, forming a complex web, continually subject to modification.” (216)
  5. 5. (And a quick look at Gordimer) “His [Sonny’s] community had a certain kind of communication with the real blacks, as it did with the town through the Saturday dispensation; but rather different. Not defined—and it was this lack of definition in itself that was never to be questioned, but observed like a taboo, something which no-one, while following, could ever admit to.” (18; ch. 2)
  6. 6. (But back to Solnit) “I’ve learned that a certain amount of self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understanding, listening, and progressing—though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots, like the ones who have governed us since 2001. There’s a happy medium between these poles to which the genders have been pushed, a warm equatorial belt of give and take where we should all meet.” (4)
  7. 7. “Credibility is a basic survival tool. […] Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist.” (4) “On two occasions around that time, I objected to the behavior or a man only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all as I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest—in a nutshell, female.” (5) “But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge.” (6)
  8. 8. “ […] some very funny letters to this site. None was more astonishing than the one from the Indianapolis man who wrote in to tell me that he had ‘never personally or professionally shortchanged a woman’ and went on to berate me for not hanging out with ‘more regular guys or at least do a little homework first,’ gave me some advice about how to run my life, and then commented on my ‘feelings of inferiority.’ He thought that being patronized was an experience a woman chooses to, or could choose not to have—and so the fault was all mine.” (2)
  9. 9. “Cultural centrality for narrative”* “Frank Kermode notes that when we say a ticking clock goes ‘tick-tock,’ we give the noise a fictional structure, differentiating between two physically identical sounds, to make tick a beginning and tock an end. ‘The clock’s tick-tock I take to be a model of what we call a plot, an organization that humanizes time by giving it form.’” (Culler 84) “Children very early develop what one might call a basic narrative competence: demanding stories, they know when you are trying to cheat by stopping before reaching the end.” (84) * Culler 83
  10. 10. “Aristotle says that plot is the most basic feature of narrative, that good stories must have a beginning, middle, and end, and that they give pleasure because of the rhythm of their ordering. But what creates the impression that a particular series of events has this shape? Theorists have proposed various accounts. Essentially, though, a plot requires a transformation, There must be an initial situation, a change involving some sort of reversal, and a resolution , a change involving some sort of reversal,and a resolution that marks the change as significant.” (85)
  11. 11. “And then there he was. What are you going to see? he said. But I had seen.” (Gordimer 25–26; ch. 3) “But clowns are said, Will, she [Aila] said. “The faces they draw over their faces, the big down-turned mouth and the little vertical points below and above the middle of each eye, that suggest shed tears. When he sat opposite me at supper that first night what face did he see on me. What face did he make me wear, from then on, to conceal him, what he was doing—my knowledge of it—from us: my mother, my sister, myself.” (32–33; ch. 4)
  12. 12. “a shaping of events” “From one angle, plot is a way of shaping events to make them into a genuine story: writers and readers shape events into a plot in their attempts to make sense of things. From another angle, plot is what gets shaped by narratives, as they present the same ‘story’ in different ways.” (Culler 86) “Plot or story is the material that is presented, ordered from a certain point of view by discourse (different versions of ‘the same story’). But plot itself is already a shaping of events. A plot can make a wedding the happy ending of the story or the beginning of a story—or can make it a turn in the middle.” (86)
  13. 13. And so there are some basic formal distinctions between narratives … ● “Who speaks”? (87) – First-person – Third-person – Protagonists, participants, observers ● “Who speaks to whom?” (87) – Who is the naratee? How do we know? ● “Who speaks when?” (88) – During the action, immediately? – During the action, interspersed with it? – After it’s all over?
  14. 14. ● “Who speaks what language?” (88) – Polyphony: Mikhail Bakhtin’s description of the fundamental characteristic of the novel form: it includes multiple genuinely different voices as part of its structure. (A musical metaphor.) – Dialogue: Conversation between (two or more) characters; a multi-dimensional and dynamic way of creating shared meanings. – Monologue: A speech by one character. ● “Who speaks with what authority?” (88–89) – Unreliable narration: The narrator gives the reader enough information to make us doubt their interpretations of events. – Self-conscious narration: the narrator’s acknowledgment or awareness of the process of narration.
  15. 15. Focalization: “Who sees?” ● Note that the person speaking may not be the person whose view is being presented. ● Some variables: – When? (89) – How quickly? (90) – How much does the speaker know? (90)