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Making Conversation in Modernist Fiction by Elizabeth Alsop (review)
James Joyce Quarterly Pub Date : 2021-06-10
Claire Battershill

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  • Making Conversation in Modernist Fiction by Elizabeth Alsop
  • Claire Battershill (bio)
MAKING CONVERSATION IN MODERNIST FICTION, by Elizabeth Alsop. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2019. ix + 187 pp. $64.95 cloth, $19.95 ebook.

In Making Conversation in Modernist Fiction, an engaging monograph full of insightful literary readings, Elizabeth Alsop focuses on character dialogue as a feature "at once continuous with but also distinct from" narration in the works of Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Jean Toomer, and Gertrude Stein (2). From the outset, Alsop draws renewed attention to the artifice inherent in fictional dialogue and cautions against overly mimetic readings of made-up words coming out of imaginary mouths. Alsop points out, adapting and refining Gérard Genette and Mikhail Bakhtin's constructions of "represented speech" and "double-voicing," that all fictional speech is layered and polyvocal (2).1 "[E]ven at its most true-to-life and putatively transparent," she writes, "dialogue is always the product of at least two speakers—always an emanation of the author, by way of the character" (2).

Alsop goes on to analyze the diverse ways in which talk functions in Anglo-American modernist fiction, and she seeks throughout the book to present a fittingly double-sided argument: a historical contention that these modernist writers were writing conversation in "substantively new ways" distinct from their historical predecessors, and a theoretical contention that written dialogue should be read fundamentally as poesis rather than mimesis (3). While the historical grounding and context add richness throughout this volume, the theoretical and narratological reframing of dialogue is the book's stronger and more compelling argument, emerging as its dominant through-line. Through a process of what she calls "dialogic decoupling" (4), Alsop makes the convincing case that if we separate our readings of the words spoken in novels from the characters who speak them, we can apprehend dialogue as something deliberately fashioned and authorially driven rather than as a mere imitation of real speech. This narratological approach allows us to think about dialogue beyond its most intuitive and obvious function—that of conveying or communicating something about the character speaking—and to consider its art and rhetoric. Alsop's work in this respect represents a refreshing departure from a dominant focus on indirect discourse in modernist fiction to focus more specifically on what is actually being said in novels, and what that might mean about conversational rhetoric more broadly. [End Page 378] Alsop also helpfully attends to the shifting and often blurry boundaries between what is said and what is thought.

Alsop's first chapter, "Dialogue and its Discontents" (9-38), is a helpful ground-laying exploration of the critical history of studies of dialogue. In this account, as a broader critical culture, we seem basically to have fallen for the idea that dialogue "exists to express character" and that "its most meaningful analogue remains real speech" (10). Alsop points out notable exceptions (including Bronwen Thomas's excellent work2), but she maintains that studies of dialogue tend to assess character speech as though characters are actually real. What this suggests is that authors have managed through the strength of fictional illusion to pull one over even on critics and that when we read novels we tend to take dialogue at face value much more than we do other elements of fictional prose. Alsop's project is partly to suggest that any framework assuming that dialogue is primarily or dominantly a function of character does not really work for twentieth-century fiction. One of the features she highlights to illustrate this point is what she calls the "recycling" of the same phrases by different characters, which, she suggests "unsettle[s] traditional voice-body relations" (12). Here I thought immediately of Virginia Woolf's essay "On Craftsmanship," in which Woolf emphasizes the promiscuousness of words, which have "been out and about, on people's lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries."3 Woolf's discussion is not so much about fiction as about language more broadly, and it seems actually to support Alsop's desire to unsettle the idea that words or dialogue can...





  • 伊丽莎白·阿尔索普在现代主义小说中进行对话
  • 克莱尔·巴特希尔(生物)
在现代主义小说中进行对话,伊丽莎白·艾尔索普着。哥伦布:俄亥俄州立大学出版社,2019 年。ix + 187 页。布 64.95 美元,电子书 19.95 美元。

现代主义小说中的对话中,这是一本引人入胜的专着,充满了富有洞察力的文学读物,伊丽莎白·阿尔索普将人物对话作为一个特征,将其作为亨利·詹姆斯、欧内斯特·海明威、威廉·福克纳、詹姆斯作品中的叙述“既连续又不同于”的一个特征乔伊斯、弗吉尼亚·伍尔夫、让·图默和格特鲁德·斯坦 (2)。从一开始,Alsop 就重新关注虚构对话中固有的技巧,并警告不要过度模仿从想象中的嘴里冒出来的虚构词。Alsop 指出,改编和完善 Gérard Genette 和 Mikhail Bakhtin 的“再现言语”和“双重发声”的结构,所有虚构的言语都是分层的和多声部的 (2)。1“[E] 即使在最真实和最透明的情况下,”她写道,“对话总是至少有两个说话者的产物——总是作者的产物,通过角色的方式”(2)。

Alsop 继续分析了谈话在英美现代主义小说中发挥作用的多种方式,她在整本书中都力图提出一个恰当的双面论证:这些现代主义作家正在以“全新的方式”写作对话的历史论点与他们的历史前辈不同,并且理论论点认为书面对话应该从根本上被理解为诗歌而不是模仿(3). 虽然历史基础和背景在这本书中增加了丰富性,但对话的理论和叙事学重构是这本书更有力和更引人注目的论点,成为其主要的贯穿始终。通过她所谓的“对话解耦”(4)的过程,Alsop 提出了令人信服的案例,即如果我们将阅读小说中所说的话与说这些话的角色分开,我们可以将对话理解为某种故意塑造和作者驱动的东西而不仅仅是对真实演讲的模仿。这种叙事学方法使我们能够超越其最直观和最明显的功能来思考对话——传达或传达有关人物说话的某些东西——并考虑其艺术和修辞。也'[第 378 页结束] Alsop 还有助于解决所说的和所想的之间不断变化且常常模糊的界限。

Alsop 的第一章“对话及其不满”(9-38)是对对话研究批判史的有益探索。在这种情况下,作为一种更广泛的批评文化,我们似乎基本上已经陷入了对话“存在是为了表达性格”和“其最有意义的类比仍然是真实的言语”的想法(10)。Alsop 指出了值得注意的例外情况(包括 Bronwen Thomas 的优秀作品2),但她坚持认为对话研究倾向于评估角色言语,就好像角色实际上是真实的一样。这表明作者已经通过虚构幻觉的力量成功地将批评者拉到了一边,而且当我们阅读小说时,与虚构散文的其他元素相比,我们更倾向于从表面上看待对话。Alsop 的项目部分是为了表明,任何假设对话主要或主要是角色功能的框架都不适用于 20 世纪的小说。为了说明这一点,她强调的一个特点是她所谓的不同角色对相同短语的“循环使用”,她建议“扰乱[s] 传统的语音-身体关系”(12)。说到这里,我立刻想到了弗吉尼亚伍尔夫的文章”3伍尔夫的讨论与其说是关于小说,不如说是关于更广泛的语言,而且它似乎实际上支持了 Alsop 想要打破文字或对话可以……