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Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns: conversation
In "The Problem of Speech Genres", Bakhtin defines the utterance "objectively": it is the stretch of language that occurs between two changes of speaker.
This is not a bad starting point, but it's only a starting point, because we have to acknowledge that it means that a whole novel can be treated as a single utterance by the author, and within that utterance, the speeches of characters are to be treated as reported speech, "utterance about utterance" as Volosinov describes it.
This is, actually, how Bakhtin proceeds, and it's where he gets a lot of his important ideas, e.g. the "polyphonic novel", which has been misunderstood, mostly by Bakhtin's religiously inclined disciples, as a novel in which a Christlike author gives up his divinity and comes down into the novel to mingle with the characters.
That's not what polyphonic means: when I write a polyphonic piece of music I do not myself become a melodic strand among others. If anything the polyphonic novel is the opposite: the characters rise to become potential authors, because their understandings of other characters help to shape their own actions, and because they tug at the narrative prose itself through the device of quasi-direct discourse and the character zone. But the whole is still artistically organized, just as when I use reported speech I must organize both the reporting clause and the reported one, no matter how the one may tug at the other.
So we need more than just the objective definition of an utterance. We need a transubjective one. And we have it! We can see how the purely OBJECTIVE definition of an utterance gives rise to a transsubjective one from a very simple example:
T: How are you all today?
S: Fine, thanks, and you?
Objectively, this is two utterances. But it is hard to resist the conclusion that there is one SOMETHING in the first utterance, and three SOMETHINGS in the second. What are those SOMETHINGS?
I think Bakhtin would say that they are POTENTIAL utterances, that is, they are places where the speaker CAN change, represented in written speech by commas. In that sense, they are no different from the utterances within utterances we find in the novel, because whenever a character speaks in a realist novel it represents a potentially real (though not actual) utterance.
Seoul National University of Education
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