Islamic Azad University–Central Tehran Branch
Department of Postgraduate Studies
A Bakhtinian Reading of Donald Barthelme’s Snow White
A Thesis Submitted to the Department of Postgraduate Studies as a Partial Fulfillment for the Degree of MA in English Literature
Dr. Alireza Anushirvani
Dr. Kian Soheil
Dr. Razieh Eslamieh
In The Name of God
I would like to dedicate this dissertation to my beloved mother as the one true being in my life.
Hereby, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my supervisor, Dr. Alireza Anushirvani, whose incomparable criticism, patience, and encouragement helped me in every stage of this thesis. Thanks are also due to Dr. Kian Soheil and Dr. Razieh Eslamieh, my examiners, for their acute proposals had led to many improvements to mythesis. I am also especially indebted to Professor Jalal Sokhanvar for his supports and invaluable guidance during my academic studies and this thesis. Finally, my special thanks go to my family, particularly my beloved mother, whose encouragement and supports never faltered.
The present dissertation seeks to critically investigatethe multiplicity of voices in Donald Barthelme’s Snow White according to Bakhtin’s premises of polyphony and dialogism. In Bakhtinian point of view, literary discourse is polyphonic, a combination of multiple voices of equal authority. This is defined in terms of his own concept of dialogism, the explicit or implicit dialogue of differently situated voices. As a result, there is a close relation between the two notions to the degree that polyphony is considered as a characteristic of dialogism. This is suggested by Donald Barthelme in his comic parable of Snow White (1967), in which the diversity of discourses, expressed through the dialogues, paves the way for polyphonic enterprise. Although the story is told from the first person point of view, almost the entire novel is conceived through dialogues, which the characters are engaged in both with themselves and other characters. This leads the various discourses to be heard equally. Investigating these discourses and the ideologies they represent through the polyphonic voices expressed in dialogic activities provides the backboneof the present dissertation.
Key Words: Polyphony, Discourse,Voice, Dialogue, Bakhtin
Table of Contents:
Table of Contentsiv
1.1. General Overview1
1.2. Statement of the Problem6
1.3. Objectives and Significance of the Study9
1.3.1. Significance of the Study9
1.3.2. Purpose of the Study9
1.3.3. Research Questions10
1.4. Review of literature10
1.5. Materials and Methodology18
1.5.1. Definition of Key Terms18
1.6. Organization of the Study21
BAKHTIN; WORKS and IDEAS23
2.1. Toward a Philosophy of the Act24
2.1.1. Self and other25
2.2. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics27
2.3. Carnival in Dostoevsky and Rabelais33
2.4. The Dialogic Imagination40
SNOWWHITE; THE POSTMODERN FAIRY TALEError! Bookmark not defined.
3.1. Barthelme’s Art of Story-Telling53
3.1.2. Barthelme and Postmodernism57
3.1.3. Disregard of Conventionality59
3.2. Why Bakhtin?72
SNOW WHITE; A DIALOGIC CONSTRUCT78
4.1. Barthelme’s Dialogic Enterprise80
4.1.1. Artistic Representation of Language80
4.1.2. Multiplicity of Voices84
4.1.3. Multiplicity of Discourses86
4.1.4. Multiplicity of Documents92
4.1.5. Other Dialogic Techniques100
4.1.6. The Carnivalesque104
5.1. Summing Up109
5.3. Suggestions for Further Research120
1.1. General Overview
Donald Barthelme, an American author, novelist, editor, journalist and professorwas born in Philadelphia in 1931, deep in the deep Depression. He spent much of his early career in journalism till a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 paved the way for his first novel, Snow White (1967). Soon after, he was considered one of the masters of post-war fiction working outside the realistic tradition to satirize American life. He continued teaching and writing fictions until his death in 1989.
Although Barthelme isnever known as a science-fiction writer, he has created works which are included in the Avant-Garde of cyberpunk. His world combines Samuel Beckett’s nihilism with the ecstasy of Richard Bratigan’s surrealism. Nothing is absolutely true or false in his stories. He is a philosophical author who combines existentialism with post-modernism. He does not explicitly admit his debt to these schools in the themes and contexts of his works. However, his innovative and organic style reveals his close relation to Barth, Sartre, Foucault and Derrida.
Many critics have not appreciated Barthelme’s writing due to its rejection of traditional forms and its unusual nature. Others have dubbed it extremely modern and individualistic. Come Back, Dr.Caligari, the collection of his early stories published in 1964, is acclaimed as an innovation in short story form in which he has continued his success with Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural acts (1968). Later on, Barthelmecontinued to write over a hundred more short stories many of which are revised and reprinted in Sixty Stories (1981), Forty Stories (1987) and, posthumously, Flying to America (2007). As a huge success, Sixty Storiesbrought him a PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. He also won a National Book Award in 1972 for his children’s book, The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine; or, the Hithering Thithering Djinn. Additionally, he has produced four novels in his typical fragmentary style: Snow White (1967), The Dead Father (1975), Paradise (1986), and The King (1990, posthumous).
Barthelme’s style and thought are products of twentieth century torment. The observation of absurdity lurking beneath the surface of most conventional customs becomesthe fuel for his creative fire. He is not only praised as disciplined but also judged as meaningless. His fragmented verbal collage surrounded in constant skepticism and irony has introduced him as a postmodernist writer. Furthermore, this fragmentation partly shapes his formal originality as the narrator in “See the Moon?” states: “Fragments are the only forms I trust”(Barthelme, UnspeakablePractices,UnnaturalActs 160). Joyce Carol Oates also comments on the same notion: “This from a writer of arguable genius whose works reflect what he himself must feel, in book after book, that his brain is all fragments . . . just like everything else” (63).
Barthelme’s first novel, Snow White, is a parody based upon both Grimm’s fairytale of Snow White and Disney’s version of the story. It displays both his avoidance of the formalism of his predecessors and his innovation in voice and style. Familiar characters of childhood have been taken away to be replaced with psychologically complex paradigms of postmodernist satire. Moreover, Barthelme’s clear-cut exploration of grotesque highlighted with an extraordinary humor encounters us with the irrational world of everyday life.
Barthelme brings the fairytale story up to date. Snow White lives with Kevin, Edward, Hubert, Henry, Clem and Dan, whooccupy themselves by washing the buildings and tending the vats where they make Chinese baby food. However, they are challenged by various problems to the point that even the President is worried about them. Bill, the leader of the men, is withdrawn as his ambitions would not come true. Eventually, he is judged to be guilty and punished to death by hanging primarily because of the sin of vatricide. On the other hand, Snow White awaits a prince and takes Paul, the artist as the prince figure. Jane, whose lover is Hogo de bergerac, is the wicked stepmother figure. Hogo falls for Snow White and Jane prepares a poisoned Gibson to kill her. But, Paul drinks the beverageinstead and dies. Snow White mourns Paul, though there’s nothing in it for her. Dan, the practical man is the new leader and the heroes depart in search of a new principle: Heigh-ho.
Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895-1975), although achieving fame posthumously, has been considered one of the most influential theorists of the twentieth century. From 1960s in which Bakhtin was introduced to the West, his writings on a variety of subjects have inspired works in a number of various traditions. His influence has grown enormously not only in literary criticism but also in disciplines as diverse as history, anthropology, linguistics, sociology and philosophy. Furthermore, his studies mainly on dialogue and discourse has changed the way we read texts, both literary and cultural.
Bakhtin’s life was concurrently associated with the vicissitudes of the October Revolution of Russia. In addition, Russian Formalism with which Bakhtin had close connections came to exist simultaneously. He was just the writer of an eccentric book on Fyodor Dostoevsky during his lifetime. The most part of his writings were published and soon translated into English in his last years and after his life. Subsequently, he has been recognized as a major thinker concerned with questions of language, society, culture, time and ethics.
Though his intellectual development should not be merely explained by Neo-Kantianism, Bakhtin’s starting points are in this tradition. This philosophical orientation which seeks to go back to Kant,is in part a reaction against positivism and empiricism of the nineteenth-century. It mainly focuses on the activity of the consciousness and argues that consciousness is not a blank sheet to reflect the external world. On the other hand, consciousness has its own independent forms to apprehend and explain the world outside. Bakhtin’s main interest in this traditionis in the way he argues the relationship between self and other, I and Thou, through these general questions.
Bakhtin, in his early writings, argues that it is in the unavoidable relationship with others that our sense of self and the other is constituted. In this respect, the aesthetic art has been considered as the highest form of human interaction. Therefore, it is the expression of a relationship not the outcome of an isolated consciousness. This can be best understood in what Simon Dentith quotes from Bakhtin:
Contrary to ‘expressive’ aesthetics, however, form is not pure expression of the hero and his life, but an expression which, in giving expression to the hero, also expresses the moment of form. . . . Aesthetic form is founded and validated from within the other—the author, as the author’s creative reaction to the hero and his life. (12)
Accordingly, all of Bakhtin’s writing is situated in a fundamental context in which artistic form and meaning are dialogically shaped between people. It has been best explained in his seminal work, Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics (1984), in which he introduces three major premises. First is the concept of unfinalizability. He argues that individual people cannot be finally and completely explained and labeled. Thus, one should respect the possibility that a person is capable of change. Second is the intertwined relationship of the self and others. He argues that just as there is no isolated utterance, for it always only occurs between people, there is no possibility of isolated consciousness which is equally intersubjective. Thirdis the concept of polyphony, which is of great significance to the present study. It can be best described as the plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses. In a polyphonic novel, the voice of the characters are granted full and equal authority to the degree that there is an unfinished dialogue between the voice of the narrator and those of the characters. Furthermore, dialogue is considered reliable insofar as it represents an engagement in which the discourses of self and other go through each other.
For Bakhtin, our experience of the world does not occur in a single shared language, but in a various overlapping and often conflicting versions of that language. This multiplicity of languages, or heteroglossia, is only implicitly present when any one of them is used. In addition, any utterance is only meaningful in its relation with various other languages with which it is in dialogue. Thus, the way meaning is constructed out of contending languages within any culture is the focus of dialogics. However, culture intends to unify these languages within an official and unitary language which is overturned by the unofficial, unheard voices coming from the anonymous areas of society. In Bakhtinian viewpoint, this overturning is called carnivalization after the model of folk energy release in medieval carnival.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
The present dissertation seeks to critically argue the multiplicity of voices in Donald Barthelme’s Snow White according to Bakhtin’s premises of polyphony and dialogism. Preoccupied with the style and thematic features of the novel, this dissertation aims to study the multiplicity of voices and their ideologies heard through the dialogues the characters are engaged in both with themselves and the other characters. In Snow White, each character has a voice through shifting perspectives. Additionally, Barthelme adds a third person perspective discussing aspects of characterization unseen from the figures’ point of view. Therefore, the novel can be traced as a field of challenge where Bakhtin’s notions come alive.
Snow Whiterepresents particular characteristics in order not to be just a retelling of a classic fairytale. Considering the fact that the tale includes the thematic content that lends itself to updating, Barthelme brings something new to it and creates an entirely fresh aspect of critiquing the modern society. However, in addition to its postmodernist traces, it may seem that Barthelme has picked up shells on a beach haphazardly, scattered them randomly about, and called the finished work ‘art’ (Rohrberger 3). Thus, readers might respond to it with delight, confusion, astonishment or even anger.
Although Jerome Klinkowitz insists that a fully defined content cannot be expected simply from the form of Barthelme’s stories (Rohrberger 3), Snow White provides an exception. It is a successful fusion of form and content in a unified whole. Much of what Barthelme manages to demonstrate is hidden in the basic technique of the story; i.e. the dialogue. Amazingly, this mission would not be accomplished so fully in some other form.
Snow White explores the ways in which human relations can shape and express ideologies without any privilege over one another. Furthermore, this is done considerably in the dialogical exchanges between the characters. Thus, the primary concept of this study is to investigate, from a Bakhtinian viewpoint, how various ideologies are hidden in the multiplicity of voices observed in the novel. Additionally, the present study seeks to shed light on the full and equal authority of voices, both of the characters and the narrator. In other words, the significance of this study would be the detailed scrutinizing of the novel in the light of Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony and dialogism.
In the light of Bakhtin’s premises, the researcher attempts to investigate the possibility of various coexisting ideologies with equivalent influences. The perfect state of exploring this situation is provided by the existence of plurality of voices exchanging dialogues. Moreover, dialogue centers on the utterance which Bakhtin calls “the unit of speech communication” (Macovski 9) and, due to the nature of language, inherently includes other voices:
To ignore the nature of the utterance or to fail to consider the peculiarities of generic subcategories of speech in any area of linguistic study leads to perfunctoriness and excessive abstractness, distorts the historicity of the research, and weakens the link between language and life. After all, language enters life through concrete utterances (which manifest language) and life enters language through concrete utterances as well. (Bakhtin, SpeechGenres63)
Additionally, word or utterance is only formed in relation to other people, and their words and expressions. Therefore, it is rooted in a history of expressions by others and presupposes plurality of voices. Every level of these expressions has a dialogic nature. It creates an ongoing chain of statements, responses, repetitions and quotations. As Bakhtin asserts, an appropriate field for such a dialogic expression is provided by a literary discourse which is a composite of voices. In a broader sense, Bakhtin also considers life, in addition to a literary discourse, to have a dialogic nature (Dostoevsky’s Poetics 293).
Moreover, this study is the application of Bakhtin’s concepts of heteroglossia (multiplicity of interacting languages or many-languagedness) and carnivalization. According to Ruth Coates, “Heteroglossia denotes the variety of social languages at work within the boundaries of any national language” (105). It can also be stated as a “plurality of relations” (Holquist 86) and provides the fundamental condition for the function of meaning in an utterance. However, the official and unitary language of heteroglossia is overturned by the unheard, unofficial languages and voices. This process is called carnivalization after the model of medieval carnival. In the words of Roland Knowles:
Carnival turns the world upside down. Hierarchies are reversed and suspended. Clothes are worn back to front. Comic crownings and uncrownings take place. Fools become kings, lords of misrule preside, boy bishops are elected, and so on. Bawdy is the outspoken language of the lower body, and sacred parody dethrones the hieratic. Carnival folk-laughter is egalitarian, and derision, not death, is the great leveller. (6)
Thus, the researcher plans to additionally investigate the carnivalesque aspects of the novel and illustrate how the dialogical voice of unofficial culture resists the monologism of official unitary language in heteroglossia.
1.3. Objectives and Significance of the Study
1.3.1. Significance of the Study
In the light of Bakhtin’s premises, system as a synchronic whole offers no way of illustrating how particular meanings are shaped within particular utterances. In fact, language has a diachronic nature in its actual use. Furthermore, the actual reality of language is embedded in the social event of verbal interaction rooted in an utterance. In other words, language exists dialogically and its meaning is socially produced in a specific context. More fundamentally, language is addressed to another and every utterance is the product of the interaction between the speakers. Accordingly, dialogue is created. This is of great significance especially with regard to totalitarian sources of domain which attempt to suffocate the voice of other. Thus, it becomes clear why this study is worth being undertaken. It brings the real power of the marginalized voices to surface and in so doing makes us appreciate the notion of ‘other’.
1.3.2. Purpose of the Study
The major point addressed in the present thesis would be to explore the plurality of voices in the novel so that to diagnose the inevitable dialogue going on in the social context. Furthermore, it seeks to confirm the dialogical nature of language and investigate the way suppressed voices and meanings are employed to overturn the privileged. In other words, the present study aims to survey the novel and its characters in the light of Bakhtin’s concepts of polyphony, dialogism, heteroglossia and carnivalization so that the following objectives are attained:
a) To thoroughly investigate the novel in the light of Bakhtinian analysis of dialogism
b) To explore the concept of carnivalization on the side of the marginalized voices
c) To demonstrate how various ideologies coexist with equal power.
1.3.3. Research Questions
Here are some questions that the researcher attempts to answer through Bakhtin’s premises:
1) How can the characters’ relationship be observed in the light of Bakhtin’s concepts?
2) In what way does Snow White make use of the discourse of feminism to overturn the monologism of the official and unitary discourse?
3) How can each character be investigated as a particular voice in the polyphonic discourse of society?
4) To what extent can Snow White be read as a carnivalesque phenomenon?
5) What role does the notion of ‘other’ play in establishing the dialogic nature of language observed in the novel?
6) How can the possibility of various ideologies coexisting with equal power in a dialogic interaction be traced in the novel?
7) In what ways heteroglossia has been declared in Snow White?
1.4. Review of literature
Zuzanna Ladyga argues the emergence of the postmodern subject in the anarchic collage of Donald Barthelme’s Snow White in the second chapter of her book, Rethinking Postmodern Subjectivity: Emmanuel Levinas and the Ethics of Referentiality in the Work of Donald Barthelme (2009). First of all, she reconsiders the significance of Snow White as the paradigm of postmodern subjectivity and then attempts to redefine its role in the evolution of Barthelme’s literary project. In the pursuit of her goal, she reexamines the underlying assumptions of the two critical approaches toward Barthelme’s first novel: the apolitical metafictional readings with their emphasize on the novel’s collage, intertextuality and its use of pop cultural ‘dreck’ and the political readings tracing revolutionary spirit of Snow White. In the light of Levinas’s radical ethics, she explores the complementary nature of the two approaches due to their focus on the ethical subversiveness of the literary subject.
As Michael Hudgens clarifies in Donald Barthleme: Postmodernist American Writer (2001), Barthelme’s achievement in overcoming the “backwardness” of writing is achieved in the aesthetic battleground over the nature of narrative and representation. Hudgens explicates two of Barthelme’s best known novels, The Dead Father and Snow White, and the short story, “Paraguay,” a work considered emblematic of literary postmodernism by both sides in this debate–by critics who scorn postmodernism as chaotic or willfully difficult and by those sympathetic to the need for exploring heterogeneous forms of expression. The nature of cultural postmodernism is a significant sub-theme of the study, and here Hudgens makes a valuable contribution to the theoretical standoff between postmodernism and its critics. He identifies elements of Barthelme’s work that contrast starkly with tenets of high modernist criticism, explicating them in the context of Barthelme’s stated goals as a writer.
Donald Barthelme: An Exhibition (1991) by Jerome Klinkowitz is essentially a study of Barthelme’s focus on experimentation with form over matter and the recognition of ‘narrative unmaking’ as the basis for that form. Klinkowitz, one of the first scholars to study Barthelme’s work and its definitive bibliographer, investigates Barthelme’s life and work within a broad spectrum of influences and affinities. A consideration of developments in painting and sculpture, for example, as well as those of contemporaneous fiction, contribute to Klinkowitz’s analysis. Furthermore, he explores the way in which Barthelme reinvented the tools of narration, characterization, and thematics at a time when fictive techniques were largely believed to be exhausted.
In the fourth chapter, Klinkowitz scrutinizes the narration of Snow White along with other novels by Barthelme, and considers how Barthelme finds it effective for underscoring his theme. Then, he argues that this extraordinary style is a “consequence of form itself: postmodernizing the most traditional of fairy tales” (82). Additionally, he argues how cultural and linguistic forms create our sense of reality and opens the way for the new world in Snow White.
Language History and Linguistic Modelling: A Festschrift for Jacek Fisiak on his 60th Birthday (1997) is a two volume work which offers a comprehensive collection of article on many aspects of linguistic research from the 1990s. A major theme is the development of English which is examined on several levels in the light of recent linguistic theory in various papers. In the second volume, Andrzej Kopcewicz reads Snow White as a “detached” fragment of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in an article named “The “trash phenomenon” in Donald Barthelme’s Snow White and James Joyce’s Finnegans wake.” He argues that Snow White not only emerges as an innovative fiction in the mode of verbal collage, but also recycles “verbal trash” and “fallen language” into a “viable literary expression” (1990). What comes next is a brief look at Barthelme’s view of collage as a mode which brings about aesthetic contextualization of trashy verbal fragments and their semantic grounding and the investigation of its function in Snow White.
Aleid Fokkema in the second part of Postmodern Characters: A Study of Characterization in British and American Postmodern Fiction (1991) concerning metafiction in America, goes through a comparative study of Barthelme’s Snow White, Adler’s Speedboat and Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew. In his argument, Snow White is considered as the prime example of postmodernist techniques whenever collage, intertextuality, fragmentation, metafiction, irony and particularly ‘dreck’ are discussed. Additionally, it is mostly treated as a “long metafictional comment on the function of language and fiction” (Fokkema 101) in which characters lack growth and identity outside language. Furthermore, he renders the novel in terms of its narrative indeterminacy, violated logic, parody and irony, absence of social code, non-referential nature of language and an almost complete absence of modalities. In conclusion, he mentions Snow White as most radically subversive of the three postmodern novels in which not only the conventions of characterization are undermined, but also all theories of the self are ridiculed.
Investigating how mirroring or mimetic strategies leads us to recognize the correspondences between natural and human worlds, is the key point of the second chapter of Cristina Bacchilega’s Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative Strategies (1997). In her reading of the “Snow White” fairy tale, Bacchilega argues that this mimesis is the particular effect of ideological expectations and implicit norms, which is the technology of “re-producing women as the mirror image of masculine desire” (29). Moreover, she attempts to magnify the narrative frame and the norms which determine the actions, voices and gazes of the heroine.
Concerning Barthelme’s Snow White, Bacchilega notices that the questioning and unfulfilling narrator of the novel escapes from the frame by warning the reader about their narrative expectations. He breaks down the narrative unity in a number of ways: SnowWhite is composed of three parts reproducing Snow White’s three-fold nature. Furthermore, the novel’s features are “provocatively un-fairy-tale-like” (42): the narrative unity is dismantled into several voices which rarely communicate and no happy or recognizable ending is distinguished. In conclusion, she points to the novel’s lack of linear narrative, development in meaning and satisfaction of ending.
Feminism, Bakhtin, and the Dialogic (1991), edited by Dale M. Bauer and Susan Jaret McKinstry, assembles thirteen essays on the intersection of Bakhtin’s narrative theory, especially his concept of dialogism. The book explores the dimensions of using Bakhtin for a feminist analysis and discerns the connections between feminist dialogics and cultural materialism. The eighth section has been assigned to “A Quote of Many Colors: Women and Masquerade in Donald Barthelme’s Postmodern Parody Novels,” in which Jaye Berman argues that the parodic female charecterization in postmodern fiction has much to do with the interrogation of authority achieved through dialogism, hybridization and masquerade, which are key terms in Bakhtinian identification of carnival. As an example, he investigates Barthelme’s Snow White and explores masquerade in its positive sense: “alternation of one’s appearance for purpose of enhancing one’s pleasure, power, or freedom” (123). In conclusion, he asserts that, despite her revolutionary costuming and reading, Snow White fails to liberate herself from the snares of her culture, via masquerade, due to the fact that she is linguistically and textually composed.
Helen Moore Barthelme inDonald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound (2001) goes through a short overview of Snow White. As she declares through several biographical notions, the novel was a vehicle for examining both Barthelme himself and the world he satirizes and largely deals with his own inner struggles. Furthermore, she announces that his complex personality was the basis for the male characters and he could examine his own feelings by adapting the fairy tale structure to an ironic mode.
Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola in “Revamping the Popular in Snow White and Pubis angelica: The Residual Fictions of Donald Barthelme and Manuel Puig” (1998), surveys the revamping of popular discursive forms in the works of both Latin American and U.S. writers. In particular, he discusses the works of Barthelme and Puig as two typical ones, due to their presentation of both parodies and stylization of these forms, and argues that this is indicative of a change in dominant discursive forms. In other words, works like Barthelme’s and Puig’s blur the line between low and high discourses and cultural demonstrations. Additionally, in their “academic-popular” and “elitist-accessible” (2) fiction, parody is recognized to be a fundamental parameter. Furthermore, Herrero-Olaizola’s scrutinizing the two particular texts suggests that they doubt the “popular and serious” (3) differentiation whichresists generic delimitations, and transform the notion of popular literature.
Herrero-Olaizola’s reading of Snow White in particular suggests the difficulty in establishing any original text for Barthelme’s novel which makes the idea of a monolithic authority less probable. Snow White defamiliarizes previous folktale models in a parodic way which emphasizes the idea of the residual character of Barthelme’s fiction and thus promotes the concept of being “junk literature” (4). Moreover, Herrero-Olaizola points to the idea of language’s filler effect, its changing according to cultural codes or norms, cooperating with the poetics of trash to expand the discursiveness of Snow White, for example, in the relationship of the prince and the female protagonist. Consequently, the discursive dissemination caused by parody leads to a re-consideration of the fictional nature of the novel.
Jaroslav Kusnír in “Subversion of Myths: High and Low Cultures in Donald Barthelme’s Snow White and Robert Coover’s Briar Rose” (2004) analyses the two novels (mentioned in the title of the article)and their particular use of irony, parody and metafiction to undermine traditional popular forms and construct a postmodern vision of the world. The novels are also the focus of a critique of both traditional narrative techniques and contemporary popular (and consumer) culture. Furthermore, Kusnír suggests that both authors not only re- and deconstruct fairy tales’ form, meaning, and function but also throw their global reader into the process of re-reading traditional icons of innocent imagination.
In his specific review on Snow White, Kusnír defines the novel as a collective familiarity with the traditional story combined with a selective narration Barthelme wrote based upon it with a happy ending for the protagonist: her rejection of passive role. He suggests that Barthelme not only defamiliarizes the traditional narration of the story, but also does this on the base of a parodic exposition. Furthermore, in his point of view, the fragmentary nature of Barthelme’s fiction also initiates a reflexive discourse regarding literature and language which plays with the idea of being “junk literature” (4) to the point that one might conclude Barthelme is destroying the popularity of Snow White by “trashing Snow White” (5). In conclusion, he suggests to read Barthelme’s novel as a hybrid text in which parody makes possible a discursive dissemination and which includes an amalgam of previous version accompanied with their critical interpretations.
R. E. Johnson in “Bees Barking in the Night”: The End and Beginning of Donald Barthelme’s Narrative” (1976) thoroughly scrutinizes Barthelme’s strange narrative method and observes the intersubjective dimension of language and the problematic nature of discourse with regard to his stories. He suggests each of Barthelme’s stories to be taken not only on its own ground but also in the context of other stories in order to notice the dialectical structure of the work as a whole and to achieve its particular kind of linguistic realism. Considering Snow White, he clarifies that the reader’s entry into the story is far from the author’s and each play the game of language by different rules. In his view point, form is all that matters for the dwarfs and content only exists as a vehicle for the manifestation of form. They seem to perceive that language shapes reality, however, reality is itself linguistic in structure and this fictional language is the only ground to realize consciousness. Furthermore, he illustrates the open-endedness nature of this language that could not be stood by a logocentric reader. As a final point, he notices Barthelme’s dialectic as a force to keep one away from a hundred other distracting things and to make one wait and concludes that this goal engenders one of Bathelme’s familiar devices (i.e. in case of Paul): his fascination with ellipses.
Jeffrey T. Nealon in “Disastrous Aesthetics: Irony, Ethics, and Gender in Barthelme’s Snow White” (2005) attempts to answer the question of aesthetics and its seemingly ironic relation to gender in Snow White. He illustrates the postmodern situation in Snow White which troubles the traditional aesthetic thinking in three ways: robbing the aesthetics of its role, collapsing the aesthetic distance and finally robbing the aesthetics of its proper object (2). In his point of view, the distinction of art and trash cannot be hold any longer and thus Barthelme seems to make ironic aesthetics work as a substitute for the absence of a transcendental signified. However, both Barthelme and the reader would experience “a new art” made up of the “junkpile” of the text (ibid. 3), and this project seems to bring us back to the Aristotle’s formula of the relation between aesthetics and knowledge. Incompatibly, for Barthelme as a postmodernist, the wonder of myth does not end up in knowledge, but provides the ground to make all understanding problematic. So that Barthelme’s project, Snow White, is “an attempt to preserve the wonder of ironic dissimulation” (ibid. 5). Additionally, he mentions that aesthetic distance or depth more or less occurs through ironic revelation at the end of Snow White and causes the reader to see, appreciate and wonder again.
In another part of his article, Nealon grounds his critique on the violence of masculinist gaze in Snow White and observes that the figure of woman has been shown to be the subject of as well as subject to representation through the male-dominated gaze of aesthetic truth: to the dwarfs, Snow White appears to be just a collection of “fetishized zones” (7). Then he continues that for the goal of restoring wonder, as argued before, the story focuses on the necessary failure of all totalizing principles and makes use of ironic epiphany as a postmodern rescue. In the end, he concludes that Barthelme protects his specific kind of postmodern aesthetic conservatism and subjective privilege to the point that his story surrenders to what it runs up against: “what is, is insufficient” (15).
1.5. Materials and Methodology
1.5.1. Definition of Key Terms
According to Hawthorn, carnivalesque has been dubbed by Bakhtin to all manifestations of a democratic and popular counter-culture which opposes a formal and hierarchical official culture. Of great significance is the issue of “unity-in-diversity” or, to put it in other words, the polyphony of many voices that make up the carnival (29). For Bakhtin, the defining characteristic of carnivalesque is laughter, which is forbidden in official celebrations. Bakhtin mentions the “living present” as the starting point for its understanding, “conscious experience and free invention”, and being “multi-styled and hetero-voiced” as other characteristics of carnival and carnivalesque forms (Rabelais 108).
This term literally means “time-space” and provides a unit of literary analysis according to the ratio and characteristics of temporal and spatial categories. What distinguishes this term lies in the fact that time and space categories are interdependent and inseparable. More significantly, neither category is privileged. In Bakhtinian point of view, chronotope has an intrinsic generic significance due to the fact that it is chronotope that defines genre and generic distinctions (Dialogic Imagination 425).
In a world dominated by heteroglossia, dialogism is the epistemological mode: everything exists as a part of a greater whole so that a constant interaction between meanings with the potential of conditioning each other is unavoidable. Every utterance exists in response to things that have been said before and in anticipation of things that will be said in response. Thus, this dialogic imperative leaves room for no actual monologue and ensures that language is relational and dynamic. For Bakhtin, in a literary world as well, a dialogic work participates in an endless dialogue with other works of literature, informing and being informed by previous works.
In everyday usage, and especially as represented in literature, dialogue corresponds to verbal interchange between individuals. For Bakhtin, dialogue is the essential reality of language. He argues that even in not openly interactive phenomena, such as utterance or discourse, dialogue is to be found. He considers a word as a garment passed between individuals. Logically, monologue is the opposite of dialogue. According to Bakhtin: “monologism denies that there exists outside of it another consciousness, with the same rights and capable of responding on an equal footing, another and equal I (thou)…. The monologue is accomplished and deaf to other’s response ” (qtd.in Todorov 107).
It can be defined as the base condition controlling the construction and operation of meaning in any utterance. In Bakhtinian point of view, heteroglossia is the coexistence of a multiplicity of overlapping and often conflicting versions of a single language and is always implicitly present when any of them is used. Furthermore, any utterance takes its meaning from its relation to the various other languages with which it is inevitably in dialogue. The main characteristic of novel as a genre is its inherent multiplicity of voice and thus, Bakhtin viewed novel as the best field for exploitation of heteroglossia.
According to Bakhtin, hybridization occurs when two or more linguistic consciousnesses, often widely separated in time and social space, mix within a single utterance. This is one of the major keys to create language-images in novels. Novelistic hybrids are intentional and their double-voicedness is not meant to be resolved (Dialogic Imagination 429).
As introduced by Bakhtin, polyphony is a feature of narrative discourse including multiplicity of voices and points of view. Together with heteroglossia, Bakhtin considers polyphony to be a defining feature of novel as a literary genre. In his study of Dostoevsky, Bakhtin argues that “a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses . . . with equal rights and each with its own world” (Dostoevsky’s Poetics6) would be observed in a polyphonic novel.
Word or Utterance
According to Bakhtin, word or utterance is the main unit of meaning. It is an expression in a living context and is always formed through the speaker’s relation to other speakers and their utterances in a lived cultural world. It is specifically made social, historical and dialogized. Therefore, a word is embedded in the history of others’ utterances and expressions in an ongoing chain of cultural and social moments.
1.6. Organization of the Study
The present thesis includes five chapters. Besides the present chapter, the researcher develops the subject in three main chapters. The final chapter covers the concluding results. The second chapter will focus on the theoretical framework of the study. It thoroughly examines the main premises of the Russian theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin. Chapter three focuses on the novel, its linguistic world, and the fact that how Barthelme makes use of the traditional world of fairytales in order to create his own modern world. Chapter four carries the burden of application of Bakhtinian theory of dialogism and carnivalesque to the novel. The fifth chapter is a concluding one. The researcher comes up first with a summary of what have been declared in previous chapters. Then, in a separate part, what have been uncovered during the study would be presented. The last part would be a suggestion for further reading and research.
BAKHTIN; WORKS and IDEAS
Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895-1975), Russian philosopher, scholar, and literary critic, has been hailed as the “most important Soviet thinker in the human sciences and the greatest theoretician of literature in the twentieth century” (qtd. in Bakhtin, SpeechGenres ix). His works, on various literary subjects, have equally influenceddiverse philosophical orientations including Marxism, structuralism, neo-Kantianism, Formalism and other early Soviet avant-garde movements. Although he was just the author of an original book on Dostoevsky during his lifetime, he achieved most of his fame posthumously and is still in the process of becoming who he will be. Many of what he wrote failed to survive; and much of what remained, mostly rough notes and fragments not intended for publication, has been recently translated. Furthermore, not only his writingsare not in the form of academically prepared treatises, but also his obscure, dense style raises formidable interpretive problems. None the less, since the late 1970s, his main concepts have been the center of literally essays and articles.
In spite of the extensive range of his writings, Bakhtin’s interests seem to be focused on a series of meditations on the nature of self and the centrality of language in the social life. He strictly maintained that urgent moves toward an egalitarian and democratic community are attained through the following notions: linguistics, cultural freedom, dialogic interaction with others, and social differences sustained in the utterances and cultural practices of everyday life. As Michael Gardiner puts it in words, Bakhtin’s cultural politics is to encourage “popular deconstruction of official discourses and ideologies” (2). Popular cultural forms, then, provide the main sources of power for Bakhtin. To have these issues scrutinized in detail, it would be appropriate to shed light on Bakhtin’s works and the premises raised by them.
2.1. Toward a Philosophy of the Act
Not only the first of Bakhtin’s works to be translated, but also the first to be written, Toward a Philosophy of the Act (1993) contains his very first and seminal premises regarding the self/other relationship, the act of authoring and, most frequently, the nature of Being. Regardless of being worthwhile in its own right, a close reading of this early work underlines the themes of Bakhtin’s better known works. In this essay, Bakhtin emphasizes the primacy of ethical choices at any moment of one’s life. He investigates the several ways through which one attempts to avoid responsibility. Then, he announces that there can never be a proper explanation for one’s responsibility despite several theories which displace it on others, on social forces, or on other abstractions. Here, Bakhtin is developing his own moral philosophy in the shadow of Kant’s premises. As mentioned before, Bakhtin has been under the influence of neo-Kantianism in his early years of education, most probably during the time he wrote Toward a Philosophy of the Act. The particular philosophy embedded in Neo-Kantianism assumes a necessary interaction, or dialogue, between mind and world. As Simon Dentith mentions, in neo-Kantian way of thinking
consciousness cannot be explained as a mere reflection of the external world, for the mind is not a blank sheet on which the objects of the external world are impressed. On the contrary, consciousness brings its own independent forms to apprehending and explaining the world outside itself, especially conceptions of time and space which cannot be deduced from the world itself. (11)
2.1.1. Self and other
Bakhtin’s interest in Neo-Kantianism lies down in the way he gets to the relationship between self and other, between I and Thou. According to Bakhtin, our sense of self and what we assume as the otherness of other person is constituted and defined in this inescapable relationship. Undoubtedly, self for Bakhtin is not a self-contained phenomenon. In its true nature, it is a dialogue, a “relation” (Holquist 19). Additionally, Bakhtin introduces the individual responsibility of being oneself and simultaneously in relation with another. As Nielsen quotes in The Norms of Answerability, Bakhtin highly expresses the self/other relations in the
contraposition of I and the other. Life knows two value-centers that are fundamentally and essentially different, yet are correlated with each other: myself and the other; and it is around these centers that all of the concrete moments of Being are distributed and arranged. (92)
In accordance with this I-Thou relationship, Bakhtin proposes an “architectonic,” a three-part model of human psyche, based on perception and point of view. According to Holquist, architectonic is a “general study of how entities relate to each other” (150). Besides, it