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Booth's Rhetoric, Bakhtin's Dialogics and the Future of Novel Criticism Author(s): Don H.

Bialostosky Source: NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring, 1985), pp. 209-216 Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1345786 . Accessed: 08/04/2013 20:01
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because theyforceus to examine theirdisguises and revive and revise our own dormantviews. But I do think there will have to be some accommodationon in this case theirpart also of the aestheticand moral value of literary fictions, novels, some restorationof their status as works worthyof contemplationas We eclectichumanistshave afterall been enwell as texts for deconstruction. and dangers of the works we cherish weaknesses with the some time for gaged as well as with theirmoral and aestheticmerits;and we have been engaged also in broader and deeper approaches to fictionthan mere formalismallows. The verbal icon is no longer a sacred object for us, but rathera richlymeaningful object which repays repeated study througha varietyof extrinsicand intrinsic approaches. Its autonomyis relativeratherthan absolute, and I thinkthat the new schools will have to accept that relativevalue and its person-centered uses, even as we learn to accept theirdescriptivesystemsand culturalcodes as tools of great sociological utility-as indeed they are when applied to those "privileged texts" we all know and love, which as I understandit our American now treat as "works" even while professingotherwise.8If poststructuralists this seems like anotherliberal ploy for compromiseand absorption,I can only say-why not? I thinkauthors,works, readers,and culturesalike will benefit I can only say that this is by it in the long run; and if that is undulyoptimistic, as well as a skepticaland pragmaticculturein which we bourgeois an optimistic individualistsalso live, breathe,earn our salaries, and prepare our papers for each other's edificationon socially regressivepanels like this one. At least my own sense of a happy endingtellsme so.
8

See, for example, Mario Valdes, ed., The Identity of the Literary Text (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985); and for the counter-tendency, see Charles Altieri, Act & Quality: A Theory of Literary Meaning and Humanistic Understanding (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981). For other humanist defenses, see Robert Alter's brilliant assessment of the present conflict, "Mimesis and the Motive for Fiction," in Motives for Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 3-21; Unities: Studies in the English Novel (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985); H. M. Daleski's and Daniel Schwarz's work in progress, The Humanistic Heritage: Critical Theories of the English Novel from James to Hillis Miller.

Dialogics Bakhtin's Rhetoric, Booth's ofNovelCriticism* andtheFuture


DON H. BIALOSTOSKY, Panelist When we ask, "Where do we go fromhere?" it helps to know where we are. In novel criticism today,one place fromwhich we can take our bearingson the future is Wayne Booth's Rhetoricof Fiction.It is not the only source of rhetorical
* This essay was provoked by and is indebted to a paper by Hendrik van Gorp on "Theories of Novelistic Polyphony: Bakhtin vs. Stanzel, Genette, and Booth" presented at an International Colloquium on Mikhail Bakhtin: His Circle, His Influence, at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, October 7-9, 1983. I have also benefited from conversation and correspondence with Wayne Booth. Homer Goldberg and Marianna Torgovnick helped with close critical readings.

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criticism draws, but since it remainsthe approaches to fictionon which current most self-consciously rhetorical and the most widely known place in which to learn about rhetorical I will take it as the place fromwhich criticism of fiction, I tryto chartsome future directions fornovel criticism. In the afterword to the 1983 second editionof The Rhetoricof Fiction,Booth has had occasion to ask himself wherenovel criticism has gone since 1961 and to directions it now take. Of more than the 400 new entriesin his point might he singlesout fourcritics to his project; fortheirspecial pertinence bibliography, of those four, one above all not only enrichesBooth's inquirybut challenges some of its fundamental premises.Booth findsMikhail Bakhtin'sdialogic poetics of the novel especiallyimpressiveon the topics of language and style,historical and implied authors and readers,objectivityand technique,and ideology and form.1 Booth's acknowledgment of Bakhtin in his afterwordis remarkablefor its him to see as a willingness challenge on the same issues that The Rhetoricof Fictionraises ratherthan to quarantinehim as a theoristof some other critical mode with its own distinctive but unrhetorical questions. In this he shows the effects of the responsiveand open-endedpluralismhe inventsin CriticalUnderof Bakhtin's standing.2But in his forewordto Caryl Emerson'snew translation Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics-an essay he sees as spilling over from the afterword to his own book-Booth combinesthis stance with the more defensive pluralism of his 1968 essay on "The Rhetoric of Fiction and the Poetics of Fictions": he generouslyacknowledges Bakhtin's challenge to the rhetoricof fiction,but he also isolates that challenge in a criticalmode distinctfrom his own.3 Booth begins his foreword to the Dostoevsky book by establishinga common and Bakhtin's dialogism on the ground between his Chicago Aristotelianism question of ideology and form.Both positions,he claims, reject the opposition between abstractformand ideologicalcontentfor an idea of formchargedwith value or ideology. Booth distinguisheshis Chicago Aristotelianism, however, for its focus on the distinction between the effectsauthorsintendin theirideologically charged formal unities and the technical means they use to achieve them.Accordingto the Chicago premisesBooth worked under in The Rhetoric "Authorswere..,. in chargeof createdunitiesthatconsistedof choices of Fiction, and judged." 4 exemplified In this Aristotelianframework, Booth conceived the rhetoricof fiction as
1 Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 409, 410n., 415-17, 419. The other three critics Booth pays special attention to are Peter Rabinowitz, Sheldon Sacks, and G&rard Genette.
2

Wayne C. Booth, Critical Understanding: Chicago Press, 1979).

The Powers and Limits of Pluralism

(Chicago:

University of

Wayne C. Booth, "Introduction," in Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, ed. and trans. University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. xiii-xxvii; Wayne C. Booth, Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: "The Rhetoric of Fiction and the Poetics of Fictions," Novel 1 (Winter, 1968), pp. 105-117; rpt. in Towards a Poetics of Fiction, ed. Mark Spilka (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), pp. 77-89. p. xviii.

' Booth, "Introduction,"

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resourcesavailable to the writer. . . as focused on technique,on "the rhetorical he tries,consciously or unconsciously,to impose his fictionalworld upon the reader."5 Booth assumed the end of imposing a unified fictionalworld of a given kind-like the tragic, comic, or horrific-and concerned himself with use of all rhetoricalmeans to impose that world advocating the unrestricted that it is an arbitrary and unnecessary upon the reader.He argued,accordingly, on artistsand readers to confinethem to using or appreciatingonly restriction "objective" techniques. Booth's afterword presentsBakhtin's position as if it transcendedthe whole fictional of techniques and their relation to artistic ends. Bakhtin's question to produce "has he nothingat all to do with the author'seffort challenge, writes, Its subject is not the orderingof technicalmeans toward a single unifiedeffect. so muchas the qualityof the author'simaginative certaineffects gift-the ability under or willingnessto allow voices into the work that are not fundamentally the 'monological'controlof the novelist'sown ideology."6 As Booth recognizes, he has assimilated Bakhtin's position to the Longinian alternativeto Aristotle that the Chicago school has long acknowledged-an alternativeconcerned to in the authorrather demonstrate the presenceof genius or greatnessor sublimity of parts in the whole in a given work.7Booth than to articulatethe functioning repeatedlyemphasizes Bakhtin's transcendenceof mere technical concerns for more profound and importantissues, making his challenge to the rhetoricof fictionseem more like a moral and spiritualchallenge to its questions than a technicaland artistic challengeto Booth's answersto them.8 Booth thus diminisheshis direct encounterwith Bakhtin by conceding him the high ground and holding onto the low, but we shall see that the dialogics of fictionchallenge one anothermore directlyon the common and the rhetoric author's the of role, the author's chosen artistictask, and the technical grounds means of realizingit than Booth's account of Bakhtinallows. In outliningwhat I thinkI am also mapping terrainon I take to be theirpoints of confrontation, which novel criticism may discover much that needs to be said about both its resourcesand the body of textswith which it is concerned. theoretical Though Booth argues in The Rhetoricof Fiction for the author's use of all world on the reader,his polemavailable technicalmeans in imposinga fictional ical emphasis is on the uses of the author's voice. He shows the usefulnessof it. And he argues that and the price of renouncing directauthorialcommentary is lacking and the author resortsto the "hundreds of when such commentary devices [that] remain for revealing judgment and molding responses," "the author'svoice is stilldominantin a dialogue that is at the heartof all experience withfiction."g Booth's idea of the novel as dialogue among the author,narrators,
a Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, p. xiii.
6

Booth, "Introduction," pp. xx, xxvii.

p. xx.

SIbid.,
8

Ibid., pp. xx, xxiv-xxv, xxvii.

SBooth, Rhetoric of Fiction, p. 272.

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and readerslinkshim withBakhtin'sdialogic model of novelisticdischaracters, course,'1but his repeatedinsistenceon the dominanceof the authorover narrathe rhetoricalnovel Booth examines tors, charactersand readers differentiates fromthedialogicDostoevskiannovel Bakhtindescribes.11 While Booth repeatedlyposits a dialogue in which "the author sees more 12 Bakhtin than his presentedcharacters," deeply and judges more profoundly consciousness the novel in not the author's examines which superior explicitly Booth but the hero's self-consciousnessis the dominant of representation.13 would see such a move as a shiftin technicaldevices that "turns the character 14 but Bakhtin's self-conscioushero is whose mind is shown into a narrator," not a "center of consciousness" throughwhose perspectivea storyis told but the object of representation itself.The hero's discourse in its response to disthe coursesof theothercharacters and the discourseof the authoris, forBakhtin, novel's principalobjectof representation.'5 Bakhtin'sdialogics of fictionthus reopens the question of what is means and what is end in the novel and suggests that in some cases at least the choices Booth advocates as technicallyeffectivewould not serve the end Bakhtin is to be the dominantof representation, imagines.If the hero's self-consciousness the author'spositionmust be shiftedfromthe finalizingand judging role Booth defendsto an activelydialogic interchange with the hero. "Only in the lightof this artistic project,"Bakhtinwrites,"can one understandthe authenticfunction of such compositional elementsas the narrator and his tone . . . and the . . . narration directfromthe author."16 This is not the criticallanguage of someone unconcernedwith "unified effect" and the "technical means toward certain effects"17 but of someone who posits a different kind of effectthat calls for a radicalreconsideration of fictional means and ends. Bakhtin's account of the genre of the Dostoevskian novel gives us an idea how the ends toward which it is organized differfrommore familiartragicor comic or rhetorical ends with which he contrastsit. BakhtintracesDostoevsky's genericsourcesalong severallines of what he calls the "serio-comic"or carnivalized genres. In all these genres,he writes,"there is a strongrhetorical element, of a carnivalsense of the characteristic but in the atmosphere of joyfulrelativity world this elementis fundamentally changed: thereis a weakening of its oneits dogmatism.""18 its singularmeaning, its sided rhetorical seriousness, rationality,
1o

Ibid., p. 155.

11 This insistent subordination of hero to author or story to discourse is widely assumed in contemporary novel and narrative theory. I have contrasted Seymour Chatman's reliance upon it with Bakhtin's challenge to it in "Bakhtin versus Chatman on Narrative: The Habilitation of the Hero," University of Ottawa Quarterly 53 (January, 1983), 109-116.
12 Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, p. 74. is Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's 1, Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, p. 164. 15 16

Poetics, pp. 49-50. Poetics, pp. 63-65, 266.

Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Ibid., p. 64.

17Booth, "Introduction," p. xx. 18 Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's

Poetics, p. 107.

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The "stylisticunity. . . of the epic, the tragedy, [and] the lyric" high rhetoric, as "the epic and tragic is replaced by mixed styles in the serio-comicgenres,19 in which the wholeness of a person and his fate" is replaced by self-division hero "ceases to mean only one thing."20 Carnival familiarization suspends the usual hierarchiesof social values and destroys "epic and tragic distance."21 contradictions replace the clarified Deeply ambivalentresponsesto fundamental responses of separate tragic and comic genres; promiscuous participation and spectators."22 replaces the conventional"division into performers Even this highlycompressedsummaryof the serio-comicgenre can show us how Bakhtingives positive characterto a literaryeffectthat Booth reads as a lack of the "clarityabout distance" provided by the "traditionalforms."23 TO to "approve or disapwho arguesforthereader'srightto know whether thecritic and order"25 of all structure prove,laugh or cry,"24 Bakhtin's"joyful relativity of distinctions and his "ambivalentlaughter"26 are a challenge to fundamental effect. The clarification of responseone seeks in Aristoteliantragedyor literary of the hero's standingand the comedydepends upon the audience's recognition audience's distance from the hero's situation,but the participatory response to Bakhtinenvisionsputs the hero and the audience in a carnivalizedproximity one another that replaces definitive judgment with mutual openness and responsiveness. In such a fictionalworld, the author does not design charactersto provoke laughter,tears, or admirationbut to provoke articulateresponsivenessof one person to anotheron commonhuman ground.Instead of issuingin a non-verbal recognitionor feeling or attitude,the unfinalized interplayof value-charged in thediverseverbalresponsesitprovokes discoursein thedialogicworkcontinues and generally nonin its readers. Booth's rhetoricalemphasis on determinate verbal effectsleads him to call "the criticaldisagreement"provoked by stories is a mark of success in a "a scandal." 27 For Bakhtinthat unsettledcontroversy thanrhetorical workdesignedto dialogicrather specifications. In Bakhtin'sserio-comic genre,then,it is not, as Booth says, that the characters defy "any temptationthe author may have to fit them into his superior plans" 28 but ratherthat, as Bakhtin says, "the freedomof a characteris an aspect of the author's design" and "is just as much a created thing as is the an interest unfreedomof the objectivized hero." 29 Bakhtin has not forfeited
e19Ibid.,

p. 108. 20 Ibid., pp. 116-17. 21 Ibid., p. 124.

22 Ibid., p. 122. 28 Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, p. 331.


24 25

Ibid. Poetics, p. 124.

Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's 26 Ibid., p. 166.


27

Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, p. 315. 28 Booth, "Introduction," p. xxiii.


29

Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's

Poetics, pp. 64-65.

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in artisticdesign and the techniquethat serves it but has radicallyenlarged the field of such designs and so has not only shifted the possible functionsof techniquesbut has shiftedthe very boundaries between technique and design. One of the most importantshiftsin these boundaries concerns the role of Booth remains language or discourse or diction in the novel. In his afterword Aristotelianin treatinglanguage not as the object of imitationbut insistently as the means for realizingthe object of "characters-in-action," 30 and he regrets that he did not place more emphasis on the primacyof plot in The Rhetoricof Fiction."31 Bakhtin just as firmly declares that the "main object of [Dostoevis the word itself" understood as the discourse of the sky's] representation ideologist-heroin its responsiveness to the words addressed to it by other characters and by the authoras well.32Bakhtin'sanalysis of the various ways in which one person's word can be relatedto the word of anotherprovidesperhaps his richestcontribution to our criticalvocabulary.His chapteron "Discourse in Dostoevsky" as well as his section on reported speech in Marxism and the not only of novelistictechPhilosophy of Language enrich our understanding novelistic objects in the niques like free indirectdiscourse but of interesting authors,and narrators.33 veryverbalinterplay amongthelanguagesof characters, His typologyof verbal interactions is most immediatelyuseful for analyzing local verbal events in the novel and leaves as yet unanswered the question Bakhtin himselfthoughtremainedmost open at the end of his inquiries,the question "of the whole in a polyphonicnovel." 34 That question remainsopen and important forfuture novel criticism."3 Bakhtin'sdialogicsof fiction into our discussionof the novel does Introducing not rule out the effectsBooth considers or the techniques he defends,but it of themas appropriate criticism does tempt me to identify themand his rhetorical to the monologicnovel. I shall resistthe temptation, however,to set principally up a dialecticaloppositionbetweenBooth's monologismand Bakhtin'sdialogism, because the dialogic perspective finallydoes not allow for such an oppositionin criticaltheoryany more than in novelisticpractice. Though Bakhtin himself, opposition habituallymakes use of thisheightened despitehis dialogicprinciples, and temptsme to emulatehim,he writesin the essay "Discourse in the Novel" that "even in those places where the author's voice seems at firstglance to be
so Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, p. 409.
31

Ibid., pp. 436-440. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, p. 266.

32

SS Mikhail Bakhtin, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, trans. Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik (New York: Seminar Press, 1973), pp. 109-159. This volume was originally published under the name of V. N. Voloshinov.
8

Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's

Poetics, p. 4.

as For an effort in the Chicago Aristotelian and rhetorical tradition to come to terms with "the problem of completeness in the open-ended novel," see David Richter, Fable's End: Completeness and Closure in Rhetorical Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974). James Phelan, writing in the same tradition, provides its most thorough analysis of the place of language in fiction but does not take up Bakhtin's contribution to the question. See his Worlds from Words: A Theory of Language in Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).

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directand unmediatedly beneath that smooth intentional, unitaryand consistent, single-languagedsurfacewe can neverthelessuncover prose's three-dimensionwhich entersthe project of style and is its ality,its profoundspeech diversity, factor."36 For Bakhtin, then, neither "monologic" novelists nor determining criticaltheoristswould "mean only one thing" any more than does the hero of the Dostoevskian novel. While dialecticalarguments reduce theirparticipants to representing such single meanings,dialogic criticism must be alert to what remainsto be said fromthe unfoldingpositions of its concreteparticipants. Viewed in thisdialogicperspective, Booth's linkingof Bakhtinto the Longinian traditionmay be seen as part of anotheragenda. Booth's currentinquiriesinto the ethics of fictionmake him less interested in Bakhtin'sbearingson the technical issues of the rhetoricof fictionthan on the evaluative issues that now concern him. In his feministcritique of Bakhtin and Rabelais in "Freedom of Bakhtinand the Challengeof Feminist he subordinates Criticism," Interpretation: technical issues to moral judgmentof the "quality of . . . laughter" Rabelais evokes and political criticism of the exclusion of female voices fromhis text.37 Booth recognizes the carnival effectsBakhtin dwells upon, but he challenges Bakhtin's celebrationof them as ideologicallylimitedratherthan as formally unclear.But even in The Rhetoricof FictionitselfBooth opened the question of "the moral, not merelythe technical,angle of vision from which the story is to be told," and his identification of Bakhtin's argumentwith that "more profound" question may serve to acknowledgeBakhtin'schallengewhere it matters most to him now, ratherthan to deflectit from the issues of the rhetoricof fiction in whichhe is no longerengaged.38 Bakhtin, too, has more to say than my reductive opposition between his theoryand Booth's allows. Especiallyin his essay "Discourse in the Novel," he shows himself aware of a heterogeneity of novelisticgenres not reducible to and organthe Dostoevskian model dominatedby the hero's self-consciousness ized to carnivalized effects.His definitionof the novel in that essay as "a of social speech types..,. and a diversity of individualvoices, artistically diversity the of language and on artistic on the imitation organized" preserves emphasis I that have but it for other arrangements of allows organization broughtout, diverse voices and other artisticeffectsthan the Dostoevskian.39 His acknowledgment of this diversity also permitshim to presentthe history of novelistic genres without making it seem to culminate in Dostoevsky's achievement-which remindsme to acknowledgethat Booth in his forewordto Bakhtinfindshis "own greatestchallenge" in Bakhtin'shistorically and socially situated alternative to Booth's "ahistorical treatmentof forms."40o Though
36

Mikhail Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel," in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 315.

trans.

57 Wayne C. Booth, "Freedom of Interpretation: Bakhtin and the Challenge Inquiry 9 (September, 1982), 60.
38

of Feminist Criticism," Critical

Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction, p. 265. in the Novel," p. 262. p. xxvi. Booth, "Introduction,"

S* Bakhtin, "Discourse
4o

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Bakhtintoo, as I have argued,has his contribution to make to such an ahistorical theory of novelistic I would not want the emerging conversation possibilities, between his position and Booth's to confineitselfto that formalistic purview. If we cannot rest in a dialecticaloppositionbetween a Boothian monologicsand a Bakhtiniandialogics of fiction,perhaps we can have a historically specified Boothian"Rhetoricof Pre-ModernFiction"to go along witha Bakhtinian"Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics" and an Aristotelian "Problemsof AthenianTragic Poetics." But such a historicalformulation would be as fatal to the dialogue I wish to its as dialectical For it should be clear that all these argupromote counterpart. ments bear on one anotheras accounts of the poetics of fiction,and that each of the theoriesis at least as conditioned by its responsesto its theoretical predecessors as by its choice of specifichistoricalsubjects. We can no more isolate them fromone anotherby specifying them historically than by definingtheir distinctive theoretical modes; we mustengage themas theyhave engaged others on the perpetually open groundof what needs to be said next. Booth, followingBakhtin in his foreword,writes that "to state the future would belie its openness," 1 but I will venture a few speculations about the directionsour conversationswill take afterBakhtin.Formally, we will have to talk more about how an imitationof discourse rather than action finds that we will want to discuss novelistic degree of wholeness it embodies. Historically, discourses as both responses to and provocations of other social discourses. Theoretically,we may find ourselves reexaminingnovel criticismitself as a of novelisticdiscourse. Other voices will surely response to and a continuation contribute to these inquiriesand remindus thatwe were engaged in thembefore Bakhtinwas translatedfor us, but however the conversationproceeds some of it will go on fromwhat Bakhtin,and what Booth's engagement with him,leaves to be said about thepoeticsof fiction.42
41 42

Ibid. The conversation has, of course, already begun. The bibliography of essays and books on the novel influenced by Bakhtin begins in the West with Julia Kristeva's "Bakhtine, le mot, le dialogue et le roman" in Critique (April 1967), 438-65, and most recently includes Caryl Emerson's "The Tolstoy Connection in Bakhtin" in PMLA 100 (January, 1985), 68-80, and Victor Brombert's Victor Hugo and the Visionary Novel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984). Readers of Novel have already entered the conversation through David Hayman's essay and review in 16 (Winter, 1983), 101-120, 173-77. The most complete and convenient bibliography of Bakhtin's reception and influence is available in The Bakhtin Newsletter from Clive Thomson, Department of French, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6. Numbers one and two including bibliography through 1983 are available for $8.00 each.

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