Verses Nature: Heterogeneity and Dialogism in the Novel

Travers Simon, Joan Barbara (2017) Verses Nature: Heterogeneity and Dialogism in the Novel. PhD thesis, Prifysgol Bangor University.

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The present thesis argues for heterogeneity and dialogism as inherent strategies at work in novel-writing as praxis. It provides a bifurcated response to the question: how can I write a novel in such a way that it remains true to my sense of form, my sense of language, to the limitations of both, and to my understanding of plural subjectivities? The first part of the response takes the literary form of a novel, entitled Verses Nature, a postmodern, rebellious conglomerate of genres, in which I put heterogeneity and dialogism to the test. The intention is to sound out the breaking point of the novel, not only to underline certain limits of the novel as a literary form, but also to explore how this particular literary form positions us as readers. In order to explore the limits of representation and interpretation, I sought a way to use Verses Nature to break into our coding system to change it from the inside. Codes are not natural, but made. As the title of my work suggests, Verses Nature sets out to interrogate the seemingly natural. What is a novel? What is a genre? What does it mean to read? How do I read? How am I a reader? What do I expect from myself and from the author? I sought to demonstrate that for each of these questions, there is no straightforward answer and that we must first recover from our assumptions. The open-ended structural and semiotic propositions in Verses Nature refuse to play to such assumptions, soliciting instead various levels of surprise. Due to these shattered expectations, readers find themselves having to reposition, to redefine and thus relocate themselves into new narrative/interpretive spaces. Such deliberately loose, at times overlapping, structures render the notion of dialogism and heterogeneity alive. The intention is to agonize the reader so that she accepts that the novel is out of my hands and becomes her responsibility. If the reader fails to see my female protagonist, Carmina, in all her complexity, seeking instead to reduce her to a woman whose racial profile is more pronounced so that she fits ready-made (and white-ordained) notions of blackness, this reader must accept the responsibility for her expectation and hopefully interrogate why this expectation exists in the first place. If the reader is given no clear point of entry into a text, but must decide for herself where she must place her eyes on the page and where to go from there, this reader must accept responsibility for how she makes meaning from the text. If the reader finds herself constantly rethinking, renaming the place this work occupies – is it a novel? Is it erotica? Is it feminist literature? – then because I have not alleviated her of the responsibility to decide for herself what she wants to see. This reader must acknowledge, by virtue of her doubts, that such classification is not quiet, but always on the move. Not silent, but noisy. By deliberately writing a work with numerous dynamic interfaces and by testing out the various levels and limits of their co-existence in my mind and in that of the reader, I hope to not only provide initial answers to my research question, but to make a contribution to an ongoing discussion about the properties of the novel. This contribution, like the spirit of my research question, seeks to remain open and dynamic. The second part of the response takes the form of a commentary, by means of which I present and analyse samples of my novel-writing as praxis with a view to demonstrating the routes and measures taken to expose what I consider the inherent structural heterogeneity of the novel and its dialogical dynamics, as informed by Mikhail Bakhtin and Jacques Derrida. Here, I also examine how a close reading of ‘writing in the feminine’ as exemplified by a passage in Nicole Brossard’s Fences In Breathing (2007), further refines my understanding of heterogeneity by allowing me to probe a theme that is common to both our work: how the body interacts with generic structure to create/advocate new reading realities/subjectivities. I come to the conclusion that both Nicole Brossard, a Canadian feminist lesbian writer, and I, make valuable contributions to an on-going discussion about the properties of writing. Neither the potential heterogeneity of the novel nor the multiple reader stances it permits have been sufficiently recognized. The novel, notwithstanding its highly elastic properties, still has room for considerable structural innovation. Verses Nature may be seen to demonstrate something of the immense heterogeneity potentially at work within the novel form. In so doing, it is hoped that this novel may invite readers to renegotiate the borders of the novel as a genre and reanimate an understanding of what the novel may do.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: Degree Thesis
Departments: College of Arts and Humanities > School of English Literature
Degree Thesis
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2018 16:13
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2018 16:13
URI: http://e.bangor.ac.uk/id/eprint/10869
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