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
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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
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.
تعداد صفحه : 137
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