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Title: Irony, dialogue, and the reader in the novels of Nathalie Sarraute
Author: O'Beirne, Emer
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1994
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This thesis explores the concept of dialogue, and of reading as a dialogue, in relation to Sarraute's novels. Its view of dialogue draws on various theories of (spoken and written) communication which see dialogue as transcending the limits of linguistic expression (Ch.l). This transcendence of language through language is epitomised by the ironic exchange, where communication succeeds in spite of the utterance which is openly recognised to be defective. Full participation in dialogue entails ironically recognising the inadequacy of one's discourse; if the subject's language constitutes his identity, then engaging in dialogue further involves acknowledging one's lack of authority as a subject. However, reading Sarraute complicates this idealistic notion of dialogue: despite her writing's formal dialogism, it not only represents but also enacts aspects of communication which oppose rather than promote consensus. The way the authorial voice inevitably reasserts an initially renounced unitary identity (something her fiction condemns), demonstrates how speaking always unifies the subject despite itself, reaffirming that authority which the aspiration to dialogue should reject (Chs.3 and4). Secondly, reading as a form of dialogue raises the question of the relationship of writing to speech: their structural identity means that spoken communication cannot offer mutual presence but always involves alienation (Ch.2). Thus Sarraute's attempt to counter the alienation of writing by simulating speech cannot succeed, and so she replays a conversational strategy of her characters to control the distant reader's response she defines him (as passive and assenting) in her address. But the mediation of writing preserves the reader from this definition, and so Sarraute finally rejects this uncontrollable other (Ch.5). However, spoken dialogue also illuminates the text-reader exchange: its reciprocity, which counters the alienation of writing, indicates how the text too can "answer" the reader by resisting his interpretation and making him revise it. Some text-reader communication is possible, for the text's language exceeds both its author's intention and its reader's interpretation, uniting them in the symbolic universe within which they define themselves (Ch.6). But their linguistic selfdefinition means that their dialogue around the text will always be oppositional as well as consensual.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Criticism and interpretation ; Dialogue in literature