Underlying my project is an e ff ort to think about verbal discourse as a

Underlying my project is an e ff ort to think about

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Underlying my project is an e ff ort to think about verbal discourse as a social phenomenon. ‘‘Social discourse’’ has gathered so many di ff erent resonances – some complementary and others contradictory – in decon- struction, cultural studies, post-colonial studies, and linguistic discourse analysis that it becomes important to situate one’s use of the term and o ff er some preliminary identi fi cation of key issues. The new historicist ideas about social discourse draw most heavily upon the work of Foucault, but Foucault’s ‘‘discourse,’’ while enormously productive for sociohistorical reading, is not primarily a linguistic concept. In this study I am primarily concerned with language use – with the actual words exchangedamongspeakersandwriters.Forthisreason,someofthebasic distinctions made by Bakhtin provide a more immediately relevant point ofdeparture.Furthermore,theorizingdiscourseasa socialphenomenon, Bakhtin’s work anticipated by about thirty years the fi rst steps in discourse analysis and anticipated by about forty- fi ve years the recogni- tionamongitspractitionersofa needto interrogatetheoreticalpresuppo- sitions that were limiting the interpretive power of its descriptions. For Bakhtin, to argue that verbal discourse is a social phenomenon was to oppose a ‘‘stylistics of ‘private craftsmanship’’’ prevailing when he wrote ‘‘Discourse in the Novel’’ and long afterwards. ¹⁷ It was also to interrupt the Saussurian binary opposition between langue and parole , between a uni fi ed language system and individual language use. Verbal production cannot be accounted for by imagining the ‘‘speaking indi- vidual’’ drawing for his or her utterance on a ‘‘unitary language sys- tem.’’ ¹⁸ To understand discourse as a social phenomenon is to imagine a multi-languaged world – a plenitude of colliding and overlapping dis- courses – discourses associated with the huge range of human enter- prises speci fi c to any time and place, discourses of groups, discourses of classes, of professions, of generations, and the like. Language is strat- i fi ed, plural, heteroglossic. Discourses are speci fi c to their historical, institutional, relational – and other – contexts, but they are also migra- tory, hybridizing, shape-shifting, continuously changing. Discourse, so conceived, is neither the product of individual invention nor a mere derivative from a general system of language. Instead, the word, as Bakhtin puts it, is always oriented towards encounters with other jostling discourses. Discourse is social in that it is dialogic . In Bakhtin’s writings, ‘‘dialogic’’ takes on a number of di ff erent meanings. Introduction
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It does not usually refer primarily to verbal exchange, to one person speaking to another person in consecutive turns – what in ‘‘Discourse in the Novel’’ he calls ‘‘intra-language’’ or external dialogue. For Bakhtin,
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