Dialogue in a discourse context

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Building on recent studies of speech and thought representation in narrative fiction (Fludernik 1993; Herman 2002; Palmer 2004; Thomas 2002), this essay outlines the advantages of forging interconnections between narrative theory and a range of disciplinary frameworks concerned with talk — including literary theory, linguistic pragmatics, discourse analysis, gender studies, and research on socially distributed cognition. Using Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse as a case study, the essay first explores general theoretical and interpretive issues raised by scenes of talk portrayed in the novel. Then it zooms in on one chapter that centers around a communicative encounter between two characters. This scene both illuminates and is illuminated by research on socio-communicative practices in general. Further, the scene requires a rethinking of modernist narrative construed as a privileging of characters’ interiority over the concrete social and material environments in which they think, act, and communicate. Hence an interdisciplinary approach to scenes of talk like Woolf’s not only necessitates a reconsideration of key ideas in literary studies, but also suggests new directions for narrative theory after the second cognitive revolution.


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