A COMMUNITY OF BABBLERS: FAILURES OF COMMUNICATION IN THE RUSSIAN AND ENGLISH NOVEL, 1902-1925
Stein, Benjamin Eric
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A Community of Babblers: Failures of Communication in the British and English Novel 1902-1925 is a comparative study of Russian Symbolism and English modernism that investigates how the novels of these traditions address breakdowns in the communicative efficacy of language at the beginning of the twentieth century. I connect these literary modernist approaches to languages to Anglo-American ordinary language philosophy and Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogism. Through philosophical and theoretical evaluations of Symbolism and English modernism I argue that these novels explore the possibilities for how different forms of communication can restructure the ethical relations between characters and inform their respective aesthetic projects. In each chapter I examine the philosophical implications of the representational structures of dialogue and interpersonal contact in a particular novel. In Fedor Sologub’s The Petty Demon, written in 1902, I analyze how gossip and puns function in the text as essentially performative speech-acts, linking Symbolist aesthetic creation to J.L. Austin’s theory of performative utterances. Similarly, I analyze the significance of the promise as a form of a Symbolist performative-speech act in Andrei Bely’s 1916/1922 novel Petersburg, elucidating the ethical implications of Symbolist language creation. Representing the English tradition, I look to the work of Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf, two writers whose interest in Russian literature motivate a point of comparison. I examine how Under Western Eyes, Conrad’s 1911 novel of Russian political intrigue, represents coercive dialogic relations, and I analyze Virginia Woolf’s 1925 Mrs. Dalloway through Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of empathy to explore how the novel offers a reconciliatory vision of interpersonal understanding. Collectively I show how these writers attempt to locate possibilities for community amid the disorientation and fragmentation of modern experience.