Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
Volume 47, Number 3, Autumn 1991
pp. 117-139 | 10.1353/arq.1991.0026
K. A. SANDIFORD Gothic and Intertextual Constructions in Linden Hills Grandma Tilson, I'm afraid of hell. Ain't nothing to fear, there's hell on earth. I mean the real hell where you can go when you die. You ain't gotta die to go to the real hell. Extracted from the ten-line epigraph to Gloria Naylor's Linden Hills, the fout lines quoted above provide a highly suggestive study in the uses of metonymy. To understand that they distil the essence of the full dialogue between adult and child one need do little more than tead the rest of the epigraph. But to appreciate how they prefigure larger novelistic issues and strategies, how they suggest the genetic and structural nature of Naylot's project requires rather more deliberate attention to successive readings and a sustained search for appropriate critical and theoretical tools. In both form and content the epigraph fotegtounds specific fotmal and ideological qualities of the novel that link it to the tradition of gothic fiction. The explicit references to feat and hell and the implicit resonances ofparadox and ambivalence suffice to establish gothic intimations. The sharply dramatized angles of vision represented by the respective voices of gtandmothet and grandchild enact those differences in discursive modalities and semantic intelligence which broadly define intertextuality (Zutbrugg 254). In addition, because the epigraph also prefigures Naylor's strategy of opposing divergent verbal/textual categoties and their implicit assumptions, its form may be defined as dialogical. The ensuing discussion will therefore draw Arizona Quarterly Volume 47 Number 3, Autumn 1991 Copyright © 1991 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1610 K. A. Sandiford on some hetetoglossic ptopositions to explore the nature of textual authotity and its relation to knowledge, gendet, and powet. Introducing Bakhtin into the discussion of a female-authored text, and one so distinctly preoccupied with affirming female subjectivity and alterity in general, inevitably raises questions concerning Bakhtin's relevance to an author, a cultural context, and a discutsive tradition seemingly so remote from the canonical assumptions central to his work. Admittedly, Bakhtin constructs the subject as male; on the evidence of references and subject matter, he would appear to accord exclusive privilege to such male canonical authots as Rabelais and Dostoevsky, Tutgenev and Dickens. Still, his btoadet concern is to undetstand those ptocesses and activities that constitute the human sciences, the many languages that shape even the smallest unit of speech. And since women make up at least half of the human race, and use its languages, their voices and intentions are inescapably numbered among those which Bakhtin tells us populate and interanimate any given incidence of human discoutse. In the absence of any disclaimets to the contrary, it is possible to infet the validation of female consciousness as at least a probable, if unintended, consequence of Bakhtin's formulations. In "Discourse in the Novel," he wrote: "Language is heteroglossic from top to bottom: it represents the coexistence of socioideological contradictions between the present and the past . . . , between different socioideological groups in the present . . . all languages ofheteroglossia are specific points of view on the world, forms for conceptualizing the world in words, specific world views, each characterized by its own objects, meanings and values. ... As such [these languages] encountet one anothet and coexist in the consciousness of real people—first and foremost, in the creative consciousness of people who wtite novels . . ." (292). Several critics (including feminist critics) have shown that Bakhtin's fundamental commitment to the novel, a form that opened up new discutsive spaces for women from its very inception, makes him a compelling reference point in the critical discourse on feminine and 'other' consciousnesses as these categoties figure in the novel. Julia Kristeva in Desire in Language endorses Bakhtin's definition of the revolutionary relationship between language and sociopolitical stmcture, moving the discoutse on the dialogical beyond the novel to comprehend all texts, Linden Hillsi ig thereby exploding the ttaditional Western notion of a unitaty self. "Dialogic is the tetm which indicates that the discoutse belongs doubly to an T and to the othet ..." (109). This is one of the clearest points of intetsection between Bakhtin's ideas of the multi-voiced discoutse (polyphony) and...