Abstract

Abstract:

Caryl Phillips' multi-voiced texts have often been studied through the lens of Bakhtinian polyphony. In this essay, I focus on the volume of fictionalized biographies Foreigners: Three English Lives (2007) to demonstrate that polyphony in Phillips' work resides not only in the structural confrontation of characters' and narrators' voices but also in the subtle inscription of the implied author's subjectivity within his texts. Borrowing methods from the discipline of stylistics, I first establish through a focus on the use of adjectives and modality (that is, grammatical means indicating how speakers position themselves in relation to propositions) in the opening section of Foreigners, "Dr Johnson's Watch," how the first-person narrator gradually transitions from tentativeness to self-confidence. This change enables the implied author, on the one hand, to expose the thwarted logic of the colonially tinted discourse of his eighteenth-century narrator and, on the other, to reflect on the process of ideological encoding inherent in the writing of historiography. Such an investigation based on modality further allows me to challenge the critical consensus that the second section of the book, "Made in Wales," is a straightforward factual account. I suggest that the story of the rise and fall of mixed-race boxer Randolph Turpin is in fact a highly polyphonic narrative that features increasingly marked clashes in modality and point of view. These clashes, I argue, draw attention to the construction of historiographical discourse deceptively made to appear so commonsense by the narrator of "Dr Johnson's Watch."

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Additional Information

ISSN
1920-1222
Print ISSN
0004-1327
Pages
pp. 159-186
Launched on MUSE
2017-09-06
Open Access
No
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