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Talk Fiction

Literature and the Talk Explosion

Irene Kacandes

Publication Year: 2001

Everywhere you turn today, someone (or something) is talking to you—the television, the radio, cell phones, your computer. If you think some of the novels and stories you read are talking to you too, you're not alone, and you're not mistaken. In this innovative, multidisciplinary work, Irene Kacandes reads contemporary fiction as a form of conversation and as part of the larger conversation that is modern culture.
Within a framework of talk as interaction, Kacandes considers texts that can be classified as "statements," that is, texts that wholly or in part ask for their readers to react— to talk back—to them in certain ways. The works she addresses—from writers as varied as Harriet O. Wilson, Margaret Atwood, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Graham Swift, Günter Grass, John Barth, Julio Cortázar, and Italo Calvino—conduct their interactions in certain modes to accomplish different sorts of cultural work: storytelling, testimony, apostrophe, and interactivity. By focusing on texts within these groupings, Kacandes is able to relate the different modes of talk fiction to extraliterary cultural developments in our oral age—and to show how such interactions, however contrary to the dominant twentieth-century view of literature as art for art's sake, help to keep literature alive and speaking to us.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Frontiers of Narrative

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pp. ix-xx

As a graduate teaching assistant in a course called "Comedy and the Novel," I had an encounter with a student that has intrigued me to this day. Indeed, in many respects the kernel of this book lies in that interaction (and for this reason I am particularly sorry I have long forgotten the name of the student). The professor had assigned Italo Calvino's If on...

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pp. xxi-xxiv

This is a book about writing and reading as interaction, something without which this book never could have been written. It is also a book about stories, and since I tell quite a few anecdotes in the main text, I will try to restrict the length of the ones I tell here. I have been fortunate to teach a large number of very smart students at Harvard University, the ...

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1. Secondary Orality: Talk as Interaction

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pp. 1-32

The premise of this book is that literature, like other institutions, shapes and is shaped by shifting forms of communication. The major shift of the just completed twentieth century has been identified colloquially as the "talk explosion" and professionally as "secondary orality." In my view, the most important consequence of this oral resurgence has been an as ...

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2. Storytelling: Talk as Sustenance

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pp. 33-88

I call my first mode of Talk "storytelling" since the "moves" involve the recital, reception, and passing on of stories. Specifically, the "statement" of these texts should be thought of as the narrators' entire recital of the story, and the "reply" as the readers' proper reception and eventual retelling of that story. The deictics that guide us to this understanding are ...

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3. Testimony: Talk as Witnessing

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pp. 89-140

We mostly remember Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay, "The Storyteller," for its claim that the rise of the novel comes at the expense of storytelling. I want to recuperate here Benjamin's contention that the communicability of experience is decreasing. Specifically, Benjamin points to a historical event that numerous cultural analysts of his time and ours consider a ...

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4. Apostrophe: Talk as Performance

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pp. 141-196

"This is not a letter," and yet it is discourse addressed to someone. The paragraph, as the whole novel, is narrated by an "I" to a "you," pronouns usually signaling relationship and verbal exchange of some kind. However, the paragraph announces that written interaction has already stopped: I wrote you for the last time over a year ago . . . to say good-by.

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5. Interactivity: Talk as Collaboration

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pp. 197-218

In June 1995 the New York Times Magazine published a spoof by Michael Rubiner called "T. S. Eliot Interactive." Next to an image that at first glance looks like the illuminated capitals of medieval manuscripts but on closer examination consists of the famous poet's head mounted on a (computer) mouse, Rubiner intones: ...


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pp. 219-254

Works Cited

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pp. 255-276


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pp. 277-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780803201293
E-ISBN-10: 080320129X

Page Count: 285
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Frontiers of Narrative