Abstract

ABSTRACT:

Even the smallest conversational turns can index macro-contexts of social inequality, racialization, and capital; fictional narrative, coordinating the particular and the global, seems well positioned to represent these scalar dynamics. But how exactly does the textual medium of the novel link the particularities of voice with the politics of race? Scholarship on this question has often turned either to the representation of vernacular speech (e.g., dialect) or to free indirect discourse, the latter as a "double-voiced" mode that linguistically concretizes Du Bois's influential theory of black double consciousness. This essay draws an alternative approach from Du Bois's fictional practice, highlighting the affinities between his use of dialogue in The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) and recent work in linguistic anthropology. In the turn-of-the-century US South represented in Quest, the functions of conversation are intricately connected with the production and exchange of cotton—otherwise known as gossypium hirsutum, giving the essay a key term, gossypoglossia, for describing these connections between a racialized global economy and particularized forms of talk. To attend to those forms is to locate theoretical resources in the very thing that critics, often dismissing Du Bois's dialogue as unrealistic or discordant, have found least compelling about his fiction. For Du Bois, the essay argues, fictional dialogue is not only (nor primarily) a site for the realist representation of conversation, but also a speculative mode in which the unspoken metapragmatic contexts of the "color-line" can be rendered explicit, unfamiliar, and subject to contestation.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-974X
Print ISSN
1063-3685
Pages
pp. 201-220
Launched on MUSE
2019-04-25
Open Access
No
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