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Title: Talking Points: American Dialogue in the Twentieth Century
Authors: Krumholtz, Matthew
Advisors: Fuss, Diana
Contributors: English Department
Subjects: American literature
African American studies
Gender studies
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Talking Points offers a new theoretical and historical account of the novelistic representation of colloquial speech throughout American modernism. Through mimetic representations of everyday speech, American modernist novels assign a deeply political valence to popular, technical, or even trivial forms of dialogue, as they assert their vexed cultural authority on matters of race, gender, psychology, and social practice. My project moves the study of dialogue in American literature beyond the dominant critical association with social dialects that began with the work of Mikhail Bakhtin. Talking Points examines four types of dialogue: straight talk, small talk, cross talk, and smooth talk. My project begins with an account of the effects of straight talk on the American novel of manners and traces how Henry James and Edith Wharton experiment with straight talk to provide an expanded theory of adolescent subjectivity. Conduct manuals and elocution classes explode in the early twentieth century, providing a cultural context for the passing narratives of James Weldon Johnson and Nella Larsen. My work on these authors reverses the critical tendency to equate passing with self-denial, instead arguing that Johnson and Larsen convert small talk into an equivocal medium for passing that, paradoxically, makes audible a protest against legal segregation and speech regulation. A third chapter on William Faulkner concerns radio technology, which prompted his experiment with cross talk, a term born from radio interference, as a modernist aesthetic practice and screenwriting technique. Cross talk marks the limits of understanding as technology widens Faulkner's social world and as cultural anxieties over racial difference become central to his novels. From Faulkner, my project turns to the phenomenon of smooth talk that emerges in connection with jazz innovations in novels by James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. These writers transform smooth talk into a style of public intellectualism in the late century, charming transnational and multiracial audiences to gain broad support for civil rights initiatives and wide recognition of historic racial traumas. By recuperating the crucial role of minor modernist dialogues, Talking Points maps the aesthetic improvisations and cultural ambivalences that shaped many of the twentieth century's most significant social movements.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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