Narrative structure and philosophical debates in Tristram Shandy and Jacques le fataliste
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The aim of the present thesis is to analyse how the narrative affects the various philosophical debates in Tristram Shandy and Jacques le fataliste. Contrary to what one expects from a philosophical novel, Sterne and Diderot do not impose upon the reader an authorial and authoritative discourse. Dominant discourses are constantly challenged and contradicted. The philosophical debates in both novels remain open and are left without a conclusion. The author’s voice is but one amongst many others, and it is the narrative which maintains the dialogue between them by preventing one particular voice from invalidating the others. My argument hinges on Bakhtinian dialogism, which can be defined as the presence of interacting voices and views. In Tristram Shandy and Jacques le fataliste, dialogism occurs through the narrative structure allowing for the confrontation of the contradictory discourses in the philosophical debates, and enabling them to engage in dialogue, instead of establishing the authorial voice as the sole valid discourse in the text. Through those contradictions, the philosophical content takes on a different form, that of a refusal of systematic discourse. No dogmatic view is forced upon the reader. Sterne and Diderot do not offer a solution to the various philosophical questions debated in their novels. However, they do offer a philosophical method whereby the confrontation of contradictory ideas creates a dynamic for the pursuit of truth.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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