The polyphonic performance of testimony in Svetlana Aleksievich’s Voices from Utopia

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Abstract

This article claims that Svetlana Aleksievich’s Voices from Utopia should be read as testimony. Although based on eyewitnesses interviewed by Aleksievich, the voices represented in the five books are interpreted as the creation of an implied author. In contrast to a theoretical standpoint defining fact in a dichotomous relation to fiction, this study identifies the historical value of Aleksievich’s writing as intimately connected to the aesthetic composition. The article has two major aims. The first is to describe how the monologues and choirs in Voices from Utopia are represented. Using Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the polyphonic novel, the internal focalization of the testimonies, in combination with a significant reduction of the external perspective, both on the level of dialogue and narration, are described as together constituting a polyphonic composition. The second aim is to demonstrate how this polyphony is interrelated to trauma theory and the psychological hardships experienced by the witnesses in the act of representing a traumatic experience. The hypothesis is that the polyphonic structure could be interpreted as an ethical representation of the interviews: first, it reflects an empathy with the witnesses’ ambivalence when confessing their traumatic past; secondly, because it contributes to ethically engaging the implied reader.

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Keywords

  • Voices from Utopia, Svetlana Aleksievich, polyphony, interior monologue, testimony, Mikhail Bakhtin
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-312
Number of pages32
JournalCanadian Slavonic Papers
Volume59
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Oct 31
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes