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Volume 36, Number 2 (2015)

Between Je and Moi: Staging the Heteroglossia of Immigrant Autobiography

  • Yana Meerzon
December 21, 2015


In his work on discourse in the novel, Mikhail Bakhtin defines the aesthetic value of literature as arising from the dialogical interdependence of two equal and separate consciousness: that of the author and that of the character, each taking on a distinct spatial/temporal form (“Author” 87). The device of heteroglossia—a conflicted co-existence of distinct narrative voices within a unified literary utterance— makes this tension of author/character relationships visible. Characterized by “a diversity of social speech types” and “a diversity of individual voices, artistically organized,” heteroglossia defines the authorial utterance and the character`s speech as a territory for many voices to interfere and compete within (Bakthin, “Discourse” 262). By analogy, Meerzon argues, Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossia and his view of the author/character interdependence can illuminate the complexity of an authorial utterance in the immigrant solo performance, in which the voice of the author, the voice of the performer, and the voice(s) of the character(s) are simultaneously diversified and intertwined. The product of a certain social and cultural environment, such performance reflects the “internal stratification present in every language at any given moment of its historical existence” (263); yet through the performative gesture of telling one’s personal story on stage, a delicate balance between the performer’s identity and her artistic work is suggested. As her example, Meerzon turns to the work of Mani Soleymanlou, a Quebecois theatre artist of Iranian origin, Trois. Un spectacle de Mani Soleymanlou, which traces the ontological and fictional difference between the immigrant author, character, and performer on stage.