Talent and Force

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What challenges and imports do Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogics—the belief that a novel should be polyphonic and resist a closed view of meaning presented through a single voice—carry for an increasingly globalized world? How could/should contemporary writers respond to these challenges? These questions are particularly relevant for literary nonfiction and travel writers who are concerned with not reducing a people or place to a single authorial perspective, especially one from the outside. Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder provides an example of a polyphonic work in his book “Mountains Beyond Mountains”, which follows the life and career of physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer. Kidder renders Farmer’s life by showing scenes of Farmer with his patients, using exposition to describe Farmer’s relationships with his family and friends, summarizing his academic and intellectual life, employing dialogue to show his unique idiosyncrasies, and using himself, the writer, as an antihero. His approach of including multiple voices, of which his is just one among many, is an important example for how an author can “to an extraordinary extent broaden, deepen and rearrange this consciousness ... in order to accommodate the consciousness of others” and hence provide a paradigm for global writers to come (Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics 59).