ABSTRACT

This article uses Philip Roth’s final novel Nemesis to explore and challenge long-held assumptions about the incommensurability of the Bakhtinian concept of the “dialogic” and didactic storytelling. Many critics have traditionally dismissed didacticism as an unproductive “monologic” or “univocal” discourse in which one voice—the author’s—is dominant. In this dismissal, critics contend that didacticism silences all other perspectives and restricts interpretive possibilities to craft a single moral truth. But this dismissal fails to account for the complexity and ambiguity of Bakhtin’s idea of dialogism and for works like Roth’s, in which the ultimate moral commitments in fact arise out of, rather in spite of, layered dialogic exchanges. Roth’s narrative of a polio outbreak in 1940s New Jersey therefore not only functions effectively on its own terms but also opens up new possibilities for understanding didacticism and the unexplored formal variety of dialogism.

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