Abstract

This article argues that the loose plotting and wide-ranging digressions that characterize Olga Tokarczuk’s fiction, and that many readers have noted as a challenge to their own expectations, are integral features of the discourse model that most of her work employs, namely, a telling in which the narrator is not entirely certain why he or she is speaking in the first place. By adapting the discourse model of the psychotherapeutic encounter, Tokarczuk places the reader in the position of the empathic, yet disinterested listener who strives to absorb another’s speech without imposing preconceived agendas, intentions, or narrative designs. Relieved of the narrative burden of having to convince or inform the text’s audience, the speakers in Tokarczuk’s fiction are thus free to make their own leaps and associations. By the same token, the reader is left to make an ever-evolving sense out of the accumulation of often disjointed details. This dynamic shifts the traditional occasion of storytelling to emphasize not the narrative information conveyed by the telling, but rather the conversational intimacy that arises within the dialogic space between speaker and listener. With reference to Tokarczuk’s fiction and her own reflections on fiction-making, the article concludes that this intimacy is at the core of Tokarczuk’s authorial project, which simulates in the textual space what we experience whenever we strive to listen empathetically to others in the real world.

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