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The Bakhtin Circle

The Bakhtin Circle

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Published by Paul Walsh

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Published by: Paul Walsh on Feb 23, 2012
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The move from ethics to literature was a natural one for a member
of the traditional Russian intelligentsia like Bakhtin. As Nikolai
Bakhtin noted some years later, the Russian intelligentsia shared a
peculiarly ethical approach to art:

With varying degrees of consciousness, in different ways and by
different means all art strives … to pervade our being; to affect our
deepest impulses and our most intimate reactions; to shape our
sensibility; to transform and organise our vision – and thus to
affect our whole behaviour; ‘to teach us how to live’, in short.
(Bachtin 1963: 26)

This ethical role for art in general and literature in particular had
been delineated in its classical form by Belinskii in the 1830s and
had dominated Russian criticism ever since. Belinskii had drawn
upon German aesthetics, especially those of Kant, Herder, Schiller,
Schelling and Hegel, and adapted them to the cause of the democ-
ratisation of Russian culture and society (Terras 1974). He thus
argued that ‘all our moral interests, all our spiritual life have hitherto
been and will, still for a long time to come, be concentrated in
literature: it is the vital spring from which all human sentiments
percolate into society’ (Belinskii 1962a: 9). For all his philosophical
differences from his predecessor, the intimate connection between
ethics and aesthetics that Bakhtin advocates in his earliest work
places him at least partially in the critical tradition established by
Belinskii. This also explains how the same ethical concerns could
later be subsumed into work on the novel, a genre that Belinskii
himself had championed as the ‘widest and most universal genre of
poetry’ (Belinskii 1962b: 33ff.).

40The Bakhtin Circle

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