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work(s): Source: PMLA, Vol. 109, No. 1 (Jan., 1994), pp. 116-118 Published by: Modern Language Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463015 . Accessed: 28/10/2012 13:07
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and religious sources. NY 10003-6981. They can't arrest me. 10 Astor Place. etc. Morson takes Bakhtin's criticism of "theoreticism"as an endorsement of what is effectively a rather vulgar brand of Anglo-Saxon empiricism (Introduction 228). Makhlin. but with himself in the role of Russian liberal. It is as well that the stake in this farcelike repetition of history is not the fate of a nation but the interpretation of the works of Mikhail Bakhtin. here in America. Letters should be addressed to PMLA Forum. typed and double-spaced.e. discouragesfootnotes." In a letter to a Russian colleague recently published in Moscow he allows the parallel with the "gruesome facts of Soviet history" a little more scope (227): "Of course. Kujundzic and V.). for the Russian context of which Morson makes so much is largely a projection of his own brand of cold-war liberalism back onto an earlier time. Moscow. In seeking to present Bakhtin as part of a Russian tradition that values "the initiative of individuals" against all claims made on the basis of abstractions (class. individualistic Slavic theoretical tradition. 1991.commentingon articles in previous issues or on matters of general scholarly or critical interest. Readers of his introduction will have noted that. standing Kerensky-like against the moder-day equivalent of the Bolshevik party.. New York. party. His introduction to the Russian cluster (107 : 226-31) presents the "politicization of current criticism" as a repeat of Marxist errors against which he and other Slavists have been immunized by "the Soviet and Eastern European experience. This is no accident. their power is limited" ("Perepiska iz dvukh mirov" [Correspondence between Two Worlds]. Bakhtin's conceptions of the individual and of the role and meaning of consciousness are derived from neo-Kantian. the literary-critical establishment. none of which have much to do with Morson's preoccupations and all of which are theoretical (i. whom Morson wishes to claim for the ersatz Russian liberalism (what he has called elsewhere the "counter-tradition") he imagines himself representing. D. II [The Bakhtin Collection 2].). ed. Modern Language Association. 31-43. The editor reserves the right to reject or edit Forum contributionsand offers the authors discussedan opportunityto reply to the letters published. for all the grand claims he makes for a liberal. our trans. Bakhtin and the Politics of Criticism To the Editor: Of late Gary Saul Morson has set himself an ambitious task: to replay the Russian revolution. these people control only the universities. and regrets that it cannot considerany letter of more than 1. lest non-Slavists be tempted to accept Morson's account of the relevant intellectual history.000 words. just as Bakhtin's critique of theoreticism is) with a vengeance. phenomenological. Morson offers little in the way of historical evidence to connect Bakhtin to such a tradition. 116 . abstract. Bakhtinskii sbornik. This beguiling vision should not go unchallenged. 38. The journal omits titles before persons' names.Forum PMLA invites members of the association to submit letters. However.
KEN HIRSCHKOP Universityof Southampton DAVID SHEPHERD Universityof Manchester Reply: Criticizing my PMLA introduction. European The sentence in my introduction from which the quoted phrases are drawn appears before I even discuss Bakhtin. whites. But then his vision. it needs to be said. Rather. to turn it into an endorsement of the "'normal' or 'civilized"' character of "WesternEuropean or American social systems" (Morson. Bakhtin's prizing of individual self-determination in neoKantian terms leads him to explicit condemnation of liberal political economy and its real-world correlate -social systems that reify. reform-minded towardWesternEuropeanor American social systemsa movetowarda "normal" or "civilized" society.' .however. I do not even thesebad qualities. His "prosaic" Bakhtin is a political creature in disguise.. of all places. Unfortunately.a sexually normalwhite Americanmale who believesin bourgeois You can guess that I am endowedwith all democracy." so that Bakhtin's critique of the former can come out sounding like an advertisement for "American progressive ideals" (227). One has to distort the entire philosophical structure of Bakhtin's work.Forum 117 To have to refer to Bakhtin's actual intellectual sources. If the role he seeks is that of noble dissident. and.it is difficult to make sense of his absolutization of the claims of consciousness without reference to it. ("Perepiska" Nobody need look to the United States for evidence of this sharp and uncompromising divide between dissident intellectuals and domineering conformists. it is closer to the neo-Kantian socialism espoused by the likes of Hermann Cohen or the communitarian vision associated with Martin Buber. the worldis dividedinto two opposingcamps. The sentence has nothing to do with what Bakhtin thought or would have endorsed. "historical materialism" is criticized on a couple of occasions. Introduction 227).the non-Western world-nonwhites and all those who speak out againstthe West in generaland the United Statesin The West. would complicate Morson's polemical and. of an America under the sway of "'hegemonic' literature departments" is scarcely more convincing (Introduction 227). however.homosexuals. Morson simply has an ax to grind.In one live thegood people:women. it marks the difference between many Russian intellectuals of today and their American counterparts by noting that Russianscall each step [w]ithoutirony. theseare now the truesourceof evil in the world. which Morson thinks has somehow found a second life in."." . America itself. of course. the worstthingin the worldis.. at one point Bakhtin claims that "economic materialism" offers an accurate analysis of the depraved condition of European society). For sure this is not Marxism.) publicopinion. or "biologize" the human by depending on self-interest as a motor of social action. and neo-Kantianism itself. For "theoreticism" Morson would have us read "Marxism..our trans. outlined in the letter referredto above. considerit necessaryto repentor justify myself before "correct" 38. The difference between my statement and their misleading rendition of it is rather typical of their letter as a whole. To take the most obvious example. materialize. but then so are a number of other traditions (indeed.' so that Bakhtin's critique of the former can come out sounding like an advertisement for 'American progressive ideals.. Ken Hirschkop and David Shepherd write: One has to distortthe entirephilosophical structureof Bakhtin's work. politically driven case. If his aim is intellectual debate. something else is called for. He sustains this position throughout his career. it is Morson.Therefore. It is not true that "[f]or 'theoreticism' Morson would have us read 'Marxism. the critique of theoreticism staged in Bakhtin's early essay "Towards a Philosophy of the Deed" is for the most part a critique of certain strands of neo-Kantianism by recourse to theoretical motifs drawn from phenomenology. If anyone is bending the humanities to the ends of political calculation. however. and. really. But wasn't the American social system proof against just such repression?What went wrong? Nothing. and he has chosen Bakhtin as his whetstone. For Morson.to turn it into an endorsement of the "'normal'or 'civilized"'characterof "Western or American socialsystems. philosophy of life. for it is drawn from quite another source: a vision of the Soviet Union. To examine this work as social philosophy with any seriousness would lead to conclusions quite different from Morson's. as a result of these departments' dominance. having little to do with the complexities of social and philosophical debate in Russia. he is welcome to it.most scandalously. and heterosexualsparticular. men.of course.
(Do these two scholars from British universities think I mischaracterize American Slavistics?) (3) This familiarity with Soviet history also leads most American Slavists to be suspicious of Marxists' claims to be the champions of social progress. which contains a detailed summary of Bakhtin's essay "Toward a Philosophy of the Act" (Evanston: Northwestern UP.) It is their representation of my views that deserves their term "farcelike. And while Hirschkop and Shepherd insist on German sources. and of the penchant for abstract social systematizing common among the prerevolutionary Russian intelligentsia. And they adopt alternately outraged and sneering tones when referring to some of the most commonplace of historical and political judgments. of utopianism. Nowhere do I (or does Emerson) say that Bakhtin was an American liberal. they conflate the ideas and viewpoints I have stated as my own with those I have ascribed to others. They use quotation marks in such a way as to suggest they are quoting my personal point of view when in fact they are quoting my description of others' viewpoints. For Bakhtin. This is not to deny that there are also wide divergences on this subject within the first group. were all examples of theoretism. (2) Most American Slavists are acutely aware of the pitfalls of political reductionism because of their familiarity with Soviet cultural history. (Dislike of Stalinist tyranny becomes for them coldwar hysteria. to our introduction to Rethinking Bakhtin. was the ambitious range of motives. among my recent articles. Fleissner. tasks. although their real grievances seem to lie with the views of Bakhtin and literary theory that I have expressed in books and articles over the years. . Symmetry To the Editor: Although I agree with many of the substantive points in Barbara Hodgdon's Forum reply to Lucien Goldschmidt. GARY SAUL MORSON Northwestern University Intentions. Robert F. I quote two of his withering comments on it. (4) Most Slavists and Russians diverge widely from the larger American theoretical world in their view of Bakhtin and in the use they make of his terms and concepts. Foundationalism. and Temporality" (New Literary History 22 : 1071-92) and "Prosaic Bakhtin" (Common Knowledge2 : 35-74). endorsements. I can hardly correct all the misrepresentations in their letter. In a short reply. We do say that in contrast to the picture of him common among a number of British and American commentators. apart from its rather hectoring tone. Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (Stanford: Stanford UP.118 Forum As Caryl Emerson and I have explained at length. arguments that literary value is entirely relative to social needs or to political power and attempts to reduce all aesthetic categories "ultimately"to political ones are neither new nor attractive to most American Slavists. as well as the Marxism he knew and lived under. hostile to Marxism. structuralism. but if readers would like to know what I did say about Bakhtin. They fantasize a range of opinions and projects for me. to "Bakhtin. and Freudianism. and Thomas A.) And I have argued that in his antipathy to theoretism he belongs to a tradition of Russian writers and thinkers-some of whom were active liberals-who saw the danger of Marxism. and axes to grind that they project onto me. our not sayingthat Bakhtin endorsed "Anglo-Saxon empiricism": surely Hirschkop and Shepherd are aware of attempts in many cultures and philosophical traditions to argue the irreducibility of the particular to the general. What I found most startling in a first reading of Hirschkop and Shepherd'sletter. Tolstoy explodes system after system in War and Peace. Genres. Extensions and Challenges. they overlook this theme in Goethe-hardly an Anglo-Saxon empiricist -to whom Bakhtin devoted a study. which are these: (1) Most American Slavists are rather alienated from the predominant trends in academic literary theory. My introduction to the Russian cluster appears to have presented Hirschkop and Shepherd a convenient pretext for launching an attack. and. Bakhtin would not have considered himself a Marxist and was. but the intragroup controversies often differ from the intergroup conflicts. 1990). For instance. indeed. To take a Russian example. Russian formalism." The authors flail around at everything in sight without ever seriously addressing the major contentions in my introduction to the Russian cluster. 1989). As for our "effectively" saying-that is. (In my PMLA introduction. visions. I refer them first to the book I wrote with Caryl Emerson. As my opening example illustrates. theoretism (our preferred translation of the word) as Bakhtin coined the term applies to many doctrines that think away the "eventness" of events and see the messy particularities of experience as capturable at least in principle by a system of rules or laws.
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