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Back to Bakhtin Author(s): Robert Young Reviewed work(s): Source: Cultural Critique, No. 2 (Winter, 1985-1986), pp.

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Back to Bakhtin RobertYoung

Britain in the 1970s there were effectively two possible positions for Marxist literary critics, symbolized by two names, E.P. Thompson and Louis Althusser, and by two rival annual gatherings, the Oxford History Workshop and the Essex Sociology of Literature Conference. In intellectual terms they could be characterised as the Marxist humanism developed by the New Left after the 1956 Twentieth Party Congress in the USSR and the anti-humanist structuralist Marxism advanced in the late sixties and seventies. The arguments between the two camps, finally devolving onto the question of the poverty or necessity of theory, only ceased with the autocritical self-destruction of Althusserianism by the Althusserians.'


1. An early version of this paper was given at the University of Sussex. I would like to thank those present for their very helpful discussion and comments. For the & Other arguments between the two camps see E.P. Thompson, ThePoverty of Theory Essays(London: Merlin, 1978); Keith Nield andJohn Seed, "Theoretical Poverty or the and PovertyofTheory: British Marxist Historiography and the Althusserians," Economy and 8, no. 4 (1979): 383-416; Paul Hirst, "The Necessity of Theory," Economy Society 8, no. 4 (1979): 417-45. For the autocriticism see Jacques Ran~iere, La Lemon Society d'Althusser trans. (Paris: Gallimard, 1974); Louis Althusser, Essays in Self-Criticism, Grahame Lock(London: NLB, 1976); BarryHindess and Paul Hirst, Mode ofProduction andSocial Formation: AnAuto-Critique Modes (London: MacofProduction" of"Pre-Capitalist millan, 1977); Antony Cutler, Barry Hindess, Paul Hirst, and Athar Hussain, Marx's 2 vols. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977-78); and Today, "Capital"and Capitalism Paul Hirst, On Law and Ideology (London: Macmillan, 1979).


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began to be translatedin the late sixties. It might well be thought that the resurgence of interest in Bakhtin coincided. "Bakhtin. 1984)." NLR 135 (1982): 64-90.228 on Mon. Allon White. 44-5. as it did in the U. for it was this school.72 Robert Young At the very moment of its greatest self-doubt Marxist literary theory then found itself under a new pressure. with the 1981 translation..or Towards Criticism (London: NLB. 123-46. 134-69. 1981). "Marxist Literary eds. "Bakhtin.72. Francis Barkeret al. this time stemming from the critiques of poststructuralism." in Moder Literary Theory.S. 1982). further supported by David Forgacsin 1982. 1979). and Post-Structuralism.A.2 In making this proposal John Hoyles was following an initial suggestion from Tony Bennett in 1979. Although the work of Bakhtin and his collaborators Volosinov and Medvedev .168. Sociolinguistics and Deconstruction. Peter Widdowson (London: Methuen. and Allon White in 1984." in The Politics eds.whom I will continue to distinguish by the books signed with their names . 234-47. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. Jameson's The Prison-House andRussian A Critical Account ofLanguage: of Structuralism Formalism for of makes no mention at all the Bakhtin instance. (Colchester: University of Essex Press. John Hoyles. "Radical Critical Theory and English. Ann Jefferson and David Robey (London: Theories. WalterBenjamin. David Forgacs. Formalism and Marxism(London: Methuen.ed. it is striking that it had little impact on Marxist criticism until the 1980s. endorsed in 1981 and 1982 by Terry Eagleton.3 These often programmatic declarations created a general consensus that the way forward was back to Bakhtin.. circle. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . In this beleaguered situation the work of Bakhtin seemed increasingly to offer the possibility of deliverance: Perhaps one way out of this impasse lies in a reworking of sociological poetics following the example of the Bakhtin school. of Theory. and "Wittgenstein's Friends." in Re-Reading English. who in the twenties provided the first serious marxist critique of the Russian formalists and paved the way for a theory and practice of textual politics whereby literary criticism would avoid the twin reductionisms of formalist poetics and vulgar marxist sociology. Tony Bennett.Marxism.. 1982). 1983). Thus in 1979 Tony Bennett announced that "Bakhtin's study of Rabelais would seem fully to 2. Graham Pechey in 1983. Further references will be cited in the text." in The Theory ofReading. Graham Pechey. Terry Eaglea Revolutionary ton. The Dialogic Imagination (availablein French since 1978). Batsford. Frank Gloversmith (Brighton: Harvester.ed. (1972). but Marxiststurned rather to Rabelaisand His World(1968). 3.

2 (1983): 65-83. David Lodge. no.Joyce and Bakhtin.72. 4. "Double Discourses. caises.and Studiesin Twentieth (forthcoming). thatJoyce and Bakhtin had first been "rapproched" by Julia Kristeva sixteen years earlier. a historical and materialist approach to the study of literary texts should look like" (95). 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . A warning was signalled by the fact that at the very moment when Marxist interest in Bakhtin began to quicken. History. 5. Bakhtin's appeal stems from the way that he between the analytical appears "to offer some kind of rapprochement of Formalism and a marxist or humanist conception of literarigour ture as an institution serving the cause of human freedom. if anyone. Further references will be cited in the text." PoeticsToday dom of Interpretation: Bakhtin and the Challenge of Feminist Criticism. everyone else's did as well. If it does. EtudesfranInquiry."4 Lodge goes on to apply a form of Bakhtin's typology of literary discourse to and Finnegans Wake with little noticeable sense that he is producUlysses an of "what a Marxist approach to the study of literary ing example texts should look like. then it has to be added that Problems Poetics and The Dialogic ofDostoevsky's not only fail to repeat the performance but imply serious Imagination complications for the use of Bakhtin for Marxism at all."Bakhtine mode d'emploi. no. At the time of writing no less than fivejournals have recently produced or are planning special issues on Bakhtin." 20.Back to Bakhtin 73 exemplify what a Marxist .that is. Long articles on Bakhtin also appeared in 1983 from David Carroll. 1 (1983): 99-107. no. Paul de Man. 1 (1982): 45-76."JamesJoyce Broadsheet 11 June 1983): 1. and Wayne Booth. According to Lodge. led de Man to ask "who. and American Journalof Semiotics. comparable in recent critical history only to that of Derrida." Diacritics 13. no.168." Critical Inquiry9. would have reason to find it difficult or even impossible to enlist Bakhtin's version of dialogism among his methodological tools or 4. an article by David Lodge on "Joyce and Bakhtin" appeared on the front page of theJamesJoyceBroadsheet.5 If Bakhtin seems to offer a "way out" for English Marxists. Bakhtin. 1 (1984). Literature Century Esprit.228 on Mon. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. For special issues on Bakhtin see Critical "Forum on Bakhtin. David Carroll.M. Paul de Man. "The Alterity of Discourse: Form. for instance. "Free"Dialogue and Dialogism. The unprecedented extent of Bakhtin's appeal." or. and the Question of the Political in M. it is clear that many others have also been attracted by his egressive charms. it might be added. Wayne Booth. 2 (1983). no. InJune 1983." 10. In the same year a newsletter was founded and a special conference on Bakhtin held in Ontario.

1977). English translation 1973. offering a humanist version ofpoststructuralismtogether with a liberal politics centering on the idea of the word as guarantor of human freedom. it seems that just about anyone can. the former perhaps for the privilege of publishing Bakhtin's 6. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . ingly tions are not altogether dissimilar: he provides a sociological critique of structuralism. and probably will.74 Robert Young skills" (104). Derrida himself can then be more or less rejected altogether. the author. For humanist critics a key factor lies in the way in which Bakhtin'swork emerges as a critique of Russian Formalism: he thus appears as a critic who has gone "beyond" structuralism. 1977). to Bakhtin himself (Medvedev and VoloSinov having died in 1938 and 1936 respectively. as well as the materialist theory of language so conspicuously missing in Marxist theory. 35-42. in the context of their relation to society and to history. plots. The spectre of Derrida also looms large and helps to account for Bakhtin'ssudden appeal around 1980. Medvedev and Volosinov. and in JeanLouis Houdebine.168.72.228 on Mon. The humanist claim on Bakhtin is graphically illustrated by the telling transformation of a book originally entitled QuesandAesthetics tionsofLiterature i estetiki) into the resoundliteratury (Vosprosy The For Marxists Bakhtin's attracaffirmative Dialogic Imagination. French translation 1977) can be found in Raymond Williams. reassuringly about characters. who uncannily anticipates much poststructuralist thought but presents it in a more traditional guise. If everyone wishes to appropriate Bakhtin. Why and how could this be so? Everyone is attracted to the fact that Bakhtin appears to offer a reconciliation between poetics and hermeneutics. it seems. 161-73. between questions of form and questions of interpretation. Marxismand Literature (Oxford: OUP. he seems to allow the assimilation of some of the more compelling aspects of his thought while placing them within a more acceptable sociohistorical framework. Langage et Marxisme (Paris: Klincksieck. and consciousness. inevitably much of this takes the form of recuperation. He talks. Whereas Derrida raised passionate disciples and equally passionate opponents.6 Rather than offering an alternative to Derrida in the sense of an entirely oppositional position. Discussions of the contributions of Volosinov's Marxismand the Philosophy of Language(1929. His sudden popularity has come at the same time as the culmination of a movement to assimilate the works of two members of his circle. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. appropriate Bakhtin for just about anything.

not neces. be discarded: Marxist terms are .7 The effect of this monological drive to reduce multiple authorship to the works of a single genius is to reduce the importance of Marxism. 1981).V. Further references will be cited in the text.R. and ultimately completely reconcilable methods. Volosinov. as a kind of convenient. or would it be equally possible to discard his Christianity? The Marxistuse of Bakhtincan also be recuperative. Ladislav Matejka and I. Mikhail Bakhtine: leprincipe dialogique.. represented parallel. Volosinov's translator. Titunik." Bakhtin's Marxism was simply a disguise which can now. For a detailed suivi discussion of the issues.8 Take the Marxist presuppositions out of Medvedev and Volosinov and you get a perfectly acceptable Bakhtin. 200. in the abstract. Marxismand the Philosophy of Language. V. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. outside Stalinist USSR. claims that the sociological poetics of the Baxtin group (minus Medvedev's eclecticism. 8. 1973). readjusts Bakhtin's dialogism so that it comes to signify straightforward class antagonism within the overall framework of 7. for example. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Stephen J.. Titunik (New York: Seminar Press.228 on Mon. for instance. 173.9 Can Bakhtin be said to be a Marxist or not? Is it possible to discard his Marxism. minus Marxist presuppositions) and the formal method.FredricJameson. The same dismissal of Bakhtin's Marxism can be found in Michael Holquist's account of why Bakhtin entered into such polyphonic arrangements with his friends about authorship. Michael Holquist.Back to Bakhtin 75 work under his name). interdependent. Greenblatt (Baltition:Selected Papersfrom more: Johns Hopkins University Press. see Tzvetan Todorov. that is.trans. 171.N.168.flag under which inimical but above all." in Allegory the EnglishInstitute1979-80. Ivanov in 1973. 16-24.. ed.a devout Orthodox Christian.R. and Representa9. most often present in Bakhtin's books . necessary sarily to advance his own views: If the Christian word were to take on Soviet flesh it had to clothe itself in ideological disguise. "The Politics of Representation. overlapping. I. de Ecrits de Bakhtine du Cercle (Paris:Seuil. According to Holquist it was merely a case of expedience: "Bakhtin was notorious in Leningrad circles as a cerkovnik.. The authorship question was initiated by V.72. . 1981).

providing a "utopian realm of community. 11.1 It is not obvious. Bakhtin. carnival also allows the kind of free communication between all members of society of which Habermas dreams. Because Bakhtin'swork is. it has no teleology. The argument that Bakhtin's ideas are restricted to carnival and therefore need to be extended . and White. and that the dialogue of class struggle is one in which two opposing discourses fight it out within the general unity of a shared code. Dialectics. 10 Jameson goes on to claim that Bakhtin's dialogism is indistinguishable from orthodox Marxist dialectics . makes itvery clear in those texts signed with his own name that dialogism cannot be confused with dialectics. There are other problems. It is unfinalizable and open ended. Bennett and Forgacs are the exceptions. freedom. its uncontrollable laughter performing a directly political and anti-ideological function. 84. Pechey. Cf."the basic formal requirement of dialectical analysis is maintained. according to Bakhtin. carnival has simply become a name for a new instance of the ubiquitous dialogic principle. carnival is offered as an example of a revolutionary dispersal of a hegemonic feudal order.72. for instance. The SymbolicAct (London: Methuen. he claims. and as a Socially Narrative Political Unconscious: 10. on the other hand.into a traditional dialectics . 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .76 Robert Young dialectical materialism. In its historical manifestation as a Medieval and Renaissance institution. Dialogism cannot be resolved.228 on Mon. Eagleton. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. restricted to the notion of carnival. also 285. are monological. 1981).betrays a characteristic move of appropriation and limitation. and its elements are still restructured in terms of contradiction (85). equality. it is necessary to add the qualification that the normal form of the dialogical is essentially an antagonistic one. At the same time. that it can be detached from its place in the larger argument: by the time of its re-emergence in the form of the nineteenth-century novel. II Marxist literarycritics tend to want to restrict Bakhtin's contribution to carnival.168. however. A tendency noticeable inJameson. FredricJameson.

: MIT Press. Rabelaisand His World. discipline and organization essential for an effective revolutionary politics. a spasmodic. historically and materially constrained practice of writing. Mikhail Bakhtin.228 on Mon. Carnival is. As Terry Eagleton observes. tends that its laughter is serious. trans. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. the same point is made in Walter 148. Any politics which predicates itself on the carnivalesque moment alone will be no more than a compliant. Terry Eagleton. Mass." ignores both carnival and dialogism: Remarkably free from the concerns of traditional aesthetics. Its anti-ideological function is further complicated by the fact that it is permitted by the state authorities and thus could be said merely to constitute an instance of repressive tolerance.Back to Bakhtin 77 abundance. 9."12 This means. these difficulties explain why Tony Bennett.that is. Perhaps. containable libertarianism. officially licensed affair. It is as if carnival has to work according to the contradictory descriptions of both the Freudian and theJungian unconscious.approach to the study of literary texts should look like. "the only way that it can avoid becoming either the scene of the law or the scene of its parody. a historical and materialist . without the rancour. "Wittgenstein's Friends. A different view of carnival is advanced byJulia Kristevawho conBenjamin.72. and Leon S. Furthermore. implying an originary utopic realm rather than competing points of view of heteroglossia.'1 In spite of these problems Eagleton and other Marxist critics consistently value carnival as the particular contribution of Bakhtin." 89-90. Dialogue. that its functions are in contradiction with each other. Alice Jardine. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." in Desirein Language: Approach Art. 1980]. however. subversive of the official ideology but necessarily remaining within its terms. however. and an uncensored realm of free expression. in suggesting that Rabelaisand His World"would seem fully to exemplify what a Marxist . and Novel. of course. 1968).trans. 80). Roudiez [New York: Columbia University Press. Thomas Gora.168. 13. Carnival cannot be both parodic. this 'materialism of production' is counterbalanced by 'a materialism of consumption' in the equally concrete and historically specific analysis Bakhtin 12. it explains the distinguishing formal features of Rabelais' work not as the manifestationof some invariantset of uniquely distinguishing aesthetic properties but as the product of a particular. in order to become the scene of its other" toLiterature and A Semiotic ("Word. Helene Iwolsky (Cambridge.

78 Robert Young offers of the different ways in which Rabelais' work has functioned and been recuperated within different ideological and political conjunctures. turns out to be a comparatively orthodox account of the production and consumption of a literarytext by determining sociohistorical forces. (Walter Benjamin. Bakhtin's book articulates a gap between the propriety of Marxist criticism as a discipline of historical knowledge and an ideologically improper but direct and potentially effective intervention into the contemporary political arena.168. it was also the means of a political intervention that constitutes one of the boldest moves in the history of Marxist criticism. the explosive politics of the body. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.... it blasts Rabelais's work out of the homogeneous continuum of literary history. Eagleton alone emphasizes this aspect of its exemplary status as a work of Marxist criticism: Produced in the darkest era of Stalinism.. the licentious and semiotic.however. The "exemplary" Marxist text.228 on Mon. While praising Bakhtin for his analysis of the mode of production of Rabelais's book he himself entirely neglects that of Bakhtin's. in fact. In fact. For all his talk of "the different political and ideological conjunctures which the text enters into during the course of its historical existence" (92).' whose unspoken name is Stalinism. What is most remarkable. On the other hand. is that Bennett omits any reference to the book's own historical context. the erotic. creating a lethal constellation between that redeemed Renaissance moment and the trajectory of the Soviet state . in what is perhaps the boldest.' Bakhtin pits against that 'official. of course. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . a period during which Bakhtin himself ominously disappeared from public view. most devious gesture in the history of 'Marxist criticism. Bennett's evaluation makes Bakhtin look rather less distinctive and innovative. Bennett fails to mention andHis World thatRabelais itself constituted an attempt at direct political intervention. formalistic and logical authoritarianism.72.144) It is only by ignoring the historical context of its political strategy that Bennett can neglect the importance of carnival in his estimation of and His World. (95) In spite of the new emphasis on the mode of consumption. Rabelais We have seen that for Marxists carnival is a difficult concept to use: it is closely related to dialogism and is in any case suspect on straightforward political grounds.

for the thesis was refused and publication came only long after the end of Stalinism. Thus the studies of Lotman and Uspensky. But the suppression of the book also testifies to its potential political effectivity at a particular historical moment. Dehistoricized and extracted as a concept or as a general principle of revolutionary textual politics carnival is unworkable and untenable. In fact Bakhtin has been more useful to Marxists in terms of strategic politics than in producing the promised revival of sociological poetics. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. offering the unusual possibility of exploiting its vulnerabilities. This is the real force of carnival in Bakhtin. But for Bakhtin any "basis" must inevitably be that of dialogism. in the last instance terribly interested in poetics as such. unites "what we might now rhetoricallycall certain Derridean and Lacanianpositions with a politics revolutionary enough to make much post-structuralism nervous" (79). suffers from equal neglect. Todorov would be a case in point.168."the Nietzschean playfulness of contemporary post-structuralism leaves the academy and dances in the streets" (79) . on the slender evidence of a single footnote in an article by David Carroll. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 1981) Theory ofLiterature.the very concept which he himself dismisses eleven pages later as "no more than a compliant. containable libertarianism" 14. He is forced to claim.history merely provides different instances of dialogism at work." 78). Bakhtin.'4 Bakhtin has rather been deployed to counter the supposed attacks of deconstruction.72. after all. that poststructuralists have refused all affinities with Bakhtin and generally denigrate his work. Costanzo di Girolamo's interesting work in the area (A Critical Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Bakhtin's sociological poetics have rather often been taken up and developed by narratologists rather than by Marxists. Bakhtin teaches that politics are strategic and historically conditioned. Marxist literary critics are not.228 on Mon. which continue the work of the Bakhtin School in the area of sociological poetics. Eagleton's argument illustrates new difficulties: Bakhtin must comprehend poststructuralism while at the same time surpassing it through the addition of history. Yet his illustration of how Bakhtin does this turns out to be nothing less than carnival . Eagleton has several times remarked on the way in which Bakhtin seems to recapitulate many of the dominant motifs of contemporary poststructuralism and at the same time lends them an historical basis ("Wittgenstein. and that the cost of this may be a theoretical and ideological impropriety. are rarely mentioned in contemporary discussions of Marxist literary theory.Back to Bakhtin 79 Bakhtin's strategy failed. not history. Eagleton contends.

72. as Todorov remarks. there is no such thing in Bakhtin as monological carnival. defines itself by its refusal of all forms of transcendence. however. White. 27). he suggests.15 For Eagleton. But in Bakhtin's own terms. or elsewhere Derrida and Wittgenstein. Mikhail Bakhtine. White declares. If Bakhtin manages to transcend the critique of transcendence he seems to do it by being pushed back into dialectics. Problems Poetics. In the meantime the real historical force of Bakhtin's attempted historical intervention in the 1940s seems to have been forgotten. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. claims that it is deconstruction that is monological. Further references will be cited in the text.trans. Deconstruction. he criti cized Engelhardt's analysis of Dostoevsky on the grounds that he attempted to turn Dostoevsky's dialogism into a transcendent dialectics. scholars. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . any individual elements that are contained will be set against each other unmerged. "seems to me to transcend both Deconstruction and Structuralism by revealing each to be a one-sided abstraction from the lived complexity of language" (141). idealist carnival" that is monological because it remains within academic discourse rather than moving out into "social history. however. 160. thing. Bakhtin's work in general. Dialogism. In the same way.168. ofDostoevsky's Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. However. rather as in Dante's world where "multi-leveledness is extended into eternity" (Dostoevsky." presumably to dance in the streets. Eagleton's assertion that Bakhtin "combines and surpasses" Derrida and Lacan. Bakhtin "combines and surpasses" Derrida and Wittgenstein. Once again the specific historical conjuncture disappears in favor of the invocation of "history" as the validating principle and basis of Marxist thought. Bakhtin. 1984). If Bakhtin "transcends" anythen his own definition his own text must be monological.for White he encompasses structuralismand deconstruction in order to "push beyond" them. is a "compromised. is repeated in a slightly different form by Allon White who argues that "Bakhtin's theory simultaneously encompassed and pushed beyond" structuralism and deconstruction (123).160). 26. monks" 15. a certain distrust of what he called "the monological dialectic of Hegel" (Mikhail Bakhtine. by In spite of his acknowledgement of the similarity of many of its arguments to those of Bakhtin.80 Robert Young (90). all attempts to unify. p.228 on Mon. Todorov. Bakhtin's description of carnival's "lively play with the 'languages' of poets. Bakhtin always maintained.

This dismissal is particularly odd given his simultaneous espousal of the value of carnival against deconstruction. 361). politically effective component. makes up the subversive. Further references will be cited in the text. parody of the official discourses. by "artistically organizing" the languages of heteroglossia. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press. "As distinct from the opaque mixing of languages in living utterances that are spoken in a historically evolving language. cf.Back to Bakhtin 81 clearly states it to be "consciously opposed" to authoritarian literary language: "It was parodic. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. It is noticeable that his own critique takes the form of a serious academic discourse. Bakhtin. a decentering of the official discursive norms that in its own way is comparable to the greatest claims made by Bakhtin for Sterne . as White agrees. and special perspective. the novelistic hybrid is an artistically in contact withoneanother. 401." "an opaque mechanistic mixture of languages" (366).or Rabelais . Yet deconstruction's play. and subversion of academic discourse's blindness to the status of its own language is. 7 Dancing in the streets partakes of the utopic. it is because it is like this that Bakhtin places so much emphasis on'carnival. mindless. identified with deconstruction. and opaque. 18. 273.trans. 1981). 17. punning. White suggests that the reason why deconstruction has so quickly found that "its natural metier is fairground nonsense and gameplaying" is because of its "triviality"(139). and aimed sharply and polemically against the official languages of its given time.168."'6 Parody. has to remain within the orbit of monological languages precisely in order to dialogize them. a form of carnivalization."a parody of the logical and expressive structure of any ideological discourse as such" . In itself heteroglossia is "mindless. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .72. crossing of academic boundaries. It was heteroglossia that had been dialogized. 308-9. TheDialogicImagination: FourEssays.. nostalgic element in carnival. parody. In his view carnival provides the only historical moment in which the heteroglossia of the world is dialogized. while it solemnly dismisses the parodic play of deconstruction as "ludic nar16. also the description of scepticism."'8 It seems that when White encounters a contemporary example of the carnivalesque he cannot recognize it for what it is and dismisses it as trivial.228 on Mon. The novel achieves its special status."a parody of the very act of conceptualizing anything in language. a system having as organized systemfor bringing different languages its goal the illumination of one language by means of another" (Dialogic Imagination. not obviously permeated by the heteroglossia of social history. DialogicImagination. as has been suggested. M. The ordinarylanguage of the people outside these discourses makes up a heteroglossia that has not been dialogized and therefore remains politically ineffective..M.

a carnivalesque inversion of its own claims to authoritativeness taking place at the same time." Partisan Review 50 (1982): 312. interrogates the claims of Marxist criticism. celebrating laughter. when White's own essay takes such norms and presuppositions so much on trust. and "low" genres? Or is there. This content downloaded by the authorized user from providing a superb parody of Terry Eagleton's Criticism and Ideology (1976) in doing so. this suggests a comparison with Bakhtin's own: at first sight. If he is to identify himself with Bakhtin's "dialogue resistance" then White needs to recognize that for Bakhtin this occurs at the level of language (necessarily. their unreadability. at odds with the thesis of their content. a monological theory which paradoxically denies the possibility of a theory. crackingjokes. does it not also propose in conventional "high" academic language.168. therefore. A Dialectical Text/Book ofLiterary (Brighton: Harvester. This would not be incompatible with some of the other curiosities known about Bakhtin: 19. illuminating "the very grandiosity of his enterprise as a parody of the methods of scholarship and science alike"?'9 The length of Bakhtin's essays. the double science of deconstruction might seem much closer to Bakhtin's double-voicedness in which "two points of view are not mixed. and ever bifurcating categories. thus subverting any claim to authoritativeness. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and full of authoritative jargon. III White's critique of deconstruction' s frivolity is curiously blind to the conditions and status of its own undialogized discourse.82 Robert Young cissism. as Hayden White points out. Yet there is also a naivety in the accusation that Derrida's extravagance. Hayden White. changing masks like a comedian. but set against each other dialogically" (Dialogic Imagination. subversion. Inevitably. and the consequent role that dialogic resistance must play to disrupt this" (145). By contrast. are.their proliferating jargon. not noticeably comic.228 on Mon. "The AuthoritativeLie. as Hayden White suggests. their repetitive structure. parody. and is written in an authoritative mode." is somehow complicit with the serious discourse of academicism that enforces social control. 1983). Bernard Sharratt'sReading Relations: Structures Production.72. within discourse) and not in the realm of a "social history" that is somehow outside it." White goes on to claim that Bakhtin "reveals that naive complicity Deconstruction may have with social control and domination. 360). A more recent example of carnivalesque inversion. "punning.

but [exotopy] and the surplus preserving one's own position of extralocality of vision and understanding connected with it" (Dostoevsky." 171)? It is noticeable. 1970). in fact. that. This explains why it has proved much more fruitful to analyse Bakhtin's work than to apply his ideas. The status of Bakhtin's own language is also discussed by Julia Kristeva in her introduction to La Poetique de Dostoievski (Paris: Seuil. further references will be cited in the text). At first sight. eds. can we be so sure as Holquist that the real Bakhtin was the devout cerkovnik who wrote the religious magnum opus TheArchitechtonicsof Responsibility in embryonic which. "The Ruin of a Poetics.. "The Authoritative Lie. spoke in many voices. No doubt this is an effect of the ambivalence of his texts. form. Is there. Vivienne Mylne.168. would suggest not. Bakhtin successfully resists integration. as de Man observes. at any rate. Stephen Bann andJohn E. parodied many methods. Bakhtin appears to offer a Marxist critic the recognition of much of the force of deconstructive arguments while 20. represent the fixed position.. a real Bakhtin that can be appropriated by a particular mode of criticism? Ideas such as the contested nature of the sign. 21 (trans. 116-17. published under the name of Bakhtin. the determination of the utterance from without by social relations." 312. everymajoridea Bakhtinwas to havefor the restof his longlife" ("The Politics of Representation. betrays what is most valid in his work" ("Dialogue and Dialogism. both those recognized as having been written by him and those only thought to be from his hand?20 83 Similarly. 299). the real center of his thought.228 on Mon. "to imitate or to apply Bakhtin . 1973]. then.Back to Bakhtin During some sixty years as a scholar. by which to measure the merely parodisticdimensions of his other works." in RussianFormalism. "contains. Holquist assures us. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. although Bakhtin's subject concerns dialogism in the novel. many of his critics. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Bowlt [Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press. preserving an irreducible otherness. enacting in his work the process of exotopy: "not merging with another. published under a number of different names. write as if such qualities are to be found in Bakhtin himself. Bakhtin assumed many masks. Is there any reason to believe that these essays [TheDialogicImagination]. the endless struggle for the word. By definition. Bakhtin begins to become the thing of which he speaks.72. without showing any awareness of the transference that they are making. and the re-accentuation of meanings in texts throughout history." 107).

ed. (Dialogic 411) As a microcosm of the macrocosm.Vol. he does not analyse the operations of power according to the sovereignty model of repression that Foucault This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. all the era's languages that have any claim to being significant. speaking and contesting in the novel as in the world outside. for things which must not be said.228 on Mon. but when this argument is rehearsed in detail it turns out that he offers an alternative only if carnival is. Robert Young (London: McLeod.84 Robert Young setting them within a sociohistorical framework. Bakhtinis celebrated because he adds the missing element of history to deconstruction. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . The difficulty comes when admitting the similarities while attempting to maintain the distinctions. 1. Unlike most Marxist theorists since Lenin.21In other respects it might seem that Bakhtin is very trans.dehistoricized. 1978). Bakhtin seems to imply that all the different positions in society are necessarily represented in the novel. with the possible exception of the Rabelais book. Ian Reader. 1981). Robert Hurley (London: Allen Lane. paradoxically. Or to shift from Macherey to Foucault. Geoffrey Wall (London: 21.72. A Theory Production. "the novel must be a full and comprehensive reflection of its era" accordingly: The novel must represent all the social and ideological voices of its era. the novel must be a microcosm of Imagination. a process which happens to constitute the double movement of exotopy itself. The conflict of dialogue with dialectics is the most substantial of a number of major difficulties: others include the word as a guarantor of human freedom and the refusal of teleology in favour of repetition. 1979). The relation between the two is one of homology. "The Order of Discourse. The eagerness to claim Bakhtin as a major Marxist aesthetician means that there has been no sustained analysis of these problems.168. This allows no space for what the book does not say.Michel Foucault. heteroglossia. In comparing Bakhtin to Foucault it should be noted that. trans. in Untyingthe Text:A Post-Structuralist Routledge & Kegan Paul. So Bakhtin provides a somewhat treacherous way out for Marxist criticism. that is. that none have been excluded from speech as such. of Literary Routledge & Kegan Paul. 48-77. TheHistoryof Sexuality." He rewrites the orthodox imperative. Even the all important frameworkbegins to seem less secure when Bakhtin explores the ways in which framing destabilizes rather than produces fixity. Pierre Macherey. Still more arise with the theory of the novel." trans. Bakhtin conceives the novel not as a reflection but as a space which heterglossia "enters. it assumes that there are no groups in society that are voiceless or silent.

Marxismand the Philosophy of Language. "The Linguistic Fault:The Case of Foucault's Archaeology. Althusser's writings on (London: Verso. no. a concept incompatible with Foucault's notion of rival. According to Ann Shukman. Cousins. He merely asserts that conflict takes place: Alongside the centripetal forces. In Althusser's description of ideology.23Here ideology simply becomes the expression of different points of view by different classes and hardly explains how a dominant ideology manages to operate successfully. but the speaker is still allowed to accent words and to compete with other accentuations for his or her own purposes. stratificationsof language and discourses of truth.' wrote Bakhtin 'hear voicesin everything and the dialogic relationships between them' " (Introduction to "Bakhtin School Papers. the uncriticizes. But differences emerge with Bakhtin's stress on the prevalence of reported speech within discourse. and therefore distinct. Reported speech makes it impossible to maintain distinctions between discourses in the first place. alongside verbal-ideological centralization and unification. 4). Society 22." No. VoloSinov. Bakhtin contrives to privilege the individual over the system. It means that Bakhtin never has to explain in any other terms the operation of the struggle between centripetal and centrifugal forces working within heteroglossia. the centrifugal forces of language carry on their uninterrupted work. 10 [1983].72." Economy 9. ideology have recently been collected as Essayson Ideology 23. society consists of competing contradictory discourses that successively strive for and resist totalization.22 Bakhtin's dialogism means that the subject is constituted by both self and other. it tends to formalize and depersonalize. To put it another way. 'But I. and only allows him or her to speak from that position. For all his dispersal of the unity of the subject and the author. Bakhtin's attitude was that structuralism "uses mechanical categories.168. the struggle for power ultimately resolves onto competing accents attached to individual words. For an important critique of Foucault's theory of discourse see B. in Translation. the interpellation of the subject positions him or her within language.228 on Mon. dialogism does not constitute an adequate theory of power. the discourse of the other. RussianPoetics This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. VoloSinov could be compared to Althusser in his analysis of the way in which the individual utterance is wholly determined by social relations. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .Back to Bakhtin 85 close to Foucault: for both thinkers. Brown and and M.86. as his reported remarks on structuralism make clear. 1983). 3 (1980): 251-78. it reduces all relationships to logical relationships.

in general. they are juxtaposed contrapuntally. that is. Mikhail Bakhtin remarks that Bakhtine. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . All the conceptual distinctions that Bakhtin proposes are inexorably propelled toward their own dissolution in the same way. as Todorov points out. laid out compositionally in the text. dialogism breaks down all same/other oppositions even while it is predicated on them. 40) Dialogism's ubiquity is such that. since all discourse is by definition dialogic. No explanation is offered for what Bakhtin describes. 272) in novel to become effective. maintains inter-textual relations. (Dostoevsky. the to be needs dialogized Ifheteroglossia there nevertheless seems to be a benign trust expressed here that whether individuals are aware of it or not absolute monologism is impossible. that is. for heteroglossia will always ensure decentralization. and even it interacts dialogically with various aspects of this heteroglossia" (375). This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. At times this almost seems to imply that the diverse languages of different social groups will in effect do our politics for us. everything that has meaning and significance. In TheDialogic Imagination even monoglossia's "perception presumes heteroglossia as a background. they are an almost universal phenomenon. IV Does this mean that Marxists must give up their claims to Bakhtin and yield him to poststructuralists? The question is not quite so simple. Insisting on differences.228 on Mon. 293). 24. And this is so because dialogic relationships are a much broader phenomena than mere rejoinders in a dialogue.86 Robert Young interrupted processes of decentralization and disunification go forward.72. Todorov. dialogism simultaneously negates their very possibility. permeating all human speech and all relationships and manifestations of human life .168.24In the last analysis.165. except dialogism itself as a founding metaphysical principle: Dialogic relationships exist among all elements of novelistic structure. For the dialogic principle is everywhere and permeates everything: "Life by its very nature is dialogic" (Dostoevsky. (Dialogic Imagination. logically it is not even possible to distinguish between monologic and dialogic discourse.

The argument has been that "Bakhtinrecapitulatesavantla lettre many of the leading motifs of contemporary deconstruction" (Walter 150). etc. In the larger historical context it would be necessary to trace their respective relation to the whole Nietzschean tradition and to consider the significance of remarks. Marxists have. of the semantic identity of the sign." 88-9. and "the crumbling away of the representational system" as such. made by Bakhtin himself in 1961: After my book [Dostoevsky] (but independently of it) the ideas of polyphony. Kristeva. however. the breaking down of the identity of the subject.228 on Mon. Dialogue. the crucial role of Bakhtin in the development of poststructuralist thought is passed over. As Bakhtin puts it: This is the special logic revealed in Dostoevsky's work. infinite interpretation. a logic of non-exclusive opposites and permanent contradiction that transgresses the monologic true/false forms of Western rationalism. the positioning of the subject in and by discourse. but this implies that somehow the two have always been Benjamin. (Dostoevsky. This is explained by the growing influence of Dostoevsky. the denial of univocal meaning. dialogue. were very widely developed. of all inside/outside oppositions. "Word. by those changes in reality itself which Dostoevsky (in this sense prophetically) succeeded in revealing earlier than the others. 299) as Dialogism. 285) More specifically. there she recognized that Bakhtin's work provokes as its corollaries intertextuality.25 Above all. forgotten about history. Kristeva's two remarkable essays date from the late sixties. Thus these ideas cannot be adequately understood and analyzed in the usual referentiallylogical. (Dostoevsky. of course.72. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. the negation of originary presence in speech.. must not be confused with dialectics("Word. and Novel" was written in 1966. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . separate. and Novel."The Ruin of a Poetics.168. surprisingly.Back to Bakhtin 87 In the attempt to use Bakhtin against poststructuralism generally and Derrida in particular. but above all. unfinalizability." 114." 110). systematicplane (as ordinary philosophic theories). "The Ruin of a Poetics. such as the following. Its fun25. Kristevaargued that an "other logic" permeates Bakhtin'swork. Kristevasaw. Dialogue.

particularly her strategy of withdrawing "the kernel which links up with the most advanced contemporary research" from the "worn-out ideological husk" that surrounds it. however. and Novel. from our philosophical arena.168. analogy. It is not finite. Accordingly Bakhtin praises the "rigorous unfinalizability and dialogic openness of Dostoevsky's artistic world" in which the hero's consciousness of self"lives by its unfinalizability. At the end of her first essay on Bakhtin. finality. 53). ignores the extent to which poststructuralism has developed from the first in close association with his work. The process has This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. and especially. unaware of its role. Some have criticized Kristeva's reading of Bakhtin. et cetera. and Novel. and its indeterminacy" (Dostoevsky. Kristevawas quite clear why Bakhtin's description of the novel was so significant: The novel. it is open.("Word.72. incorporating Menippean elements. is that almost twenty years ago she recognized Bakhtin'swork as "a hitherto unknown precursor.88 Robert Young damental structure is one of alterity: poles stay apart. The important point. dialogism may well become the basis of our time's intellectual structure. Dialogue. the modern. finally." 107). and cannot be resolved. nonexclusive and transfinite opposition). as in Buber's IThou relations. Dialogue. ("Word. If poststructuralism means anything at all. More than binarism. 272." 89) To say that Bakhtin recapitulates poststructuralism before its time. she predicted its growing importance: The path charted between the two poles of dialogue radically abolishes problems of causality. becomes the name of that scene or stage on which such a logic appears. therefore.228 on Mon. polyphonic novel. by its unclosedness." 85-6) Carnival. embodies the effort of European thought to break out of the framework of causally determined identical substances and head toward another modality of thought that proceeds through dialogue (a logic of distance." of a movement that had hardly begun and had certainly yet to be termed poststructuralism or deconstruction ("Ruin of a Poetics. it describes a very various body of work that shares a concern with isolating and exploring that different kind of logic that Kristevainvokes. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . It suggests the importance of the dialogical principle for a space of thought much larger than that of the novel. relativity.

what he calls the unconscious forms the unofficial or revolutionary ideology: 26. how many people seem to think that Bakhtin writes about intertextuality. Bakhtin sees it as a practice of language within reality" ("Marxist LiteraryTheories. for instance. It is remarkable.26 Volosinov's critique of Freudianism has not generally been recognized as providing the earliest theory of a political unconscious in which the text of history produces revolutionary change. uninterrupted narrativeof class struggleasJameson does. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . It would be possible to argue that Bakhtin's major contribution has already been to assert and to provide a theory of the importance of language in the social sphere. Instead he suggests that. He has brought about a new awareness that it is not necessary to talk about the relation of literature to something called concrete History in order to provide a sociological analysis." in ReReadingEnglish." 163-4). He has also moved Marxist thinking away from its obsessive attention to the mode of production to a consideration of the mode of consumption as well. Tony Bennett's more recent "Text and History. Volosinov senses no imperative to detect the traces of a vast. for instance. given the absence of a dividing line between the individual psyche and the formulated ideology of its social milieu. also affecting the way that Bakhtin has been interpreted. At the same time his recent invocation by Marxist critics neglects the role that his work has already played in Marxist criticism. what Freud calls the conscious constitutes the official or dominant ideology.228 on Mon.223-36. The critiqueis particularlyinterestingin that for all his attackon the premises and categoriesof psychoanalysis Volosinov does not dismiss the idea of the unconscious as such. as David Forgacs has observed. However. He has shown how language itself constitutes and is constituted by the social and history and is not separate from them. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. Here the crucial shift from orthodox Marxist positions is.168. See. V For historical reasons alone the idea that Bakhtin can now provide an alternative to poststructuralism is clearly untenable. the way in which "rather than seeing literature as a knowledge of reality. inevitably foregrounding the importance of the role of the institution in doing so.Back to Bakhtin 89 worked both ways.72.

her work enabled an important 27. thus in a certain sense validating the findings of psychoanalysis. (90) On the one hand. the vulnerability of the usual ideological motivations. no.. Such a theory of revolutionary change might recall once more the work of Kristeva who developed Bakhtin's analysis of literature as a practice of radical poetics to the point where she could claim that "there is no equivalence. "censored" conscious express the most steadfast and the governing factors of class consciousness.R. lie at a great distance from the stable system of the ruling ideology..228 on Mon.not the psychological underground of repressed complexes..90 Robert Young Those areas of behavioral ideology that correspond to Freud's official. Dialogue. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . "little by litte really do turn into a 'foreign body' in the psyche" (89). in the social declasse loner. Freudianism: A MarxistCritique. any motive that is founded on the economic being of a whole group will develop within a small social milieu and will depart into the underground . His idea of the unconscious as a foreign body in the psyche should be compared to Nicolas Abraham's "The Shell and the Kernel. fully fledged ideology of the class in question. and Novel. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. corresponding to Freud's unconscious." 65). Further references will be cited in the text.27 Although not every motive in contradictionwith official ideology will do so. V. in all spheres of culThat is exactly how a revolutionary ideology ture comes about. Volosinov admits that motives in contradiction with official ideology. its world outlook.N. 88-9. They bespeak the disintegration of the unity and integrity of the system. but rather. 28. I. identity between challenging official linguistic codes and challenging official law" ("Word. They lie close to the formulated. Although Kristevaherself was soon to shy away from the full implications of this claim."Diacritics 9. Other levels.168.28on the other hand. he puts forward a theory of revolutionary change based on Freud's model in which contradictions and censored ideologies can "ultimately burst asunder the system of the official ideology" (88).72. but the salutarypolitical underground. its morality. Volosinov. Titunik (New York: Academic Press. Volosinov almost seems to imply on page 90 that psychoanalysis itself constitutes a revolutionary movement. trans. 1976). its law. 1(1979): 16-28.

by tellingly entitled 29. they do not consider the Subject work of Volosinov directly.228 on Mon. At thatjuncture. It is possible that the current interest of sociologists in his epistemology of the human sciences may produce work that will have significant effects for literary criticism. 30.formalism in literary studies. Chapter Two of MikhaflBakhtinehas recently been translated in Economy and as "Epistemology of the Human Sciences. who is sceptical about claims that Bakhtin wrote virtually everything.72.30But at the present time there seems to be less a future for Bakhtin than for Bakhtin without Bakhtin.29The school of thought that Screen came to represent did not survive the critique of Althusser.of psychoanalysis. published in 1929 as Problems ofDostoevsky's an orthodox M. no. Starinkov." Ideology and Consciousness 3 (1978): 95-111. Todorov. the materiality of the language of the so-called "classic realist text" was virtually a revolutionary act. "A Matter of Language. L'Avant-garde siecle. that is. makes the point that the publications of Medvedev and VoloSinov all take the form of critiques . Kristeva'smost important work in this vein was LaRevolution du langagepoetique: a lafin du dix-neuvieme et Mallarme(Paris: Seuil. and contemporary linguistics. 1977). first Creative was attacked Practice.168. Surprisingly.Back to Bakhtin 91 development in film and literary theory associated in particular with There the idea was developed that the exposure of the journal Screen. critical not only for Screen. an exposure generally conducted in an authoritative language that reproduced the very quality that it claimed to unmask. Bakhtin's own 1924 essay on Formalism was written within the very terms of German aesthetic theory that Medvedev attacked. References to Marxism in Bakhtin's own writings are minimal. many Marxists paradoxicallyattempted to invoke Bakhtin." 13. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. in a review Marxist. For a useful critique see Diana Adlam and Angie Salfield. VI Is there a future use for Bakhtin in Marxist criticism? Yes and no. his work on Dostoevsky. 1 Society (1984): 25-42. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . By contrast. 1977).Lautreamont The most sustained argument of this kind in Britainwas advanced by Rosalind Coward and John Ellis in Language and Materialism: in Semiology and theTheory Developments of the (London: Routledge& Kegan Paul. for the texts of the Bakhtin circle that are not published under his name. There is a case to be made for separating out the works of the sociological period 1926-29. Their three books and related articles are the only items in the writings of the Bakhtin circle for which Marxistpresuppositions are crucial. all of which are signed by Medvedev and Volosinov.

KeithTribe's discussion of Medvedev and Macherey might provide a starting point here. On the other hand. reported speech at the end of Marxismand the Philosophy Without Bakhtin. Bakhtin's Marxism in Rabelais.Semantics. could also be taken into account.20-21. To suggest the separation of Bakhtin from Medvedev and Volosinov is not to devalue his work." 165). 2 (1980): 241-9. As a direct political intervention it should never be underestimated. the critical and methodological work of Medvedev and Volosinov provides a coherent body of work that still retains considerablepotential. If this suggests the possibility that Bakhtin's work could open up a dialogic interaction between the two. is somewhat diluted and utopic ("Marxist Literary Theories.32 The Rabelaisbook poses a more difficult question.92 Robert Young "Polyphonic Idealism. Michel Pecheux. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. will need to be more than a merely literary enterprise: it will also have to show that its readings can exert an effective pressure upon current work being done in the social sciences. who proposes a different though not incompatible materialist theory of language. The ambivalence of his texts means that rather than providing support for either Marxism or poststructuralism against each other the texts themselves constitute the most significant contemporary site of their David Forgacs observes. andSociety 32. Of all Bakhtin's works it is most attractive for Marxists because it seems closest to the terms of a Marxist criticism. 26 Nov 2012 13:42:28 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . then such a dialogue. Language. the most remarkable of which is VoloSinov's dismissal of the prevalent use of of Language. 31. only to say that unlike his collaborators he eschews the dialectical method for dialogism.72. "LiteraryMethodology. Todorov." Economy 9. Harbon Nagpal (London: Macmillan.168. no. Mikhatl Baktine. 1982). the work of Michel Pecheux. no doubt an effect of its origins as a thesis written during the Stalin period.and Ideology: Statingthe Obvious."3"In spite of the resemblances there are some striking differences between Bakhtin and his collaborators. KeithTribe. if it takes the form of a"textual" reading of Marx.trans. Carnival offers a liberal rather than a Marxist politics.228 on Mon.