Two Routes “to Concreteness” in the Work of the Bakhtin Circle

Craig Brandist

In 1918 the young Georg Lukács published an obituary of the last major Baden School neo-Kantian Emil Lask in which the latter’s varied work was commended for being “underlain by an essential common drive [Drang]: the drive to concreteness.”1 This “drive” was especially problematic, however, in the work of thinkers overtly committed to neo-Kantianism, a doctrine that was in its own time a byword for abstruseness and academic abstraction. Just how concrete could a neo-Kantian idealism become without abandoning its core insistence that the world is “produced” by indwelling categories of mind? Lask pursued this problem with a thoroughness unmatched by any other German neo-Kantian, and in doing so he became an important influence on, among others, Lukács, Max Weber, and Martin Heidegger. This article discusses the prevalence of the same “drive” in the varied work of those Russian champions of neo-Kantianism, the Bakhtin Circle, where “concreteness” is invoked so frequently that it almost begins to take on the character of a mantra. The case of the Bakhtin Circle is especially illustrative because the “drive to concreteness,” which all members of the Circle shared, resulted in a significant difference of opinion about the extent to which the central theses of neo-Kantianism can be salvaged. Like Lask, Bakhtin was particularly keen to maintain the core of neoKantian ideas, while Voloshinov and, following behind him, Medvedev, were much less averse to breaking with the central project of German idealism itself. In each case the Brentanian notion of intentionality, the doctrine that consciousness is always consciousness of something, plays a central role. Consciousness exists in acts directed towards objects, existent or otherwise, that are given to consciousness. Brentano and his followers were invariably anti-Kantian, and they were extremely hostile to the central tenet of neo-Kantian idealism, that objects of consciousness are “produced” from categories dwelling in a tran1

Georg Lukács, “Emil Lask. Ein Nachruf,” Kant-Studien, 22 (1918), 349-70, 350.

Copyright 2002 by Journal of the History of Ideas, Inc.

522 Craig Brandist scendental “consciousness in general” (Bewusstsein überhaupt).2 As Gabriel Motzkin notes.” Summing up the philosophical project of Hermann Cohen. nothing is “given” and everything is posited in an act of subjective spontaneity: objects are constituted from transcendental categories dwelling in “pure consciousness. The first was a principled opposition to all distinctions between cognition and perception.” Cassirer. Ernst Cassirer noted that “any appeal to a merely given should fall aside. and scientific thought. The Critical Philosophy of Hermann Cohen. mythical. 5 Ernst Cassirer. G. . and the second was an identification of subjectivity with the system of objectifying functions that have their true being in cultural documents. 89.”3 The Bakhtinian project led in precisely this direction. and this article examines the way in which the work of the Circle shows distinct and ultimately incompatible responses to the crisis of the “empire. 3 Gabriel Motzkin. the last major Marburg neo-Kantian. of willing. there is no doubt that any attempt to integrate the notion of intentionality into neo-Kantianism was going to threaten the basis of neo-Kantianism as such. While it is far from certain that Brentanian and Kantian principles are incompatible at every level. 94 (1989). remained wedded to the neo-Kantian project of deriving the transcendental preconditions of the “formations” in which the “objective spirit … consists and exists” and dealt only with a universal subject devoid of practical limitations.” Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale. or what Bakhtin terms the “theoretist. 1996).” Philosophical-Political Profiles tr.”4 Though seeking to broaden his own enquiry beyond the “trichotomy of the Kantian Critiques.). tr. 423-63. According to neo-Kantian principles. 4 Quoted in Jürgen Habermas. The School of Franz Brentano (Dordrecht.” in Albertazzi et al (eds. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. 1997). the leader of the Marburg School. 57. 21-43. 173.5 Cassirer drew close to phenomenology in the 1920s. Lawrence (London. III: The Phenomenology of Knowledge. tr. when he embarked on his great project The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. in place of every supposed foundation in things there should enter the pure foundations of thinking. The Rediscovery of the Primordial World. presenting a descriptive account of forms of culture in which he attempts to discern the essential structures of linguistic. 26. Ralph Mannheim (London. of artistic and religious consciousness. “From Kant to Brentano.” Revising neo-Kantianism: Ernst Cassirer and Emil Lask The abstract. See also Andrea Poma. F. In the final completed volume of 2 Liliana Albertazzi. Lask’s attempt to carry such a project through to its logical conclusion ultimately led to “the destruction of the neo-Kantian empire from within. 171-90. 1957). “The German Idealism of the Jewish Philosophers. John Denton (New York. “Emil Lask and the Crisis of Neo-Kantianism.” character of neoKantianism derived from two fundamental and interrelated features. 1983).

6 Cassirer even praises Husserl’s revision of Brentano’s theory of intentionality in the Untersuchungen and the Ideen (1913). a priori. 800-54. Brentano’s dualism of physical and psychical phenomena inevitably required the replacement of a “real psychic subject” with a universal subject (Subjekt überhaupt) if it is not to fall into a “mythology of activities. D.” striving to depict an ultimately unknowable empirical world. 7 PSF. 215-16. Cassirer reestablished a neo-Kantian “consciousness in general. 763–93. “Against Idealism: Johannes Daubert vs. For the former this reform of neo-Kantianism simply did not go far enough. 1913). vehemently resisted by the Munich phenomenologists at the time. Intentionality was swamped by an idealist “epistemologism” which even denied all “indirect mediated coordinations ” between language and states of affairs (Sachverhalte) subsisting in the extra discursive world. Karl Schuhmann and Barry Smith. “Cassirer.7 For Cassirer.A. 1949). who translated both Bühler and Cassirer into Russian.8 In place of a theory of intersubjectivity in language use. F. 9 Karl Bühler. 39 (1985). 48. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms vol. As Fritz Kaufmann puts it: Without annihilating altogether the duality involved in any relation as such. 1990). Goodwin (Amsterdam. 1957). The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer (Evanston.. tr. III. which had actually been based on the notion of intentionality presented in Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen (1900. 6 Ernst Cassirer.” Cassirer goes much further toward re-establishing a neo-Kantian abstraction here than Husserl was to do even at his most Kantian moments. however. Theory of Language. presenting these works as a continuum inevitably leading to Husserl’s transcendental turn. Ill. and Phenomenology” in P. 847. Conn. however. 110n4. Neo-Kantianism. prevent the Brentanian psychologist and theorist of language Karl Bühler from praising Cassirer’s incorporation of an intentional moment into his account of symbolic forms. Schlipp (ed.9 For Voloshinov. Husserl’s Ideas I.” Review of Metaphysics. III). Charles Hendel (New Haven.). 8 Fritz Kaufmann. he [Cassirer] pushes it into the direction of a mystical union. This interpretation was. where nothing happens to the soul that did not happen in it eternally. 3: The Phenomenology of Knowledge (hereafter PSF. Cassirer’s work inaugurated a new period of neo-Kantianism in which the word stands as a “third realm” between the “cognising psycho-physical subject and the empirical actuality surrounding him on the one hand.. and where the I and the Thou are poles of movement in which neither of them has the status of an independent value. tr. This did not. and the world of transcendental.Concreteness and the Bakhtin Circle 523 this work (1929) Cassirer argued that the “representative function” of language comes to dominate the whole of language and he claims to be in complete agreement with Karl Bühler’s use of this term. 196-98. and in so doing he exacerbates the very monologic notion of meaning-conferring acts for which Bühler specifically criticized Husserl. .

N. “Emil Lask. Krois. tr.11 The Circle’s debt to Cassirer has now been widely recognized. B.”10 Voloshinov is here developing Cassirer’s ideas further in a phenomenological direction than the German would have countenanced.A. Alekseev (Askol´dov) Mysl´ i deistvitel´nost´ (Moscow. at least at this time. M. 729.12 but its relationship to Lask is unclear. Bakhtin himself was clearly familiar with the work of the Baden School. Brian Poole. Muratov. 16 M. . 13 S.524 Craig Brandist formal being on the other. A. “Lichnoe delo V. while the legal philosophers Bogdan Kistiakovskii and Sergius Hessen had first hand knowledge of Lask’s work during their studies in Germany. 4 (1992). 14 Ladislav Matejka. I.” South Atlantic Quarterly. A. 85 (1997). M. 1996). 1994). V. 15 Motzkin. Fact and value remain distinct but no longer constitute the “mutually impervious” worlds of life and culture that so disturbed the early Bakhtin. “Deconstructing Bakhtin. “Cassirer. Mihailescu and W.N. Hessen. 2. 61-71.14 Whether Bakhtin actually knew the work of Lask is. 437-53. Voloshinov. they are elements 10 V. 11.M. less significant than the parallel intellectual moves made by these two neo-Kantian thinkers in their respective attempts to concretize abstract idealism. Bakhtin. Toward a Philosophy of the Act (hereafter TPA). Fiction Updated: Theories of Fictionality. 1995). As Motzkin puts it. Neo-Kantianism and Metaphysics. in Raboty 1920x godov (Kiev. Alekseev (Askol´dov) commented on Lask’s attempt to combine critical philosophy and empiricism in his book-length critique of neo-Kantianism in 1914. Lask was certainly known in Russia at the time: S. Lask reinterprets the neo-Platonic notion of two realms in such a way as to “draw the fact-value distinction through all of reality.” Radical Philosophy. Petersburg. Engel´gardt) (St.” 178. 707-82. “Bakhtin. having occasion to refer to both Windelband and Rickert and to plunder Broder Christansen’s 1909 (Russian translation 1911) Philosophie der Kunst without acknowledgment in his essay on “Content. “Prilozhenie” in Izbrannye sochineniia (Moscow. 579-98. Liapunov (Austin. Cassirer and Symbolic Forms. however. Narratology and Poetics (Toronto. “Bakhtin and Cassirer: The Philosophical Origins of Bakhtin’s Carnival Messianism. Hamarneh.” in C. 87. 10ff.”15 Lask here drew upon Hermann Lotze’s fundamental opposition between existents and validities (Geltungen).” Revue de Métaphysique et Morale. Fenomenologicheskaia estetika nachala XX veka i teoriia slovesnosti (B. 1999). Material and Form” of 1924. but it is no longer formal in the Kantian sense. Lask departed from his forebears arguing that the former is divided into realms of psychic experience and a given content of experience.16 Instead. While maintaining the neo-Kantian opposition between fact and value. 1914). while Pavel Medvedev probably studied Lask’s work on law as a student at the neo-Kantian dominated law faculty of Petrograd University. 12 Craig Brandist. S. 2 (1995). 9-68. if rather shadowy “realm” from that of existents. 70-99. Voloshinova” in Dialog Karnaval Khronotop. arguing that the a priori constitutes a separate. 1996). A.13 Bakhtin’s close friend Matvei Kagan may also have had contact with Lask’s work in Germany at the same time. 20-27. 257-66. 97 (1998). 11 See J. “K filosofii postupka” (hereafter KFP).

”17 Intentionality is thus “intentional validating. as he recognized in a letter to Husserl in December 1911: When mentioning your influence upon me as to my view concerning the relation between subject and object. 448–466.” Kant-Studien. substrate or carrier of properties—to an accidental form or shape or structure on the other. 455-56. and so the theory of intentionality “adopted” by Lask is that outlined there. . Lask was now on the border of breaking with neo-Kantianism as such. 69-88. it is only when subjects turn to matter that objective validity can be actualized.” which is trans-subjective and requires an object beyond validity. or to hold there. precisely that world which is given in experience.18 17 Quoted in Steven Galt Crowell. 79. that is consciousness of something. semi-Platonic “theoretical” realm of forms in isolation from matter: Sense or meaning. “Emil Lask: Aletheiology and Ontology. It is important to note that the only book of Husserl with which Lask was familiar was the Investigations. in the Urverhältnis (primal relation) of form and material. 87 (1996). “Hingelten” literally means “to be valid. a validity-in-respect-of. i. Forms are meaningful only in relation to something. a validity-of [hingelten].e. The world to which judgments refer is no longer the transcendent realm of things as experienced. The experienced world is thus always some compound of a given substrate (matter) and a posited form.” 18 Karl Schuhmann and Barry Smith. “Two Idealisms: Lask and Husserl. the two realms are rather two incomplete elements which stand to each other as the “material” on the one hand—an underlying stuff. The two elements together make up just one world. therefore.Concreteness and the Bakhtin Circle 525 of experience yoked together in intentional acts. while meaning and value depend upon acts which relate physical and psychic phenomena. for Lask “there is no validity that would not be a validity-with-regard-to.” Kant-Studien. 83 (1993). but at the same time validity is irreducible to matter and may be detached from empirical acts. but rather a layer of “quasi-transcendence” founded thereon. but this form can never exist as some separable. Subjectivity is itself a real part of the matter to which validity relates rather than the transcendental principle still maintained by Cassirer. Where for Brentano and his followers consciousness is always intentional. Validity is therefore also an object of experience. I may perhaps specify this by hinting at the fact that I make the type of intentionality you defend take the place of all [neo-Kantian] notions of consciousness-in-general. as Schuhmann and Smith note: To him [Lask]. is not radically and rigorously transcendent to subjectivity as is the object of sensation.

20 19 . Zametki. Thus. the beautiful etc). Both the realms of validity and the given substrate are trans-subjective. M. Like Lask. 1995). the good. “Avtor i geroi v estetichekoi deiatel´nost” (hereafter AG). in Raboty. M. too. 32960. 330. Bakhtin. M. 180-81. the early Bakhtin also sought to reverse neoKantianism’s detachment of theoretical forms of a judgment from the “unity of the actual act-deed of its realisation” by moving toward phenomenology. the world as a psycho-physical phenomenon in which the realms of KFP. 15. besides it always has an attitude toward a value (towards the true.5 (Moscow. but in a public world it is always already a compound of matter and validity. 21 M. eschewed by neoKantianism. something absolutely new and unrepeatable. In the “Author and Hero” essay from the mid 1920s Bakhtin describes lived experience as a “trace of meaning [smysl] in being. but so.19 While maintaining a fundamental split between fact and value. 1996).” a “relationship to meaning and to an object. The self-sufficiency of the neo-Kantian realm of validity was rejected: the experienced world is a compound of given content and objective validity. in Art and Answerability.526 Bakhtin Craig Brandist The proximity of this development to the Bakhtin Circle’s point of departure is quite uncanny. 4-256. 115-16. an observed phenomenon of actuality. an experienced feeling. Each object of cognition is created as “absolutely new and unrepeatable” since a new psycho-physical compound is brought into being and bequeathed as the newly given for other subjects.”20 This intentional relationship does not change significantly even when Bakhtin’s focus shifts from ethical to discursive acts as can perhaps most clearly be discerned in some notes Bakhtin wrote in 1961 dealing with the utterance as a meaning-bestowing act: The utterance is never a reflection or expression of something given and already existing outside it. tr. “Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity” (hereafter AH). Everything given is transformed into what is created.” in Sobranie sochinenii T. It always creates something that before it never was. TPA. Liapunov (Austin. 7.21 The “something given” is but the raw material out of which a new object of knowledge (the world as meaningful) can be created. “1961 god. the speaking subject himself. Bakhtin. and psychic experience. is the compound that is the experienced world bequeathed to each subject. 69256. Bakhtin treats the former as comprising moments of a given content of experience. prepared in this world view etc). V. But something created is always created from something given (language.

24 M. approaching a still unspoken-about. however. in which religion is dissolved into ethics and the co-creation of the world is an unending task of striving for a transcendent truth. Tübingen.” where Bakhtin explicitly terms the “directedness of the word on its object” as the word “intention.. tr. “Discourse in the Novel” (hereafter DN). 69. The object has always already been defined (in Lask’s terms. It is therefore no longer what it originally was but a bequeathed psycho-physical complex. Caryl Emerson (Manchester. Problemy tvorchestva/poetiki Dostoevskogo (Kiev. Intentionality remains central to Bakhtin’s theory of the novel even though the Brentanian terminology is more oblique in the later work. Voprosy literatury i estetiki (Moscow. 72-233. 23 (1992).” This terminology is. Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson (Austin. Cohen’s Messianic Ursprungsprinzip. 1975). 1984). virginal world. tr. M. could actually and fully escape this interorientation with alien discourses in the object. Heidegger. and the Homelessness of Logic. 25 Steven Galt Crowell.”24 As for Lask. 259-22. Bakhtin. Bakhtin speaks of the “the directly intentional word” that is “directed at its object [predmet]” and the “object [ob´´ektnoe] word” which is also “an object [predmet] of an alien authorial intention. however. replaced in the 1963 edition. 188-89 (hereafter PDP). “Lask. This is not available to Emil Lask. 1-282. Bakhtin. 1923-24).23 The terminological change is already present in the 1934 essay “Discourse in the Novel. 1994). In the 1929 study Problemy tvorchestva Dostoevskogo. Bakhtin makes a very similar statement: Only the mythical Adam. the solitary Adam. 1981). 277. from which the English translation is taken: the word “intentional” (intentsional´noe) is replaced with “fully-signifying” (polnoznachnoe) and “intention” (intentsiia) with “directedness” (napravlennost´). “Die Logik der Philosophie und die Kagetorienlehre” in Gesamelte Schriften (3 vols. intentionality provides only “a concept of givenness or evidence which allows us to see how logical meaning is present in pre-theoretical experience. 22 . 87. Given the problematic status of the existing translations of the work of the Circle I will be using my own translations and indicating both the Russian and English editions. 403 (hereafter PTD). M. 91. 222-39. it has already been made the object of intentional acts and therefore transformed through the incursion of subjectivity). 23 M.Concreteness and the Bakhtin Circle 527 validity and “matter” are mutually involved (what Lask called Bewandtnis)22 is constantly being co-created through the incursion of mutually implicated subjectivities.”25 The Novel in a “Fallen” World For Bakhtin and Lask objects in themselves are a “lost paradise” from which humanity was banished by the “original sin” of knowledge. “Slovo v romane” (hereafter SR). untouched by all subjectivity.” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology. This allows Bakhtin to maintain a link with Marburg neoKantianism. 231. II. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics.

”29 The object.”28 Logical contradictions permeate the object itself. 30 M. Bakhtin takes the Biblical metaphor further than Lask. in the form of an utterance. In his book on Dostoevsky of 1929 Bahktin still treats comic discourses such as parody as but a subdivision of the various modes of indirect discourse. 126-27.” in Dialogic. “A Type of Reflection and the Literary Genre” in E. making up a constituent moment of the experienced world. as becomes especially clear in Bakhtin’s essays on the novel from the 1930s and 1940s. 92. Ethics and Dialogue in the Works of Levinas. 29 PTD. 27 26 . Here.” while surrounded by a “Babylonian” mixture of national and social languages each of which is equally (in)capable of being a “language of truth. In this “post-lapsarian” world even word-objects are unknowable in themselves. 3-40. 7-50. PDP. each in one way or another “divides the whole sense it comes across into simpler and simpler significative elements. 477-83. the sign.”31 The thrust of this SR. the novelist is a self-consciously “post-lapsarian” critical thinker who carries out a “comic operation of dismemberment”30 on the object. 367. Lask. Lask does not foreground a comic element.26 It is important to note here that the interorientation is in [v] rather than about [o] the object. whether a word or anything else. 279.” and each of which is equally “relative. 24. is not the object as given but as intended. and while words are always “overpopulated” with the intentions of others. 92. Bakhtin. ultimate sense of one’s word. Michael Eskin. which are simultaneously specific modes of turning a given discourse into an object of knowledge. This is an operation that is as much destructive as constructive. 178. Czaplejewicz and M. 233. while the languages in which the logical forms are embodied each becomes an object itself. that is “the reservation for oneself of the possibility of changing the final.e. Mandel´stam and Celan (Oxford. sense [smysl] itself exists only in its embodiment in the material of language. and every statement into more and more elementary stylistic and linguistic components. “Epos i roman” in Voprosy. 46. the object is fraught with “inner contradictions. Reflection on Literature in Eastern and Western Cultures (Warsaw. M. probably responding to the acmeists’ foregrounding the “topos of Adam” in literary debates of the time. 279. “Die Lehre vom Urteil” in Gesamelte Schriften. 136. Cf. DN. but neither does Bakhtin in the 1920s.. the speaker or writer always maintains a loophole (lazeika). While there are many subtle variations highlighted by Bakhtin’s typology. 1990). i.528 Craig Brandist the concrete historical human word: it can only conditionally. 28 SR. 2000). Bakhtin. In so doing the word becomes meaningful-valid [znachimyi] and so a given material for future creation. Indeed. DN. objectual and limited. Melanowicz. and to a certain degree abstract from this. II.27 For Bakhtin. “Epic and Novel. 466. transformed through the incursion of subjectivity. 415-26. 31 Eugeniusz Czaplejewicz.

36 Crowell. 1950).34 Bakhtin divided knowledge into reflection on the subject’s turn toward being (the natural sciences) on the one hand.35 Lask. The real substratum is transformed into a spiritual world of pure meanings. in the sphere of ethics Bakhtin and Lask are quite different thinkers. 35 See Craig Brandist.” Economy and Society. this pure feeling is “double-sided. and the subject’s teleological orientation toward other “juridical persons” and ultimately the semi-divine “superaddressee” (nadadresat) on the other (the human sciences). or concepts. Bakhtin’s Ethics While sharing much in the sphere of epistemology. As Lask puts it at one stage. “Legal Philosophy” tr. “The Hero at the Bar of Eternity: The Bakhtin Circle’s Juridical Theory of the Novel. “it is not the intact objects which become the ‘matter’ for the ‘form’ of judgment. “Two Idealisms. Quoted in Schuhmann and Smith. Radbruch. Kurt Wiek in The Legal Philosophy of Lask. 30 (2001). Like Cohen’s “aesthetic of pure feeling. 34 Ästhetik des reinen Gefühls (Berlin. which are not concerned with grasping wholes but creating meaning by fitting forms precisely to the fragmented given. 185-86.” 459. and this is as true of ethical-juridical knowledge as of any other type: The specifically juridical attitude towards reality is made up of two mutually pervading elements. 36 Emil Lask. at the same time the totality of what may be experienced is unravelled into mere partial contents.” Bakhtin’s aesthetic activity is an act of love which elevates man above the sensuous longing for particulars. Unlike empathy (Einfühlung).”33 Such too are the objects of the aesthetic activity of Bakhtin’s novelist as opposed to the epic poet in the “Epic and Novel” essay of 1941. and Dabin (Cambridge. Bakhtin’s ethics have their roots in Cohen’s messianic (and quasi-juridical) ethics of “co-creation” adapted in accordance with his own Christian convictions.” 232. that of Scheler.” and this is perhaps what led Bakhtin to build his own modality of authorship on the basis of another. what enters into the judgment is only their dismembered and isolated elements. but “like sympathy” (gleichsam Erfürlung). under the guidance of teleological relationships.Concreteness and the Bakhtin Circle 529 argument is very close to Lask’s account of intentionality as the “ ‘breaking up’ of the original unity of the object and piecing it back together by means of secondary meaning structures. 33 32 . 1923). argued that all knowledge is knowledge of an objective and transcendent psycho-physical substrate. more concrete and Christian account of sympathy. Heidegger. on the other hand.”32 This spirit permeates all critical genres. “Lask. 208-28.

39 Motzkin. “Scheler’s Theory of Sympathy and Love.” It is the “relative freedom” that “remains in being and changes the make-up of being but not its meaning [smysl]” that can become a violent force in Lask’s sense. The Dialectic of Nihilism (Oxford.530 Craig Brandist This “unravelling” is paradigmatic of cognition as such. tr. where access for Lask meant access to the world beyond subjective theory.. 341. Vern McGee (Austin.” in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. law is intentional validity. reflecting the Neoplatonist reversion to the One.39 Even though Bakhtin follows Scheler in making ethical value an object of intuition. 336-60.’ which leads to an atomization of the original object into isolated bits and pieces. Since the access is to the world and not to God.” 177. McGill. One way of access … was that of Intellect. so to speak. “the most formal structure within the teleological web of the typical. justify etc)” but must leave the universe unchanged “materially. is “something absolutely new … supra-being [nadbytie]. 1984).. a reflection of the Neoplatonist reversion to Being. Bakhtin “Iz zapiski 1970-1971 godov. 281.”37 Thus. 40 V. The appearance of consciousness in the world leads the given to cease “simply being” and to begin to be “in itself and for itself. in Lask there is nothing akin to the Marburgian “unending task” of holiness that guides knowledge through jurisprudence as the “mathematics” of the human sciences. all being exists in it and for it.” to be “enriched and transformed. For Lask “the will to cognition is … irrevocably ‘a negative faculty of subjectivity . 2 (1942). 267-91. “Emil Lask. social value or cultural meaning. 1986). two ways of access exist. J. I.” 62.” in Estetika slovesnogo tvorchestva (Moscow. 38 37 . “From Notes Made in 1970-71. 1979).40 For Bakhtin as for Cassirer before him.” The notion of freedom. and thus the ethic that informs this is exclusively the juridical freedom of the “witness and judge” who can change the “meaning [smysl] of being (recognise.”38 As Motzkin puts it: Lask argued that the pervasion of subjectivity by objectivity and the inaccessibility of the objective to the subject’s act implied that. 41 PSF. 63-65. In this supra-being there is already not just a kernel of being. and thus what can be known. “Two Idealisms. 137. not the “absolute freedom” of witness and judge. 132-58.41 the cognitive “will to formations” is a creative and ethically progressive faculty that facilitates a neo-Hegelian sublation of being. M.” What is given to us. was that of experiencing (Erleben). The other way.42 What Bakhtin seems to have in mind here is Schuhmann and Smith. as in the Neoplatonist model. 42 M. Instead. experience replaces the Neoplatonist’s Love.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Gillian Rose. 31. rather. this “essence” is in no sense empirical or “typical” but an object of the intentional act of love.

but also because they specialized in areas then more or less untouched by Bakhtin himself: contemporary psychology. a single mirror. The fragments are raised to validity by being enclosed in and “caressed” by intentional form. A.43 Science for Lask plays a similarly juridical role to the witness and judge here. in a truly problematic image. As the early Bakhtin put it. The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer (Evanston.” As the most systematic and thorough literary agent of parody. they reflect but a “tiny corner of the world” and compel us to “guess at and grasp for a world beyond their mutually reflecting aspects that is wider. AH. Schlipp (ed. This is irrevocably lost.. For these figures the principled unknowability of objects themselves is by no means secure. Ill. the latter leading to the development of symbolic forms and that holds back the blind “stream of life” and in so doing develops a sense of ethical responsibility. 44 AG. 857-80.” but those images are but shards that can never reconstruct the original languages the novelist has dismembered let alone the extra-discursive world they naively sought to grasp.Concreteness and the Bakhtin Circle 531 Cassirer’s distinction between “efficient” and “formative” energy. but absent from Bakhtin’s own work. a concept which owes something to the reflection theory of knowledge developed by Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism but which also draws heavily from Gestalt theory. 45 SR. This was perhaps partly due to their Marxist conviction. Voloshinov and Medvedev Bakhtin’s colleagues and friends Valentin Voloshinov and Pavel Medvedev drew on different resources to concretize their thought and were much more prepared to shift firmly into neo-Brentanian territory. 868-69. 414-15. 1949). it is a layer of “quasitranscendence” founded thereon by intentional acts. 197. The crucial concept maintained by both of Bakhtin’s colleagues. the philosophy of language and German art scholarship. the transcendent realm of things as experienced. 226. is refraction. DN. . However. Rather. 43 Ernst Cassirer.” in P. however. 136.). “it is in this act that the feminine passivity and the naiveté of available being becomes beautiful.”44 The novel’s positive project is ultimately the construction of a “system of images of languages. with the philosopher investigating the roots of such “formative” activity and holding back the “stream of life. As it was for Lask. more multi-planar and multi-purviewed [mnogokrugozornyi] than would be available to a single language. Bakhtin’s novel is undoubtedly the most fundamentally destructive of the given world. “ ‘Spirit’ and ‘Life’ in Contemporary Philosophy.” that is the consolidation of an object of aesthetic knowledge from the fragments of the given world through the “loving” imposition of form.”45 The world reflected in the shards is not. the novelist is engaged in “aesthetic activity.

In Freudianism. Gestalt Psychology in German Culture 1890-1967: Holism and the Quest for Objectivity (Cambridge.47 Like Vygotsky. 46 (1984). monistic. in a series of articles that were translated into Russian after the Revolution on the initiative of the literary scholar Viktor Zhirmunskii. dialectical. 89-91. 291-99. for example. 46 .532 Craig Brandist Gestalt theory appealed to the various members of the Circle for a number of reasons. while the Würzburgers’ egalitarian model of consciousness and mode of operating undoubtedly reinforced their appeal among the socialistic thinkers who predominated in the Circle. 49. Meanwhile. was a specialist in precisely this area. and enthusiastically endorses the notion of Gestaltqualität as understood in “European formalism. N. Voloshinov presented nascent Marxist psychology as a specific type of “objective psychology.” The Circle gathered around Lev Vygotskii promoted these ideas particularly strongly as representing a holistic. tr. René van der Veer and Jaan Valsiner. 1998). 114-23. Eckart Scheerer. Medvedev. “Pavlov and the demise of the influence of Gestalt psychology in the Soviet Union. 113-32. Bakhtin. 1999). N. Bakhtin. Some of the earliest work on Gestalt phenomena had been carried out by the Würzburg School (Külpe. “Gestalt Psychology in the Soviet Union: I. had considerable respect for Zhirmunskii. Wundt and Spengler and indeed the philosophical anthropology of Scheler. like Bakhtin. 1978). M. George Windholz. 110-297. 47 See Mitchell G. A.’ ” while Köhler.J. Gestalt theory had been introduced into literary scholarship by the “European Formalist” Oskar Walzel. 155-80. Ach.46 From 1925 until the “reactological debate” of 1931 Soviet psychologists were suggesting that Gestalt theory is an ally in the “Marxist reform of psychology. Tetralogiia (Moscow. 187-206. and insisted upon the interactive basis of the individual psyche.”48 Gestalt theory integrated a type of aesthetic vision into a scientific worldview without the connotations of organicism and nationalism that it had acquired in the work of. This made it philosophically acceptable to the more idealist members of the Circle like Bakhtin and Kagan. This was well received by both main schools of neo-Kantianism and was often viewed as being an experimental verification of phenomenology.). Wehrle (Baltimore. 160. who was specifically praised by Martin Kusch. Understanding Vygotsky: A Quest for Synthesis (Oxford. The Period of Enthusiasm. 1991).” Psychological-Research. Ash. Medvedev who. 41 (1980). Medvedev and M. The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship (hereafter FMLS). M. “Formal´nyi metod v literaturovedenii” (hereafter FML) in M.” Marxism itself as a materialistic monism. Kornilov’s “reactology” and Pavlov’s “reflexology” as variants of objective psychology. and “reactological” alternative to both idealist subjectivism and mechanical materialism. et al. 1998). P. 48 P. Psychological Knowledge: A Social History and Philosophy (London. The Frankfurt School Marxist Max Horkheimer welcomed the idea as an acceptable alternative to Scheler’s “Platonistic and ‘feudal’ vocabulary of ‘order. while in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language the same label is applied to post-Brentanian theory (“functional psychology”) and neo-Kantianism. Voloshinov cites behaviorism.” Psychological Research. Bühler.

but it is unclear exactly when he became acquainted with it. 1988).” in Barry Smith (ed. Gestalt theory made it possible to adopt an aesthetic orientation in science and a Schelerian typology of intersubjective relations without subscribing to Scheler’s Platonism. and that the whole is dependent upon a certain correlation between an autonomous formation and a percipient.53 Between these extremes was the type of Gestalt theory developed by the followers of Alexius Meinong and the so-called Graz School. but is as immediate as any perception we have. 129-39. 4-5 (1926). L. 52 Barry Smith.”52 This philosophically realist aspect was specifically praised by A. Central to a Gestalt is the principle that a certain articulated whole is grasped prior to any of its constituent parts. 11-81.”49 Thus. Boudewijnse.” Pod znamenem marksizma. some that had neo-Kantian inclinations and others that were resolutely antiKantian. The Philosophy of Alexius Meinong. “The rise and fall of the Graz school. the neurologist and psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965). “Gestalt Psychology. 54 G. for ensuring a strictly determinist worldview and thus being quite acceptable to Marxism.Concreteness and the Bakhtin Circle 533 Vygotskii in Russia. worked out a new basis for Scheler’s contention that “the givenness of both ourselves and other people in experience requires no conclusion by analogy or mystical empathy feelings.). An opposed trend within the Gestalt tradition was that represented by the Berlin psychologists Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka who viewed Gestalten as “naturally existing entities—indeed as the primary and most straightforward objects of presentation—in a way which would make them capable of investigation within a naturalistic framework.). 42. Goldstein was heavily to influence Cassirer’s later philosophy of the “basis phenomena” of human experience. R.50 As Ash notes. An exponent of this mode of thinking was Cassirer’s influential cousin and friend.”51 This was quite easily transposed into Cassirer’s philosophy of the universal subject. Bakhtina [Moscow. Foundations of Gestalt Theory (Munich. and his influence was apparent as early as the final volume of PSF. 50 49 . Bakhtin’s familiarity with the third volume of PSF is clear from his 1973 conversation with Viktor Duvakin.J. Albertazzi (ed. Luria.” 305. “Gestalt Theory: An Essay in Philosophy. Gestalt Psychology. Krois. in perhaps the most influential Marxist philosophical journal of the time.” 437. Luria.M. 140158.D. R. 1996]. 21 (1999). In the first variant the autonomous formation is rendered an unknowable “thing in itself ” and the Gestalt an intentional object. to a reactionary cultural pessimism or to the neo-Kantian principle of the unknowability of the empirical world. Neo-Kantianism and Metaphysics.” Gestalt-Theory.) 51 Ash. 53 A. on which Bakhtin was to draw in later years. 281.54 In Marxism Ash. 258. “Printsipal´ne voprosy sovremennoi psikhologii. This notion was developed in a number of different ways within Gestalt theory. Axiomathes 1-2 (1996). “the object to which Goldstein’s language referred was not the organism-environment relation as an objective structure … but the organism and its functioning alone. “Cassirer. 76. Duvakina s M. (See Besedy V.

334.R. experienced as present. in Filosofiia i sotsiologiia gumanitarnykh nauk (St. intentional object which may itself become the object of a still higher Gestalt presentation. our conscious states and acts acquire meaning (smysl). are therefore rigorously distinguished from acts of judgment. 1979).” in Organization in Vision: Essays on Gestalt Perception (New York. in the fluid medium of inner and outer speech. reciprocally. 1-24.” For Meinong’s followers. given stimulus-presentations are subjected to certain activity by the perceiving subject. calls “a-modal completion.” Here.” Grazer Philosophische Studien. G.” but notes that these ideas have developed beyond their “classical form.534 Craig Brandist and the Philosophy of Language Voloshinov specifically identifies Meinong as a major representative of “functional psychology. 50 (1995). a note presently heard. 307-8. Titunik and L. “Forms of Completion. the notes-as-heard are founded on the “whole” of the melody. following Michotte. 55 . This is what Gaetano Kanisza. tr. Kanisza “Two ways of Going Beyond the Information Given. but the grounds of that ambiguity lie firmly in the structure of the given stimulus complex itself.”55 Acts of perception.56 L. is not heard as an individual note but as a part-process of a melody. where “our inner world accommodates itself to the possibilities of our expression. resulting in the production of a Gestalt quality. giving rise to a higher.” the melody is heard. in Kantian fashion. I. it is not. which have their own distinct structures. Gestalt presentations are consequently ambiguous. For the Graz School. Matejka (Cambridge. Marksizm i filosofiia iazyka. The melody is “produced” from its foundational notes but. The tenability of the Voloshinov-Medvedev notion of refraction relies on a similar distinction between perceiving and cognizing. What is presented to consciousness as sensation is the potential for representation. Petersburg. 91. 1973). This reprocessing takes place in the stratified world of Voloshinov’s “life ideology” (zhiznennaia ideologiia). having been preceded by a series of other notes (now no longer present but “stored” in the short-term memory). Albertazzi. 1995). mentally completed and thought. Certain given configurations are transformed into perceptual Gestalten in accordance with specific species of lowerlevel intentional activity (presentation or “direct” awareness) and are only then reprocessed in accordance with “ideological” principles. which have specific structures. To use von Ehrenfels’s famous example. the functional activity of the mind produces Gestalten by aesthetically realising what is “pregnant” in the empirical world itself. This last requires a further stage in which perceptual data are identified on the basis of previous knowledge and integrated “by means of inferential operations governed by logical principles. 56 Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. The contents are collected and ordered.” the “dominant movement in German psychological thought. with the latter being based upon but not reducible to the former. its possible paths and directions. 32140.

61 See Smith. on the other. 58 57 .” The inner speechform is thus a mental “set” on intentional objects.57 Goldstein argues that inner speech relates. “The Thread of Subjectivity: Philosophical Remarks on Bühler’s Language Theory. 315. 59 Ash. by which general communication with other people takes place (the special way how tenses. and triggering) and three relational foundations (object. Understanding Vygotsky. which suggests both the tendencies towards regularity in perceptual experience and the features inherent in objects to which experience tends to conform.Concreteness and the Bakhtin Circle 535 It is likely that Voloshinov’s account of inner speech. who adopted the Graz School Gestalt model and maintained that “a given structural context decides the significance of both perceptual and linguistic components.58 We are here only a step away from Voloshinov’s notion that style embodies a socio-specific refraction of being. the difference in rhythm. Language and Language Disturbances (New York.” in A. subject. 179.” that is. on the one hand. 90. the special interest and communicative behaviour in general. like that of Vygotskii a few years later. 77-106.). “Gestalt Theory. a “system of forms” that constitutes the “special attitude with which the group or individual looks at the facts of life. 60 Robert Innis. leading him to develop the notion of speech acts (Sprechakt). Gestalt Psychology.”60 This is close to the notion of Prägnanz. who was well known in German scholarship by this time. 1948). the preference which is given to words of general character or words for concrete experience. to “external instrumentalities (external speech. Van der Veer and Valsiner. sentence formation. 1988).’ constellations of the stimulus complex that perception must follow” even though perception is guided by the “ ‘set’ [Einstellung] of the perceiving and acting subject who is intentionally oriented toward experience. This is expressed in a special organisation of the forms.”59 Bühler’s theory presumes “certain ‘natural lines. finds expression in peculiarities in the structure of their means of communication. to “non language mental processes” and. articles. intimation. etc.)” One’s inner speech is governed by an “inner speechform. Kurt Goldstein. 91-94. and addressee) and it finds its fullest exposition in the 1934 Sprachtheorie. are used. and his notion of discursive genres. The culmination was his “organon model” of the utterance. Karl Bühler’s Theory of Language (Amsterdam.61 Bühler pioneered the application of Gestalt structures to types of activity as well as the objects of that activity.” 61-65. in their language. Voloshinov transformed Bakhtin’s early intersubjective phenomenology into discursive interaction by drawing on a phenomenology of language-use developed chiefly by Karl Bühler. flexions. Eschbach. derives from that of Goldstein. This is a Gestalt unit with three functions (representation.

but a whole. institutions. however. as amended by Voloshinov’s Bühlerian Gestalt model of the utterance. For Bakhtin this act is productive only thanks to the ethical centrality of love in aesthetic activity. dependent on social factors such as language. the empirical world remains unknowable.63 Following Oskar Walzel. Later. FMLS. 64 FML. via intentionality. for the object cannot be thought outside the “means of representation. 248. In The Master’s Absence: The Unknown Bakhtin Circle (Manchester. a contention that arises See Craig Brandist. 47. 63 FML.” in Brandist et al. Bakhtin integrates many of these features into his own accounts of literary history and discursive genres. 157. It is also noticeable that for Medvedev the represented object is seen as synonymous with the intentional object in art. and as such it is oriented toward the listener or perceiver on the one hand and “within life” on the other.536 Craig Brandist I have shown elsewhere that Voloshinov was heavily influenced by Bühler’s model in both the 1926 article about discourse in life and poetry and in the 1929 Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. 130-31. FMLS. It is significant that Medvedev’s definition of genre is of a typical form of utterance. 255. 65 FML. but the realist notion of refraction has been dropped. While the substratum of the given is thus a precondition for consciousness. 250-51. FMLS. moreover an essential whole.”65 The genre as a whole is no agglomeration of “atomic” elements.). 129.62 Here I would like to add that this also leads to Medvedev’s account of literary genre.”64 One of Medvedev’s key criticisms of Russian as opposed to European Formalism is the latter’s adherence to an “associationist” rather than a Gestalt notion of genre. genre becomes an intentionally oriented “set” on the world. This is quite unlike the clear distinction between “architectonic” and “compositional” form that Bakhtin outlines in his early work. Conclusions What then can we conclude about the two routes toward concreteness. and authorities as well as the determinate knowledge of the artist. the attempt fully to integrate intentionality into a neo-Kantian framework ultimately led to a break with the neo-Kantian contention that nothing is given but is posited by the universal subject. a complete and resolved whole. that we charted in the work of the Circle? In the case of Bakhtin we have seen that. 62 . (eds. “Voloshinov’s Dilemma: On the Philosophical Roots of the Dialogic Theory of the Utterance. as for Lask. Cognition dismembers the given complex of matter and validity only to piece it together through secondary meaning structures in the act of judgment. 135. the parts of which are defined and selected in accordance with that whole. The Russians view genre as “an accidental combination of accidental devices” where in actual fact “genre is a typical whole of an artistic utterance. however. forthcoming).

234-407.”68 that is. among them Bühler. only by raising this critical impulse to the level of validity in literature that its influence can restructure the cultural world in general. One can only speculate about the direction this might have taken had the political and ideological environment not sharply deteriorated in Russia at the end of the 1920s. Bakhtin ultimately collapses structures of things (presentations) into structures of thought (judgment). Bakhtin. 303-18.”66 Bakhtin is thus able to find a common position between the anti-Kantian neoBrentanians and neo-Kantianism. 67 See Karl Schuhmann and Barry Smith. The result is the notion of refraction. The results are structured wholes. However.” specific varieties of which are explicitly described as “forms of the most real actuality” that guide “artistic vision [vídenie]. 235. Intentional acts now comprise different species of productive activity on the “material” of a given and already structured sensory complex. Instead. Now genres are socially embedded objects of experienced validity (Hingelten) which guide the cognitive process of dismemberment and reconstitution of other objects. 68 PSF. 85. This productive activity is guided by the percipient’s “set” on the given. Instead. which are themselves also Gestalten. 66 . M. they draw on the “configurationist” variety of Gestalt theory developed by the followers of Meinong. however. It is. Gestalten. 191-204.67 Instead of being composed of “pregnant” but transcendent complexes. one finds equivocation on important issues such as the distinction between perceptual and judgmental structures and between linguistic and pragmatic meaning. “Neo-Kantianism and Phenomenology: The Case of Emil Lask and Johannes Daubert. 84-258. a high price for all this: the knowability of the empirical world. “Formy vremeni i khronotopa v romane” in Voprosy. Perhaps the clearest formulation of this is the “chronotope. Medvedev and Voloshinov are less willing to acknowledge the unknowability of the empirical world. “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel” in Dialogic. however.Concreteness and the Bakhtin Circle 537 from an original combination of motifs taken from the work of Cohen and Scheler. Like Lask and Cassirer. which become the material for potential. higher complex wholes as perceived reality is reordered under concepts. the perceptual world is what Cassirer called “symbolically pregnant. M. University of Sheffield.” Kant-Studien. 82 (1991). which he is then able to inflect in a populist direction by identifying pre-critical culture with officialdom and proto-critical culture with the forces of popular skepticism. From the end of the 1920s Bakhtin begins to integrate genre into his philosophy of aesthetic activity. There is. both thinkers were influenced by the neo-Kantianism Kagan and Bakhtin brought to the Circle and were thereby unable to follow their realist predilections through to a more systematic conclusion. III. able to be invested with more and more secondary meaning structures and made into a constantly forming. a phenomenon that finds its most stable expression in genres. quasi-transcendent whole.

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