Bakhtinian thought : an introductory reader by Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich; Dentith, Simon; Bakhtin, M

By Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich; Dentith, Simon; Bakhtin, M

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Medvedev’s critique of these themes in formalism thus provides us now with some of the materials for a critique of formalist currents within contemporary literary criticism. In particular, his insistence on the emptiness of the notion of ‘estrangement’, when it is abstracted from the struggles over the social values which are actually being ‘estranged’, seems to me to apply forcefully to any critical position which understands ‘difference’ in purely negative or differential terms. Some of these themes will be pursued more fully in chapter 4, when I consider the relevance of Bakhtin and his circle to some of the debates within contemporary criticism.

An exemplary analysis along these line can be found in the extract from ‘Discourse in Dostoevsky’ reproduced on pp. 157–94). If we turn now to the extended essay that Bakhtin wrote in the mid-1930s, ‘Discourse in the novel’, we find a similar, independently interesting account of language, which is then extended to inform an account of the novel. The contrast with the explicitly Marxist vocabulary of Voloshinov is also apparent. But the absence of much of this explicit Marxist vocabulary from ‘Discourse in the novel’ by no means betokens a retreat from the radically socializing project embarked upon by Voloshinov.

This is not surprising given the closeness in time in which the two books were written. Bakhtin makes a distinction between language as an object of study for pure linguistics, in which solely grammatical and logical relationships between words are studied and from which dialogical relationships are excluded, and language as it appears when dialogical relations (relations between speaking subjects) are included. In this latter aspect language is the topic for metalinguistics; linguistics alone is inadequate for analysing language as a dialogical phenomenon.

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