Between Philosophy and Literature: Bakhtin and the Question of the Subject

Between Philosophy and Literature: Bakhtin and the Question of the Subject

Between Philosophy and Literature: Bakhtin and the Question of the Subject

Between Philosophy and Literature: Bakhtin and the Question of the Subject

Synopsis

This is an original reading of Mikhail Bakhtin in the context of Western philosophical traditions and counter-traditions. The book portrays Bakhtin as a Modernist thinker torn between an ideological secularity and a profound religious sensibility, invariably concerned with questions of ethics and impelled to turn from philosophy to literature as another way of knowing.

Most major studies of Bakhtin highlight the fragmented and apparently discontinuous nature of his work. Erdinast-Vulcan emphasizes, instead, the underlying coherence of the Bakhtinian project, reading its inherent ambivalences as an intersection of philosophical, literary, and psychological insights into the dynamics of embodied subjectivity. Bakhtin's turn to literature and poetry, as well as the dissatisfactions that motivated it, align him with three other "exilic" Continental philosophers who were his contemporaries: Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas. Adopting Bakhtin's own open-ended approach to the human sciences, the book stages a series of philosophical encounters between these thinkers, highlighting their respective itineraries and impasses, and generating a Bakhtinian synergy of ideas.

Excerpt

THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HOMESICKNESS. It offers a portrait of Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895–1975) under Western eyes, as it were, as a thinker grappling with the question of ethics on the ruins of both the Cartesian and the metaphysical traditions; impelled by the movement of his own interrogation into an engagement with literature as another way of knowing; and straddling an unbridgeable divide between ideological secularity and a profound temperamental religiosity. Premised on a nomadic, deterritorialized conception of subjectivity, this reading of Bakhtin’s exilic philosophical sensibility does not end in a “homecoming festival” (TMHS, 170). It leads, at most, to a provisional home away from home, a precarious foothold rather than firm anchorage.

The book is also an attempt to put a Bakhtinian approach to the humanities into practice, to follow the modes of textual engagement explicitly or implicitly suggested by his work, and to take the liberties—risky but unavoidable—required to amplify and flesh out both his philosophical outlook and the method it generates. “Understanding,” Bakhtin writes, is a “correlation [of the given text] with other texts and reinterpretation in a new context (in my own context, in a contemporary context, and in a future one).” The task of commentary is, then, to reach out and enable the work to exceed its own boundaries through interaction with other, remote texts and contexts (TMHS, 161). I believe . . .

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