Mikhail Bakhtin: The Word in the World

Mikhail Bakhtin: The Word in the World

Mikhail Bakhtin: The Word in the World

Mikhail Bakhtin: The Word in the World

Synopsis

Mikhail Bakhtin is one of the most influential theorists of philosophy as well as literary studies. His work on dialogue and discourse has changed the way in which we read texts - both literary and cultural - and his practice of philosophy in literary refraction and philological exploration has made him a pioneering figure in the twentieth-century convergence of the two disciplines.

In this book, Graham Pechey offers a commentary on Bakhtin's texts in all their complex and allusive 'textuality', keeping a sense throughout of the historical setting in which they were written and of his own interpretation of and response to them. Examining Bakhtin's relationship to Russian Formalism and Soviet Marxism, Pechey focuses on two major interests: the influence of Eastern Orthodox Christianity upon his thinking; and Bakhtin's use of literary criticism and hermeneutics as ways of 'doing philosophy by other means'.

Excerpt

The twentieth century produced a remarkable number of gifted and innovative literary critics. Indeed it could be argued that some of the finest literary minds of the age turned to criticism as the medium best adapted to their complex and speculative range of interests. This has sometimes given rise to regret among those who insist on a clear demarcation between ‘creative’ (primary) writing on the one hand and ‘critical’ (secondary) texts on the other. Yet this distinction is far from self-evident. It is coming under strain at the moment as novelists and poets grow increasingly aware of the conventions that govern their writing and the challenge of consciously exploiting and subverting those conventions. And the critics for their part – some of them at least – are beginning to question their traditional role as humble servants of the literary text with no further claim upon the reader’s interest or attention. Quite simply, there are texts of literary criticism and theory that, for various reasons – stylistic complexity, historical influence, range of intellectual command – cannot be counted a mere appendage to those other ‘primary’ texts.

Of course, there is a logical puzzle here, since (it will be argued) ‘literary criticism’ would never have come into being, and could hardly exist as such, were it not for the body of creative writing that provides its raison d’être. But this is not quite the kind of knockdown argument that it might appear at first glance. For one thing, it conflates some very different orders of priority, assuming that literature always comes first (in the sense that Greek tragedy had to exist before Aristotle could formulate its rules), so that literary texts are for that very reason possessed of superior value. And this argument wouId seem to find commonsense support in the difficulty of thinking what ‘literary criticism’ could be if it seriously renounced all sense of the distinction between literary and critical texts. Would . . .

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