Reconsidering Bakhtinian Dialogism
One fault line in current seventeenth-century literary studies separates two kinds of ideological readings. The ﬁrst type assumes that every work is politically committed and seeks to expose that commitment through analysis. The second type views literature more as a reﬂection or refraction of society than as a direct participant in its ideological struggles. It assesses the picture of society that the work presents by examining the style by means of which that picture is fashioned. The result of the recent focus on literature as overtly polemical has been healthy to the extent that the ﬁeld has become more fully aware of the ways in which many works traditionally considered literary resemble other works previously classed as nonliterary. This reﬁguring of the ideas of canon and context has provided scholars with a more complete and coherent picture of seventeenth-century British society. 1. However, such readings come with a cost. Not all literary works seek primarily to participate in the ideological wars of their day. For those that attempt instead to reﬂect ideological contests by organizing them in and through their styles, strategies of reading that attend to the refractive angles of style are needed.
One helpful approach is that which Mikhail Bakhtin develops in his essay “Discourse in the Novel.” As is by now well known, for Bakhtin the key feature of what he calls dialogic literature is its ability to refract the complex interaction among ideologies within the society of the author. When the dialo-____________________