Dialogue, Monologue, and the Social: A Reply to Ken Hirschkop

Critical Inquiry 11 (4):679-686 (1985)
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One particularly interesting aspect of Hirschkop’s essay is the repertoire of “double-voiced words” it displays. I will enumerate just three of them:1. The Misaddressed Word. Apparently, Hirschkop has been arguing these points with someone else, whose voice has drowned out what was actually said by myself and the other contributors to the Forum on Bakhtin. In a number of cases, Hirschkop objects that we failed to say things that were, in fact, explicitly stated and attributes to us a different, phantom position, which he then cites as evidence of “liberal,” individualistic, and “cold war” biases . Likewise, I ostensibly “implied” a number of things, thought Hirschkop offers no direct quotations as evidence .2. The Word That Lies in Ambush . In a way that has become increasingly common in theoretical essays, Hirschkop contents himself with stating only what is not the case and neglects telling us his conception of the alternative, correct position. For example, Hirschkop says: “Such ambiguities [in Bakhtin] are not the sign of an open and skeptical mind, but neither are they mere inconsistencies which can be safely ignored” . In consequence, respondents who presume to guess at his position, whether they guess rightly or wrongly, are subject to an accusation of total or partial misrepresentation of his position or, perhaps worse, of drawing typically liberal inferences.3. The Preemptive Word . Using a strategy familiar to most polemicists, Hirschkop attempts to discredit his adversaries by anticipating their objections within his own argument. Unfortunately, he projects responses—that no one has made—as if those responses were inevitable and seeks to dismiss them simply by naming them rather than answering them. Thus, he accuses my fellow contributors and me of a “kind of relativism, whose ideological affinities with the commonplaces of Western cold war discourse cannot be missed” and which “crops up again and again when Bakhtin is interpreted” . The phrase in parentheses and the word in quotation marks are an example of preemptive discourse. Gary Saul Morson is the author of The Boundaries of Genre: Dostoevsky’s “Diary of a Writer” and the Traditions of Literary Utopia and the editor of Literature and History: Theoretical Problems and Russian Case Studies . He is currently completing a book on Tolstoy, one chapter of which appeared in the Summer 1981 issue of Critical Inquiry. He was the guest editor of Critical Inquiry’s Forum on Mikhail Bakhtin, for which he wrote the introduction, “Who Speaks for Bakhtin?”



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