Who Speaks for Bakhtin?: A Dialogic Introduction

Critical Inquiry 10 (2):225-243 (1983)
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The more we spoke, the more we discovered disagreement behind our agreements and envisaged different implications for the same—or were they the same—ideas. “I suppose that’s what Bakhtin meant when he wrote that agreement, not just disagreement, is a dialogic relationship,” she reflected. “Agreement is never identity. It always presupposes or becomes the occasion for differences—which I guess may be one reason why it can be so profitable to agree.” I could detect Kuhn’s concept of a scientific consensus here but agreed anyway.It turned out, in fact, that I had hidden disagreements with all the contributors to the collection. I had undertaken the project with the evidently quixotic hope that we could create, in imitation of Bakhtin’s eccentric circle of linguists, Marxists, Christians, biologists, and literary theorists, a circle of our own. “You want to be a living allusion,” she would say. By the end of that afternoon, however, neither she nor I were confident that we could—despite all the views we did share—ever sign both our names to the same introduction. “Not to be a Formalist,” she interrupted, “perhaps it’s a question of form…”Moi: …You know, the most appropriate form for an article introducing Bakhtin would be a dialogue, since dialogue is his central concept.Elle: Of course, if you can speak of a center in a writer so eccentric. How would it begin?Moi: Well, like Notes from Underground, on an ellipsis…That would illustrate his idea that all speech is a response to words that have been uttered before, that we never confront a linguistically virgin world, that each utterance is a response to other utterances and is formulated in expectation of a response to it—all that might be developed later on in the dialogue. Moi could explain it all to Elle. Gary Saul Morson, associate professor and chairman of Slavic languages at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Boundaries of Genre: Dostoevsky’s “Diary of a Writer” and the Traditions of Literary Utopia. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Tolstoy’s Absolute Language,” appeared in the Summer 1981 issue



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