Russian thought has long been a hybrid of native and imported forms—or more accurately, native values were first conceptualized and systematized according to Western European categories. This essay considers select entries in the Handbook (primarily those discussing Hegel, Solovyov, Tolstoy, and twentieth-century prose writers) not from the perspective of “pure” or abstract philosophy, arguably a Western achievement, but in the context of three traditional Russian virtues: tselostnost’ [wholeness], lichnost’ [personhood], and organichnost’ [organicity]. Each of these virtues, or values, is paradoxical, (...) easily misconstrued, and easily abused. The essay ends speculatively on two studies: the personalist implications of Paul Contino’s exploration of “incarnational realism” in Dostoevsky, and Iain McGilchrist’s work on left- and right-hemispheres of the brain as contexts for the place of Russian thought in the larger world. (shrink)
Both Bakhtin and Vygotsky, as we have seen, responded directly or indirectly to the challenge of Freud. Both attempted to account for their data without resorting to postulating an unconscious in the Freudian sense. By way of contrast, it is instructive here to recall Jacques Lacan—who, among others, has been a beneficiary of Bakhtin’s “semiotic reinterpretation” of Freud.17 Lacan’s case is intriguing, for he retains the unconscious while at the same time submitting Freudian psychoanalysis to rigorous criticism along the lines (...) of Bakhtin. By focusing attention on the dialogic word, he encourages a rereading of Freud in which the social element is crucial. As Lacan opens his essay “The Empty Word and the Full Word”:Whether it sees itself as an instrument of healing, of formation, or of exploration in depth, psychoanalysis has only a single intermediary: the patient’s Word….And every word calls for a reply.I shall show that there is no word without a reply, even if it meets no more than silence, provided that it has an auditor: this is the heart of its function in psychoanalysis.18The word is conceived as a tool not only in the external world but also of an autonomous internal world as well. And what emerges, it would seem, is a reinterpretation of the role of dialogue in the painful maturational process of the child. For Vygotsky, the child’s realization of his separateness from society is not a crisis; after all, his environment provides both the form and the content of his personality. From the start, dialogue reinforces the child’s grasp on reality, as evidenced by the predominantly social and extraverted nature of his earliest egocentric speech. For Lacan, on the contrary, dialogue seems to function as the alienating experience, the stade du miroir phase of a child’s development. The unconscious becomes the seat of all those problems that Bakhtin had externalized: the origin of personality, the possibilities of self-expression. The je-moi opposition in the mirror gives rise to that permanent for “a locus where there is constituted the je which speaks as well as he who has it speak.”19 And consequently, the Word takes on an entirely different coloration: it is no longer merely an ideological sign but a potent tool for repressing knowledge of that gap, the face in the mirror, the Other. Lacan’s celebrated inversion of Saussure’s algorithm, with the line between signifier and signified representing repression, created a powerful but ominous new role for language. The child is released from his alienating image only through discovering himself as Subject, which occurs with language; but this language will inevitably come to him from the Other. Thus speech is based on the idea of lack, and dialogue, on the idea of difference. 17. See Ivanov, “The Significance of M. M. Bakhtin’s Ideas,” p. 314.18. Jacques Lacan, “The Empty Word and the Full Word,” in Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, ed. and trans. Anthony Wilden , p. 9.19. Lacan, from “La Chose freudienne” , quoted in Wilden, “Lacan and the Discourse of the Other,” in Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, p. 266. Caryl Emerson, assistant professor of Russian literature at Cornell University, has translated The Dialogic Imagination, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics . She is currently at work, on a study of Boris Godunov in Russian cultural history. (shrink)
The Bakhtin we know best is something of a lyricophobe and theatrophobe. This is surprising, since he loves the act of looking. His scenarios rely on visualized, collaborative communion. He cares deeply about embodiment. Does he care about the tasks that confront the actor? Not the improvising clown of carnival (carnival is theater only in the broad sense of performance art), but the trained artist who performs a play script on stage? In discussing these questions, this essay draws on two (...) suggestive places in Bakhtin’s writing where he addresses the actor’s art. One is from the mid-1920s; the other (1944), is on Shakespearean tragedy. If Bakhtin has a theatrical imagination, it will be found here. His grasp of an actor “living in” to a role and his comments on the evolution of the European stage cast his better-known ideas of dialogue, comedy, seriousness and the sacred into unexpected perspective. (shrink)
ABSTRACT This article contributes to our understanding of how Russians received Bakhtin's concepts, primarily two influential Russian scholars critical of Bakhtin, each from a different perspective. The study of such criticisms is valuable, as it encourages us to reexamine our own sometimes complacent perceptions of Bakhtin's theories. Mikhail Gasparov (1937-2005), an important classicist and preeminent scholar of verse, published virulent criticisms of Bakhtin between 1979 and 2004. His problem with Bakhtin was essentially methodological. Lydia Ginzburg (1902-1990), known for her Notes (...) of a Blockade Person and for scholarship on the genres of diary, memoir, personal letter, and writer's notebook, questioned the psychological presuppositions behind Bakhtin's theories of sympathy and love. Ginzburg also had serious doubts about Bakhtin's idea of the polyphonic novel, and his use of the opposition between the monological and the dialogical to characterize the novels of Tolstoi and Dostoevsky. A close examination of the positions of Bakhtin and Ginzburg on love reveals interesting parallels and differences. The article concludes with suggestions about how Gasparov's and Ginsburg's criticisms can help us read Bakhtin in creative ways. (shrink)
In this essay I will argue that verbal dialogue, when realized successfully in a novel and measured by the tools appropriate to it, approximates that moment in real life we recognize as a “quickening of consciousness.”.
The essay juxtaposes the intellectualpreoccupations and fraught careers of two great20th-century Russian philologist-philosophers,Aleksei Losev and Mikhail Bakhtin. AlthoughLosev''s is the more crippling case, theexternal trajectory of their lives develops inrough parallel (bold, prolific productivity inthe 1920s; arrest and deportation in the1930s; slow reintegration in thepost-Stalinist era; recent revivals, cults,booms, and scandals connected with theirlegacy). What is more, the subject matterthat fascinated them often overlapped (theClassical world, the status of the Word,Dostoevsky). Still, differences overwhelm thesimilarities. The essay concludes withspeculation about these (...) two types ofphilosopher-king squandered, martyred, andelevated by their home culture. (shrink)