Mikhail Bakhtin

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (/bɑːkˈtiːn, bɑːx-/;[2] Russian: Михаи́л Миха́йлович Бахти́н, pronounced [mʲɪxɐˈil mʲɪˈxajləvʲɪtɕ bɐxˈtʲin]; 16 November [O.S. 4 November] 1895 – 7 March[3] 1975) was a Russian philosopher, literary critic, semiotician[4] and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language. His writings, on a variety of subjects, inspired scholars working in a number of different traditions (Marxism, semiotics, structuralism, religious criticism) and in disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and psychology. Although Bakhtin was active in the debates on aesthetics and literature that took place in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, his distinctive position did not become well known until he was rediscovered by Russian scholars in the 1960s.

Mikhail Bakhtin
Mikhail bakhtin
Mikhail Bakhtin (1920)
Born16 November [O.S. 4 November] 1895
Died7 March 1975 (aged 79)
Alma materOdessa University (no degree)
Petrograd Imperial University
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionRussian philosophy
SchoolDialogic criticism
InstitutionsMordovian Pedagogical Institute
Main interests
Semiotics, literary criticism
Notable ideas
Heteroglossia, dialogism, chronotope, carnivalesque, polyphony

Early life

Bakhtin was born in Oryol, Russia, to an old family of the nobility. His father was the manager of a bank and worked in several cities. For this reason Bakhtin spent his early childhood years in Oryol, in Vilnius, and then in Odessa, where in 1913 he joined the historical and philological faculty at the local university (the Odessa University). Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist write: "Odessa..., like Vilnius, was an appropriate setting for a chapter in the life of a man who was to become the philosopher of heteroglossia and carnival. The same sense of fun and irreverence that gave birth to Babel's Rabelaisian gangster or to the tricks and deceptions of Ostap Bender, the picaro created by Ilf and Petrov, left its mark on Bakhtin."[5] He later transferred to Petrograd Imperial University to join his brother Nikolai. It is here that Bakhtin was greatly influenced by the classicist F. F. Zelinsky, whose works contain the beginnings of concepts elaborated by Bakhtin.


Bakhtin completed his studies in 1918. He then moved to a small city in western Russia, Nevel (Pskov Oblast), where he worked as a schoolteacher for two years. It was at that time that the first "Bakhtin Circle" formed. The group consisted of intellectuals with varying interests, but all shared a love for the discussion of literary, religious, and political topics. Included in this group were Valentin Voloshinov and, eventually, P. N. Medvedev, who joined the group later in Vitebsk. Vitebsk was “a cultural centre of the region” the perfect place for Bakhtin “and other intellectuals [to organize] lectures, debates and concerts."[6] German philosophy was the topic talked about most frequently and, from this point forward, Bakhtin considered himself more a philosopher than a literary scholar. It was in Nevel, also, that Bakhtin worked tirelessly on a large work concerning moral philosophy that was never published in its entirety. However, in 1919, a short section of this work was published and given the title "Art and Responsibility". This piece constitutes Bakhtin's first published work. Bakhtin relocated to Vitebsk in 1920. It was here, in 1921, that Bakhtin married Elena Aleksandrovna Okolovich. Later, in 1923, Bakhtin was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, a bone disease that ultimately led to the amputation of his leg in 1938. This illness hampered his productivity and rendered him an invalid.[7]

Circulo de bajtin 1924
Bakhtin Circle, Leningrad, 1924-26.

In 1924, Bakhtin moved to Leningrad, where he assumed a position at the Historical Institute and provided consulting services for the State Publishing House. It is at this time that Bakhtin decided to share his work with the public, but just before "On the Question of the Methodology of Aesthetics in Written Works" was to be published, the journal in which it was to appear stopped publication. This work was eventually published 51 years later. The repression and misplacement of his manuscripts was something that would plague Bakhtin throughout his career. In 1929, "Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art", Bakhtin's first major work, was published. It is here that Bakhtin introduces the concept of dialogism. However, just as this book was introduced, on 8 December 1928, right before Voskresenie's 10th anniversary, Meyer, Bakhtin and a number of others associated with Voskresenie were apprehended by the Soviet secret police, the OGPU (Hirschkop 1999: p. 168), the leaders being sentenced up to ten years in labor camps of Solovki, though after an appeal to consider the state of his health his sentence was commuted to exile to Kazakhstan, where he and his wife spent six years in Kustanai (now Kostanay), after which in 1936 they moved to Saransk (then in Mordovian ASSR, now the Republic of Mordovia) where he taught at the Mordovian Pedagogical Institute.[8][9]

During the six years he spent working as a book-keeper in the town of Kustanai he wrote several important essays, including "Discourse in the Novel". In 1936, living in Saransk, he became an obscure figure in a provincial college, dropping out of view and teaching only occasionally. In 1937, Bakhtin moved to Kimry, a town located one hundred kilometers from Moscow. Here, Bakhtin completed work on a book concerning the 18th-century German novel which was subsequently accepted by the Sovetskii Pisatel' Publishing House. However, the only copy of the manuscript disappeared during the upheaval caused by the German invasion.

After the amputation of his leg in 1938, Bakhtin's health improved and he became more prolific. In 1940, and until the end of World War II, Bakhtin lived in Moscow, where he submitted a dissertation on François Rabelais to the Gorky Institute of World Literature to obtain a postgraduate title,[10] a dissertation that could not be defended until the war ended. In 1946 and 1949, the defense of this dissertation divided the scholars of Moscow into two groups: those official opponents guiding the defense, who accepted the original and unorthodox manuscript, and those other professors who were against the manuscript's acceptance. The book's earthy, anarchic topic was the cause of many arguments that ceased only when the government intervened. Ultimately, Bakhtin was denied a higher doctoral degree (Doctor of Sciences) and granted a lesser degree (Candidate of Sciences, a research doctorate) by the State Accrediting Bureau. Later, Bakhtin was invited back to Saransk, where he took on the position of chair of the General Literature Department at the Mordovian Pedagogical Institute. When, in 1957, the Institute changed from a teachers' college to a university, Bakhtin became head of the Department of Russian and World Literature. In 1961, Bakhtin's deteriorating health forced him to retire, and in 1969, in search of medical attention, Bakhtin moved back to Moscow, where he lived until his death in 1975.[11]

Bakhtin's works and ideas gained popularity after his death, and he endured difficult conditions for much of his professional life, a time in which information was often seen as dangerous and therefore often hidden. As a result, the details provided now are often of uncertain accuracy. Also contributing to the imprecision of these details is the limited access to Russian archival information during Bakhtin's life. It is only after the archives became public that scholars realized that much of what they thought they knew about the details of Bakhtin's life was false or skewed largely by Bakhtin himself.[12]

Works and ideas

Toward a Philosophy of the Act

Toward a Philosophy of the Act was first published in the USSR in 1986 with the title K filosofii postupka. The manuscript, written between 1919–1921, was found in bad condition with pages missing and sections of text that were illegible. Consequently, this philosophical essay appears today as a fragment of an unfinished work. Toward a Philosophy of the Act comprises only an introduction, of which the first few pages are missing, and part one of the full text. However, Bakhtin's intentions for the work were not altogether lost, for he provided an outline in the introduction in which he stated that the essay was to contain four parts.[13] The first part of the essay deals with the analysis of the performed acts or deeds that comprise the actual world; "the world actually experienced, and not the merely thinkable world." For the three subsequent and unfinished parts of Toward a Philosophy of the Act Bakhtin states the topics he intends to discuss. He outlines that the second part will deal with aesthetic activity and the ethics of artistic creation; the third with the ethics of politics; and the fourth with religion.[14]

Toward a Philosophy of the Act reveals a young Bakhtin who is in the process of developing his moral philosophy by decentralizing the work of Kant. This text is one of Bakhtin's early works concerning ethics and aesthetics and it is here that Bakhtin lays out three claims regarding the acknowledgment of the uniqueness of one's participation in Being:

  1. I both actively and passively participate in Being.
  2. My uniqueness is given but it simultaneously exists only to the degree to which I actualize this uniqueness (in other words, it is in the performed act and deed that has yet to be achieved).
  3. Because I am actual and irreplaceable I must actualize my uniqueness.

Bakhtin further states: "It is in relation to the whole actual unity that my unique thought arises from my unique place in Being."[15] Bakhtin deals with the concept of morality whereby he attributes the predominating legalistic notion of morality to human moral action. According to Bakhtin, the I cannot maintain neutrality toward moral and ethical demands which manifest themselves as one's voice of consciousness.[16]

It is here also that Bakhtin introduces an "architectonic" or schematic model of the human psyche which consists of three components: "I-for-myself", "I-for-the-other", and "other-for-me". The I-for-myself is an unreliable source of identity, and Bakhtin argues that it is the I-for-the-other through which human beings develop a sense of identity because it serves as an amalgamation of the way in which others view me. Conversely, other-for-me describes the way in which others incorporate my perceptions of them into their own identities. Identity, as Bakhtin describes it here, does not belong merely to the individual, rather it is shared by all.[17]

Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics: polyphony and unfinalizability

During his time in Leningrad, Bakhtin shifted his view away from the philosophy characteristic of his early works and towards the notion of dialogue. It is at this time that he began his engagement with the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art is considered to be Bakhtin's seminal work, a work in which Bakhtin introduces three important concepts.

The first concept is the unfinalizable self: individual people cannot be finalized, completely understood, known, or labeled. Though it is possible to understand people and to treat them as if they are completely known, Bakhtin's conception of unfinalizability considers the possibility that a person can change, and that a person is never fully revealed or fully known in the world. Readers may find that this conception reflects the idea of the "soul"; Bakhtin had strong roots in Christianity and in the neo-Kantian school led by Hermann Cohen, both of which emphasized the importance of an individual's potentially infinite capability, worth, and the hidden soul.

Second is the idea of the relationship between the self and others, or other groups. According to Bakhtin, every person is influenced by others in an inescapably intertwined way, and consequently no voice can be said to be isolated. In an interview with the Novy Mir Editorial Staff ('Response to a Question from Novy Mir Editorial Staff'), Bakhtin once explained that,

In order to understand, it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located outside the object of his or her creative understanding—in time, in space, in culture. For one cannot even really see one's own exterior and comprehend it as a whole, and no mirrors or photographs can help; our real exterior can be seen and understood only by other people, because they are located outside us in space, and because they are others. ~New York Review of Books, June 10, 1993.

As such, Bakhtin's philosophy greatly respected the influences of others on the self, not merely in terms of how a person comes to be, but also in how a person thinks and how a person sees him- or herself truthfully.

Third, Bakhtin found a true representation of "polyphony" (i.e. many voices) in Dostoevsky's work. According to Dostoevsky, each character represents a voice that speaks for an individual self, distinct from others. This idea of polyphony is related to the concepts of unfinalizability and self-and-others, since it is the unfinalizability of individuals that creates true polyphony.

Bakhtin briefly outlined the polyphonic concept of truth. He criticized the assumption that, if two people disagree, at least one of them must be in error. He challenged philosophers for whom plurality of minds is accidental and superfluous. For Bakhtin, truth is not a statement, a sentence or a phrase. Instead, understanding is a number of mutually addressed, albeit contradictory and logically inconsistent, statements. Understanding needs a multitude of carrying voices. It cannot be held within a single mind, or be expressed by "a single mouth". The polyphonic truth requires many simultaneous voices. Bakhtin does not mean to say that many voices carry partial truths that complement each other. A number of different voices do not make the truth if simply "averaged" or "synthesized". Rather, it is the fact of mutual addressivity, of engagement, and of commitment to the context of a real-life event, that distinguishes understanding from misunderstanding.

After Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art (1929) was translated into English and published in the West, a chapter on the concept of "carnival" was added to the book which was published with the slightly different title, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1984). According to Bakhtin, carnival is the context in which distinct individual voices are heard, flourish and interact together. The carnival creates the "threshold" situations where regular conventions are broken or reversed and genuine dialogue becomes possible. The notion of a carnival was Bakhtin's way of describing Dostoevsky's polyphonic style: each individual character is strongly defined, and at the same time the reader witnesses the critical influence of each character upon the other. That is to say, the voices of others are heard by each individual, and each inescapably shapes the character of the other.

Rabelais and His World: carnival and grotesque

During World War II Bakhtin submitted a dissertation on the French Renaissance writer François Rabelais which was not defended until some years later. The controversial ideas discussed within the work caused much disagreement, and it was consequently decided that Bakhtin be denied his higher doctorate. Thus, due to its content, Rabelais and Folk Culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance was not published until 1965, at which time it was given the title Rabelais and His World[18] (Russian: Творчество Франсуа Рабле и народная культура средневековья и Ренессанса, Tvorčestvo Fransua Rable i narodnaja kul'tura srednevekov'ja i Renessansa).

In Rabelais and His World, a classic of Renaissance studies, Bakhtin concerns himself with the openness of Gargantua and Pantagruel; however, the book itself also serves as an example of such openness. Throughout the text, Bakhtin attempts two things: he seeks to recover sections of Gargantua and Pantagruel that, in the past, were either ignored or suppressed, and conducts an analysis of the Renaissance social system in order to discover the balance between language that was permitted and language that was not. It is by means of this analysis that Bakhtin pinpoints two important subtexts: the first is carnival (carnivalesque) which Bakhtin describes as a social institution, and the second is grotesque realism which is defined as a literary mode. Thus, in Rabelais and His World Bakhtin studies the interaction between the social and the literary, as well as the meaning of the body and the material bodily lower stratum.[19]

In his chapter on the history of laughter, Bakhtin advances the notion of its therapeutic and liberating force, arguing that "laughing truth ... degraded power".[20]

The Dialogic Imagination: chronotope and heteroglossia

The Dialogic Imagination (first published as a whole in 1975) is a compilation of four essays concerning language and the essay: "Epic and Novel" (1941), "From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse" (1940), "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel" (1937–1938), and "Discourse in the Novel" (1934–1935). It is through the essays contained within The Dialogic Imagination that Bakhtin introduces the concepts of heteroglossia, dialogism and chronotope, making a significant contribution to the realm of literary scholarship.[21] Bakhtin explains the generation of meaning through the "primacy of context over text" (heteroglossia), the hybrid nature of language (polyglossia) and the relation between utterances (intertextuality).[22][23] Heteroglossia is "the base condition governing the operation of meaning in any utterance."[23][24] To make an utterance means to "appropriate the words of others and populate them with one's own intention."[23][25] Bakhtin's deep insights on dialogicality represent a substantive shift from views on the nature of language and knowledge by major thinkers such as Ferdinand de Saussure and Immanuel Kant.[26][27]

In "Epic and Novel", Bakhtin demonstrates the novel's distinct nature by contrasting it with the epic. By doing so, Bakhtin shows that the novel is well-suited to the post-industrial civilization in which we live because it flourishes on diversity. It is this same diversity that the epic attempts to eliminate from the world. According to Bakhtin, the novel as a genre is unique in that it is able to embrace, ingest, and devour other genres while still maintaining its status as a novel. Other genres, however, cannot emulate the novel without damaging their own distinct identity.[28]

"From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse" is a less traditional essay in which Bakhtin reveals how various different texts from the past have ultimately come together to form the modern novel.[29]

"Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel" introduces Bakhtin's concept of chronotope. This essay applies the concept in order to further demonstrate the distinctive quality of the novel.[29] The word chronotope literally means "time space" (a concept he refers to that of Einstein) and is defined by Bakhtin as "the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature."[30] In writing, an author must create entire worlds and, in doing so, is forced to make use of the organizing categories of the real world in which the author lives. For this reason chronotope is a concept that engages reality.[31]

The final essay, "Discourse in the Novel", is one of Bakhtin's most complete statements concerning his philosophy of language. It is here that Bakhtin provides a model for a history of discourse and introduces the concept of heteroglossia.[29] The term heteroglossia refers to the qualities of a language that are extralinguistic, but common to all languages. These include qualities such as perspective, evaluation, and ideological positioning. In this way most languages are incapable of neutrality, for every word is inextricably bound to the context in which it exists.[32]

Speech Genres and Other Late Essays

In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays Bakhtin moves away from the novel and concerns himself with the problems of method and the nature of culture. There are six essays that comprise this compilation: "Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff", "The Bildungsroman and Its Significance in the History of Realism", "The Problem of Speech Genres", "The Problem of the Text in Linguistics, Philology, and the Human Sciences: An Experiment in Philosophical Analysis", "From Notes Made in 1970-71," and "Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences."

"Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff" is a transcript of comments made by Bakhtin to a reporter from a monthly journal called Novy Mir that was widely read by Soviet intellectuals. The transcript expresses Bakhtin's opinion of literary scholarship whereby he highlights some of its shortcomings and makes suggestions for improvement.[33]

"The Bildungsroman and Its Significance in the History of Realism" is a fragment from one of Bakhtin's lost books. The publishing house to which Bakhtin had submitted the full manuscript was blown up during the German invasion and Bakhtin was in possession of only the prospectus. However, due to a shortage of paper, Bakhtin began using this remaining section to roll cigarettes. So only a portion of the opening section remains. This remaining section deals primarily with Goethe.[34]

"The Problem of Speech Genres" deals with the difference between Saussurean linguistics and language as a living dialogue (translinguistics). In a relatively short space, this essay takes up a topic about which Bakhtin had planned to write a book, making the essay a rather dense and complex read. It is here that Bakhtin distinguishes between literary and everyday language. According to Bakhtin, genres exist not merely in language, but rather in communication. In dealing with genres, Bakhtin indicates that they have been studied only within the realm of rhetoric and literature, but each discipline draws largely on genres that exist outside both rhetoric and literature. These extraliterary genres have remained largely unexplored. Bakhtin makes the distinction between primary genres and secondary genres, whereby primary genres legislate those words, phrases, and expressions that are acceptable in everyday life, and secondary genres are characterized by various types of text such as legal, scientific, etc.[35]

"The Problem of the Text in Linguistics, Philology, and the Human Sciences: An Experiment in Philosophical Analysis" is a compilation of the thoughts Bakhtin recorded in his notebooks. These notes focus mostly on the problems of the text, but various other sections of the paper discuss topics he has taken up elsewhere, such as speech genres, the status of the author, and the distinct nature of the human sciences. However, "The Problem of the Text" deals primarily with dialogue and the way in which a text relates to its context. Speakers, Bakhtin claims, shape an utterance according to three variables: the object of discourse, the immediate addressee, and a superaddressee. This is what Bakhtin describes as the tertiary nature of dialogue.[36]

"From Notes Made in 1970-71" appears also as a collection of fragments extracted from notebooks Bakhtin kept during the years of 1970 and 1971. It is here that Bakhtin discusses interpretation and its endless possibilities. According to Bakhtin, humans have a habit of making narrow interpretations, but such limited interpretations only serve to weaken the richness of the past.[37]

The final essay, "Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences", originates from notes Bakhtin wrote during the mid-seventies and is the last piece of writing Bakhtin produced before he died. In this essay he makes a distinction between dialectic and dialogics and comments on the difference between the text and the aesthetic object. It is here also, that Bakhtin differentiates himself from the Formalists, who, he felt, underestimated the importance of content while oversimplifying change, and the Structuralists, who too rigidly adhered to the concept of "code."[38]

Disputed texts

Some of the works which bear the names of Bakhtin's close friends V. N. Vološinov and P. N. Medvedev have been attributed to Bakhtin – particularly Marxism and Philosophy of Language and The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship. These claims originated in the early 1970s and received their earliest full articulation in English in Clark and Holquist's 1984 biography of Bakhtin. In the years since then, however, most scholars have come to agree that Vološinov and Medvedev ought to be considered the true authors of these works. Although Bakhtin undoubtedly influenced these scholars and may even have had a hand in composing the works attributed to them, it now seems clear that if it was necessary to attribute authorship of these works to one person, Vološinov and Medvedev respectively should receive credit.[39] Bakhtin had a difficult life and career, and few of his works were published in an authoritative form during his lifetime.[40] As a result, there is substantial disagreement over matters that are normally taken for granted: in which discipline he worked (was he a philosopher or literary critic?), how to periodize his work, and even which texts he wrote (see below). He is known for a series of concepts that have been used and adapted in a number of disciplines: dialogism, the carnivalesque, the chronotope, heteroglossia and "outsidedness" (the English translation of a Russian term vnenakhodimost, sometimes rendered into English—from French rather than from Russian—as "exotopy"). Together these concepts outline a distinctive philosophy of language and culture that has at its center the claims that all discourse is in essence a dialogical exchange and that this endows all language with a particular ethical or ethico-political force.


As a literary theorist, Bakhtin is associated with the Russian Formalists, and his work is compared with that of Yuri Lotman; in 1963 Roman Jakobson mentioned him as one of the few intelligent critics of Formalism.[41] During the 1920s, Bakhtin's work tended to focus on ethics and aesthetics in general. Early pieces such as Towards a Philosophy of the Act and Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity are indebted to the philosophical trends of the time—particularly the Marburg school neo-Kantianism of Hermann Cohen, including Ernst Cassirer, Max Scheler and, to a lesser extent, Nicolai Hartmann. Bakhtin began to be discovered by scholars in 1963,[41] but it was only after his death in 1975 that authors such as Julia Kristeva and Tzvetan Todorov brought Bakhtin to the attention of the Francophone world, and from there his popularity in the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other countries continued to grow. In the late 1980s, Bakhtin's work experienced a surge of popularity in the West.

Bakhtin's primary works include Toward a Philosophy of the Act, an unfinished portion of a philosophical essay; Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Art, to which Bakhtin later added a chapter on the concept of carnival and published with the title Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics; Rabelais and His World, which explores the openness of the Rabelaisian novel; The Dialogic Imagination, whereby the four essays that comprise the work introduce the concepts of dialogism, heteroglossia, and chronotope; and Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, a collection of essays in which Bakhtin concerns himself with method and culture.

In the 1920s there was a "Bakhtin school" in Russia, in line with the discourse analysis of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson.[42]


He is known today for his interest in a wide variety of subjects, ideas, vocabularies, and periods, as well as his use of authorial disguises, and for his influence (alongside György Lukács) on the growth of Western scholarship on the novel as a premiere literary genre. As a result of the breadth of topics with which he dealt, Bakhtin has influenced such Western schools of theory as Neo-Marxism, Structuralism, Social constructionism, and Semiotics. Bakhtin's works have also been useful in anthropology, especially theories of ritual.[43] However, his influence on such groups has, somewhat paradoxically, resulted in narrowing the scope of Bakhtin's work. According to Clark and Holquist, rarely do those who incorporate Bakhtin's ideas into theories of their own appreciate his work in its entirety.[44]

While Bakhtin is traditionally seen as a literary critic, there can be no denying his impact on the realm of rhetorical theory. Among his many theories and ideas Bakhtin indicates that style is a developmental process, occurring within both the user of language and language itself. His work instills in the reader an awareness of tone and expression that arises from the careful formation of verbal phrasing. By means of his writing, Bakhtin has enriched the experience of verbal and written expression which ultimately aids the formal teaching of writing.[45] Some even suggest that Bakhtin introduces a new meaning to rhetoric because of his tendency to reject the separation of language and ideology.[46] As Leslie Baxter explains, for Bakhtin, “Because all language use is riddled with multiple voices (to be understood more generally as discourses, ideologies, perspectives, or themes), meaning-making in general can be understood as the interplay of those voices.”[47]

Bakhtin and communication studies

Bakhtin's communication legacy reaches beyond rhetoric, social constructionism and semiotics as he has been called "the philosopher of human communication."[48] Bakhtin “concentrates heavily on language and its general use."[49] Leslie Baxter observes: “Communication scholars have much to gain from conversing with Bakhtin’s dialogism."[50] Kim argues that “theories of human communication through verbal dialogue or literary representations” such as the ones Bakhtin studied “will apply to virtually every academic discipline in the human sciences."[51] Bakhtin's theories on dialogism influence interpersonal communication research, and "dialogism represents a methodological turn towards the messy reality of communication, in all its many language forms.”[52] In order to understand Bakhtin as a communication scholar one must take all forms of communication into account. While Bakhtin's works focused primarily on text, interpersonal communication is also key, especially when the two are related in terms of culture. Kim states that “culture as Geertz and Bakhtin allude to can be generally transmitted through communication or reciprocal interaction such as a dialogue.”[53]

Interpersonal communication

“Any concrete utterance is a link in the chain of speech communication of a particular sphere. The very boundaries of the utterance are determined by a change of speech subjects. Utterances are not indifferent to one another, and are not self-sufficient; they are aware of and mutually reflect one another... Every utterance must be regarded as primarily a response to preceding utterances of the given sphere (we understand the word ‘response’ here in the broadest sense). Each utterance refutes affirms, supplements, and relies upon the others, presupposes them to be known, and somehow takes them into account... Therefore, each kind of utterance is filled with various kinds of responsive reactions to other utterances of the given sphere of speech communication."[54] This is reminiscent of the inter-personal theory of communication turn-taking. This means that every utterance is related to another utterance, true to turn-taking in which the conversational norms are followed in order for a conversation to have a cohesive flow in which individuals respond to one another. If, for example, an utterance does not pertain to a previous utterance then a conversation is not occurring. However, the utterance will likely pertain to an utterance that the individual once heard- meaning it is, in fact, interrelated, just not in the context of that particular conversation. As Kim explains, “the entire world can be viewed as polyglossic or multi-voiced since every individual possesses their own unique world view which must be taken into consideration through dialogical interaction."[55] This world view must be considered when a conversation is occurring in order to better understand its cultural and communicative significance.

Communication and culture

“Bakhtin’s life work can be understood as a critique of the monologization of the human experience that he perceived in the dominant linguistic, literary, philosophical, and political theories of his time."[56] True to his roots of social constructionism and post-modernism Bakhtin “was critical of efforts to reduce the unfinalizable, open, and multivocal process of meaning-making in determinate, closed, totalizing ways."[56] According to Bakhtin, the meaning found in any dialogue is unique to the sender and recipient based upon their personal understanding of the world as influenced by the socio-cultural background. “Bakhtin’s dialogism opens up space for communication scholars to conceive of difference in new ways” meaning they must take the background of a subject into consideration when conducting research into their understanding of any text as “a dialogic perspective argues that difference (of all kinds) is basic to the human experience."[56] Kim argues that “his ideas of art as a vehicle oriented towards interaction with its audience in order to express or communicate any sort of intention is reminiscent of Clifford Geertz’s theories on culture."[55] Culture and communication become inextricably linked to one another as one's understanding, according to Bakhtin, of a given utterance, text, or message, is contingent upon their culture background and experience.

Carnivalesque and communication

Sheckels contends that "what [... Bakhtin] terms the ‘carnivalesque’ is tied to the body and the public exhibition of its more private functions [...] it served also as a communication event [...] anti-authority communication events [...] can also be deemed ‘carnivalesque’.”[57] Essentially, the act of turning society around through communication, whether it be in the form of text, protest, or otherwise serves as a communicative form of carnival, according to Bakhtin. Steele furthers the idea of carnivalesque in communication as she argues that it is found in corporate communication. Steele states “that ritualized sales meetings, annual employee picnics, retirement roasts and similar corporate events fit the category of carnival.”[58] Carnival cannot help but be linked to communication and culture as Steele points out that “in addition to qualities of inversion, ambivalence, and excess, carnival’s themes typically include a fascination with the body, particularly its little-glorified or 'lower strata' parts, and dichotomies between ‘high’ or ‘low’.”.[59] The high and low binary is particularly relevant in communication as certain verbiage is considered high, while slang is considered low. Moreover, much of popular communication including television shows, books, and movies fall into high and low brow categories. This is particularly prevalent in Bakhtin's native Russia, where postmodernist writers such as Boris Akunin have worked to change low brow communication forms (such as the mystery novel) into higher literary works of art by making constant references to one of Bakhtin's favorite subjects, Dostoyevsky.


  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1929) Problems of Dostoevsky's Art, (Russian) Leningrad: Priboj.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1963) Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, (Russian) Moscow: Khudozhestvennaja literatura.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1968) Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1975) Questions of Literature and Aesthetics, (Russian) Moscow: Progress.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1979) [The] Aesthetics of Verbal Art, (Russian) Moscow: Iskusstvo.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1984) Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1986) Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1990) Art and Answerability. Ed. Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov. Trans. Vadim Liapunov and Kenneth Brostrom. Austin: University of Texas Press [written 1919–1924, published 1974-1979]
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1993) Toward a Philosophy of the Act. Ed. Vadim Liapunov and Michael Holquist. Trans. Vadim Liapunov. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1996–2012) Collected Writings, 6 vols., (Russian) Moscow: Russkie slovari.
  • Bakhtin, M.M., V.D. Duvakin, S.G. Bocharov (2002), M.M. Bakhtin: Conversations with V.D. Duvakin (Russian), Soglasie.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (2004) “Dialogic Origin and Dialogic Pedagogy of Grammar: Stylistics in Teaching Russian Language in Secondary School”. Trans. Lydia Razran Stone. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology 42(6): 12–49.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (2014) “Bakhtin on Shakespeare: Excerpt from ‘Additions and Changes to Rabelais’”. Trans. Sergeiy Sandler. PMLA 129(3): 522–537.

See also


  1. ^ Y. Mazour-Matusevich (2009), Nietzsche's Influence on Bakhtin's Aesthetics of Grotesque Realism, CLCWeb 11:2
  2. ^ "Bakhtin". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  3. ^ Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics, Stanford University Press, 1990, p. xiv.
  4. ^ Maranhão 1990, p.197
  5. ^ Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin (Harvard University Press, 1984: ISBN 0-674-57417-6), p. 27.
  6. ^ "Mikhail Bakhtin (Russian philosopher and literary critic) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. 1975-03-07. Retrieved 2013-03-23.
  7. ^ "Мемория. Михаил Бахтин" (in Russian). polit.ru. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  8. ^ Haynes, D. J. (2013). Bakhtin reframed. London: I.B. Tauris.
  9. ^ http://www.encspb.ru/object/2804015084?lc=en
  10. ^ Holquist Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World p.10
  11. ^ Holquist xxi-xxvi
  12. ^ Hirschkop 2
  13. ^ Liapunov xvii
  14. ^ Bakhtin 54
  15. ^ Bakhtin 41
  16. ^ Hirschkop 12-14
  17. ^ Emerson and Morson 184-189.
  18. ^ Holquist xxv
  19. ^ Clark and Holquist 297-299
  20. ^ Iswolsky 1965, p. 92f.
  21. ^ Holquist xxvi
  22. ^ Maranhão 1990, p.4
  23. ^ a b c James V. Wertsch (1998) Mind As Action
  24. ^ Holquist and Emerson 1981, p. 428
  25. ^ Bakhtin
  26. ^ Holquist, 1990
  27. ^ Hirschkop, Ken; Shepherd, David G (1989), Bakhtin and cultural theory, Manchester University Press ND, p. 8, ISBN 978-0-7190-2615-7, retrieved 2011-04-26 Unlike Kant, Bakhtin positions aesthetic activity and experience over abstraction. Bakhtin also clashes with Saussure's view of "langue is a 'social fact'", since Bakhtin views Saussure's society as a "disturbing homogenous collective"
  28. ^ Holquist xxxii
  29. ^ a b c Holquist 1981, p. xxxiii
  30. ^ Bakhtin 84
  31. ^ Clark and Holquist 278
  32. ^ Farmer xviii
  33. ^ Holquist xi.
  34. ^ Holquist xiii.
  35. ^ Holquist xv.
  36. ^ Holquist xvii-xviii.
  37. ^ Holquist xix.
  38. ^ Holquist xx-xxi.
  39. ^ Bota and Bronckart.
  40. ^ Brandist The Bakhtin Circle, 1-26
  41. ^ a b Holquist Dialogism, p.183
  42. ^ Peter Ludwig Berger Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (1997) p.86
  43. ^ Lipset, David and Eric K. Silverman (2005) "Dialogics of the Body: The Moral and the Grotesque in Two Sepik River Societies." Journal of Ritual Studies 19 (2) 17-52.
  44. ^ Clark and Holquist 3.
  45. ^ Schuster 1-2.
  46. ^ Klancher 24.
  47. ^ Baxter, Leslie (2006). Communication as...: Perspectives on theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. p. 101.
  48. ^ Danow, David (1991). The Thought of Mikhail Bakhtin: From Word to Culture. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 3–4.
  49. ^ Gary, Kim (2004). "Mikhail Bakhtin: The philosopher of human communication". The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology. 12 (1): 53–62 [54].
  50. ^ Baxter, Leslie (2011). Voicing relationships: A dialogic perspective. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishing, Inc. p. 35.
  51. ^ Kim, Gary. "Mikhail Bakhtin: The philosopher of human communication" (54)". The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology. 12 (1): 53–62.
  52. ^ White, E.J. "Bakhtinian dialogism: A philosophical and methodological route to dialogue and difference?" (PDF).
  53. ^ Kim, Gary (2004). "Mikhail Bakhtin: The philosopher of human communication". The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology. 12 (1): 53–62 [54].
  54. ^ Bakhtin, Mikhail (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. Texas: University of Austin. p. 91.
  55. ^ a b Kim, Gary (2004). "Mikhail Bakhtin: The philosopher of human communication". The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology. 12 (1): 53–62 [54].
  56. ^ a b c Baxter, Leslie (2006). Communication as...:Perspectives on theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishing, Inc. p. 102.
  57. ^ Sheckels, T.F. (2006). Maryland politics and political communication: 1950-2005. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. p. 35.
  58. ^ Goodman, M.B. (1994). Corporate communication: Theory and Practice. Albany: SUNY. p. 242.
  59. ^ Goodman, M.B. (1994). Corporate communication: Theory and Practice. Albany: SUNY. p. 249.


  • Boer, Roland (ed), Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies. Atlanta/Leiden, Society of Biblical Literature/Brill, 2007.
  • Bota, Cristian, and Jean-Paul Bronckart. Bakhtine démasqué: Histoire d'un menteur, d'une escroquerie et d'un délire collectif. Paris: Droz, 2011.
  • Brandist, Craig. The Bakhtin Circle: Philosophy, Culture and Politics London, Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press, 2002.
  • Carner, Grant Calvin Sr (1995) "Confluence, Bakhtin, and Alejo Carpentier's Contextos in Selena and Anna Karenina" Doctoral Dissertation (Comparative Literature) University of California at Riverside.
  • Clark, Katerina, and Michael Holquist. Mikhail Bakhtin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Emerson, Caryl, and Gary Saul Morson. "Mikhail Bakhtin." The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. Eds. Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth and Imre Szeman. Second Edition 2005. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 25 Jan. 2006 http://litguide.press.jhu.edu/cgibin/view.cgi?eid=22&query=Bakhtin.
  • Farmer, Frank. "Introduction." Landmark Essays on Bakhtin, Rhetoric, and Writing. Ed. Frank Farmer. Mahwah: Hermagoras Press, 1998. xi-xxiii.
  • Green, Barbara. Mikhail Bakhtin and Biblical Scholarship: An Introduction. SBL Semeia Studies 38. Atlanta: SBL, 2000.
  • David Hayman Toward a Mechanics of Mode: Beyond Bakhtin NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Winter, 1983), pp. 101–120 doi:10.2307/1345079
  • Jane H. Hill The Refiguration of the Anthropology of Language (review of Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics) Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Feb., 1986), pp. 89–102
  • Hirschkop, Ken. "Bakhtin in the sober light of day." Bakhtin and Cultural Theory. Eds. Ken Hirschkop and David Shepherd. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2001. 1-25.
  • Hirschkop, Ken. Mikhail Bakhtin: An Aesthetic for Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Holquist, Michael. [1990] Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World, Second Edition. Routledge, 2002.
  • Holquist, Michael. "Introduction." Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. By Mikhail Bakhtin. Eds. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. ix-xxiii.
  • Holquist, Michael. Introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin's The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1981. xv-xxxiv
  • Holquist, M., & C. Emerson (1981). Glossary. In MM Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by MM Bakhtin.
  • Klancher, Jon. "Bakhtin’s Rhetoric." Landmark Essays on Bakhtin, Rhetoric, and Writing. Ed. Frank Farmer. Mahwah: Hermagoras Press, 1998. 23-32.
  • Liapunov, Vadim. Toward a Philosophy of the Act. By Mikhail Bakhtin. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.
  • Lipset, David and Eric K. Silverman, "Dialogics of the Body: The Moral and the Grotesque in Two Sepik River Societies." Journal of Ritual Studies Vol. 19, No. 2, 2005, 17-52.
  • Magee, Paul. 'Poetry as Extorreor Monolothe: Finnegans Wake on Bakhtin'. Cordite Poetry Review 41, 2013.
  • Maranhão, Tullio (1990) The Interpretation of Dialogue University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-50433-6
  • Meletinsky, Eleazar Moiseevich, The Poetics of Myth (Translated by Guy Lanoue and Alexandre Sadetsky) 2000 Routledge ISBN 0-415-92898-2
  • Morson, Gary Saul, and Caryl Emerson. Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics. Stanford University Press, 1990.
  • O'Callaghan, Patrick. Monologism and Dialogism in Private Law The Journal Jurisprudence, Vol. 7, 2010. 405-440.
  • Pechey, Graham. Mikhail Bakhtin: The Word in the World. London: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 978-0-415-42419-6
  • Schuster, Charles I. "Mikhail Bakhtin as Rhetorical Theorist." Landmark Essays on Bakhtin, Rhetoric, and Writing. Ed. Frank Farmer. Mahwah: Hermagoras Press, 1998. 1-14.
  • Thorn, Judith. "The Lived Horizon of My Being: The Substantiation of the Self & the Discourse of Resistance in Rigoberta Menchu, Mm Bakhtin and Victor Montejo." University of Arizona Press. 1996.
  • Townsend, Alex, Autonomous Voices: An Exploration of Polyphony in the Novels of Samuel Richardson, 2003, Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt/M., New York, Wien, 2003, ISBN 978-3-906769-80-6 / US ISBN 978-0-8204-5917-2
  • Sheinberg, Esti (2000-12-29). Irony, satire, parody and the grotesque in the music of Shostakovich. UK: Ashgate. p. 378. ISBN 0-7546-0226-5. Archived from the original on 2007-10-17.
  • Vice, Sue. Introducing Bakhtin. Manchester University Press, 1997
  • Voloshinov, V.N. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. New York & London: Seminar Press. 1973
  • Young, Robert J.C., 'Back to Bakhtin', in Torn Halves: Political Conflict in Literary and Cultural Theory Manchester: Manchester University Press; New York, St Martin's Press, 1996 ISBN 0-7190-4777-3
  • Mayerfeld Bell, Michael and Gardiner, Michael. Bakhtin and the Human Sciences. No last words. London-Thousand Oaks-New Delhi: SAGE Publications. 1998.
  • Michael Gardiner Mikhail Bakhtin. SAGE Publications 2002 ISBN 978-0-7619-7447-5.
  • Maria Shevtsova, Dialogism in the Novel and Bakhtin's Theory of Culture New Literary History, Vol. 23, No. 3, History, Politics, and Culture (Summer, 1992), pp. 747–763 doi:10.2307/469228
  • Stacy Burton Bakhtin, Temporality, and Modern Narrative: Writing "the Whole Triumphant Murderous Unstoppable Chute" Comparative Literature, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Winter, 1996), pp. 39–64 doi:10.2307/1771629
  • Vladislav Krasnov Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky A study in the Polyphonic Novel by Vladislav Krasnov University of Georgia Press ISBN 0-8203-0472-7
  • Maja Soboleva: Die Philosophie Michail Bachtins. Von der existentiellen Ontologie zur dialogischen Vernunft. Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim 2009.
  • (in French) Jean-Paul Bronckart, Cristian Bota: Bakhtine démasqué : Histoire d'un menteur, d'une escroquerie et d'un délire collectif, Editeur : Droz, ISBN 2-600-00545-5

External links

Augusto Ponzio

Augusto Ponzio (born 17 February 1942) is an Italian semiologist and philosopher.

Since 1980 is Full Professor of Philosophy of Language at Bari University, Italy and since 2015 is Professor Emeritus at the same University.

He has made a significant contribution as editor and translator to the dissemination of the ideas of Pietro Ispano, Mikhail Bakhtin, Emmanuel Lévinas, Karl Marx, Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, Adam Schaff and Thomas Albert Sebeok, in Italy and abroad.


"Bobok" (Russian: Бобок, Bobok) is a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky that first appeared in 1873 in his self-published Diary of a Writer. The title can be translated from the Russian as meaning "little bean," and in the context of the story is taken to be synonymous with gibberish or nonsense.The philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin regarded Bobok as one of the finest works in the literary tradition of Menippean satire, and argues that it encapsulates many of the thematic concerns of Dostoevsky's major novels.

Culture of Popular Laughter

The Culture of Popular Laughter is a historical-anthropological theory devised by the literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, first published in the book Rabelais and His World, based on observations of popular culture in the Renaissance. Bakhtin analysed François Rabelais' book Gargantua and Pantagruel and its portrayals of "grotesque realism" (i.e. celebrations of primary needs) and carnival in which social norms were subverted.

The Culture of Popular Laughter combines two literary ideas developed by Bakhtin in the same work: the idea of "Grotesque body" and "Carnivalesque" debauchery. It is distinguished from each, however, by its applications outside literary theory.


Dialogic means relates to or is characterized by dialogue and its use. A dialogic is communication presented in the form of dialogue. Dialogic processes refer to implied meaning in words uttered by a speaker and interpreted by a listener. Dialogic works carry on a continual dialogue that includes interaction with previous information presented. The term is used to describe concepts in literary theory and analysis as well as in philosophy.

Along with dialogism, the term can refer to concepts used in the work of Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin; especially in his text, The Dialogic Imagination.


Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American English) is a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people, and a literary and theatrical form that depicts such an exchange. As a narrative, philosophical or didactic device, it is chiefly associated in the West with the Socratic dialogue as developed by Plato, but antecedents are also found in other traditions including Indian literature.In the 20th century, philosophical treatments of dialogue emerged from thinkers including Mikhail Bakhtin, Paulo Freire, Martin Buber, and David Bohm. Although diverging in many details, these thinkers have articulated a holistic concept of dialogue as a multi-dimensional, dynamic and context-dependent process of creating meaning. Educators such as Freire and Ramón Flecha have also developed a body of theory and techniques for using egalitarian dialogue as a pedagogical tool.

Epic and Novel

Epic and Novel: Towards a Methodology for the Study of the Novel [Эпос и роман (О методологии исследования романа)] is an essay written by Mikhail Bakhtin in 1941 that compares the novel to the epic; it was one of the major literary theorists of the twentieth century.

The essay was originally given as a paper in the Moscow Institute of World Literature on 24 March 1941 under the name "The Novel as a Literary Genre" ['Роман как литературный жанр']. However, it became well known after its 1970 publication (under its current name) in the Russian journal Questions of Literature [Вопросы Литературы]. It was re-published in a 1975 collection of Bakhtin's writings, Questions of Literature and Aesthetics [Вопросы литературы и эстетики].

In vol. 3 of Bakhtin's Collected Writings [Собрание сочинений], published in 2012, this article appears under Bakhtin's original title ("The Novel as a Literary Genre"), and with the opening paragraph, edited out from earlier publications, restored. Also published are Bakhtin's notes for the lecture, on which the article is based, and a partial transcript of the discussion that followed the lecture. As the newly published material reveals, Bakhtin framed this article as a study in the philosophy of genres.

Erwin Rohde

Erwin Rohde (French: [ˈʀoːdə]; October 9, 1845 – January 11, 1898) was one of the great German classical scholars of the 19th century.

Rohde was born in Hamburg and was the son of a doctor. Outside of antiquarian circles, Rohde is known today chiefly for his friendship and correspondence with fellow-philologist Friedrich Nietzsche. The two were students together in Bonn and Leipzig, where they were studying philology taught by Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl. In 1872, Rohde became a professor at the University of Kiel. He later was professor in Jena (1876), Tübingen (1878) and finally Heidelberg, where he died in 1898 after suffering from a gradual decline in health.

His Psyche (1890-1894) remains a standard reference work for Greek cult practices and beliefs related to the soul.

His work, Der Griechische Roman und seine Vorläufer (1876), was considered by Mikhail Bakhtin to be "the best book on the history of the ancient novel", and it is still regarded as one of the greatest "monuments of 19th century classics scholarship in Germany".

Grotesque body

The grotesque body is a concept, or literary trope, put forward by Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin in his study of François Rabelais' work. The essential principle of grotesque realism is degradation, the lowering of all that is abstract, spiritual, noble, and ideal to the material level. Through the use of the grotesque body in his novels, Rabelais related political conflicts to human anatomy. In this way, Rabelais used the concept as "a figure of unruly biological and social exchange".It is by means of this information that Bakhtin pinpoints two important subtexts: the first is carnival (carnivalesque), and the second is grotesque realism (grotesque body). Thus, in Rabelais and His World Bakhtin studies the interaction between the social and the literary, as well as the meaning of the body.


The term heteroglossia describes the coexistence of distinct varieties within a single "language" (in Greek: hetero- "different" and glōssa "tongue, language"). In this way the term translates the Russian разноречие [raznorechie], which was introduced by the Russian linguist Mikhail Bakhtin in his 1934 paper Слово в романе [Slovo v romane], published in English as "Discourse in the Novel."

Bakhtin argues that the power of the novel originates in the coexistence of, and conflict between, different types of speech: the speech of characters, the speech of narrators, and even the speech of the author. He defines heteroglossia as "another's speech in another's language, serving to express authorial intentions but in a refracted way"(1934). Bakhtin identifies the direct narrative of the author, rather than dialogue between characters, as the primary location of this conflict.

Ken Hirschkop

Ken Hirschkop teaches in the English Department at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Hirschkop is considered one of the leading international scholars on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and on Marxist literary theory. His book Mikhail Bakhtin: An Aesthetic for Democracy is considered to be one of the most important works of Mikhail Bakhtin scholarship available.

List of works in critical theory

This is a list of important and seminal works in the field of critical theory.

Otto Maria Carpeaux

História da Literatura Ocidental, 8 vol. (Portuguese, 1959–66)

M. H. Abrams

The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition

Theodor Adorno

Aesthetic Theory

Negative Dialectics

Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer

Dialectic of Enlightenment

Louis Althusser

For Marx

Lenin and Philosophy

Erich Auerbach

Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature

Mikhail Bakhtin

Discourse in the Novel

Rabelais and his World

Roland Barthes

Image, Music, Text


Jean Baudrillard

The Perfect Crime

Simulation and Simulacra

Walter Benjamin


The Origin of German Tragic Drama

Homi K. Bhabha

The Location of Culture

Pierre Bourdieu

La distinction

Kenneth Burke

A Rhetoric of Motives

A Grammar of Motives

John Brannigan

New Historicism and Cultural Materialism

Cleanth Brooks

The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry

Sean Burke

The Death and Return of the Author

Judith Butler

Bodies That Matter

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Cathy Caruth

Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Biographia Literaria

Jonathan Culler

Structuralist Poetics

The Pursuit of Signs

Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

Gilles Deleuze

Difference and Repetition

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus (pt.1) and A Thousand Plateaus (pt.2)

Jacques Derrida

Of Grammatology

Writing and Difference

Peter Dews

The Limits of Disenchantment

The Logic of Disintigration

Terry Eagleton

Marxism and Literary Criticism

The Idea of Culture

Antony Easthope

The Unconscious

William Empson

Seven Types of Ambiguity

Some Versions of Pastoral

The Structure of Complex Words

Norman Fairclough

Language and Power

Critical Discourse Analysis

Frantz Fanon

Black Skins, White Masks

Stanley Fish

Is There a Text in this Class?

Northrop Frye

Anatomy of Criticism

Gerald Graff

Literature Against Itself

Jürgen Habermas

Legitimation Crisis

The Theory of Communicative Action, volumes 1 & 2

The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity

Wolfgang Iser

The Act of Reading: a Theory of Aesthetic Response

Leonard Jackson

The Poverty of Structuralism

Fredric Jameson

The Political Unconscious

Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

The Prison-House of Language

Frank Kermode

Romantic Image

Julia Kristeva

Desire in Language

Powers of Horror

Jacques Lacan


The Seminars

F.R. Leavis

The Great Tradition

Ania Loomba


Herbert Marcuse

Reason and Revolution. Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory

Eros and Civilization

Soviet Marxism. A Critical Analysis

One-Dimensional Man

Toril Moi

Sexual/Textual Politics

I.A. Richards

Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgement

Principles of Literary Criticism

K.K. Ruthven

Critical Assumptions

Edward Said

Culture and Imperialism

Orientalism (1978)

Jean-Paul Sartre

What Is Literature? (1947)

Ferdinand de Saussure

Cours de linguistique générale (posthumously 1916)

Alfred Schmidt

The Concept of Nature in Marx (1962)

Zur Idee der Kritischen Theorie (German, 1974)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Between Men

Epistemology of the Closet

Susan Sontag

Against Interpretation

Styles of Radical Will

Under the Sign of Saturn

Where The Stress Falls

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

"Can the Subaltern Speak?"

In Other Worlds

Raymond Tallis

Not Saussure

Scott Wilson

Cultural Materialism

W.K. Wimsatt

The Verbal Icon

Virginia Woolf

A Room of One's Own

Slavoj Žižek

The Sublime Object of Ideology

The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology

Lord of Misrule

In England, the Lord of Misrule – known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – was an officer appointed by lot during Christmastide to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying.

The Church in England held a similar festival involving a boy bishop. This custom was abolished by Henry VIII in 1541, restored by the Catholic Mary I and again abolished by Protestant Elizabeth I, though here and there it lingered on for some time longer. On the Continent it was suppressed by the Council of Basel in 1431, but was revived in some places from time to time, even as late as the eighteenth century. In the Tudor period, the Lord of Misrule (sometimes called the Abbot of Misrule or the King of Misrule) is mentioned a number of times by contemporary documents referring to revels both at court and among the ordinary people.

While mostly known as a British holiday custom, some folklorists, such as James Frazer and Mikhail Bakhtin (who is said to have plagiarized the novel idea from Frazer), have claimed that the appointment of a Lord of Misrule comes from a similar custom practiced during the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. In ancient Rome, from 17 to 23 December (in the Julian calendar), a man chosen to be a mock king was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, in the guise of the Roman deity Saturn; at the end of the festival, the man was sacrificed. This hypothesis has been heavily criticized by William Warde Fowler and as such, the Christmas custom of the Lord of Misrule during the Christian era and the Saturnalian custom of antiquity may have completely separate origins; the two separate customs, however, can be compared and contrasted.

Luis Radford

Luis Radford is professor at the School of Education Sciences at Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada.

His research interests cover both theoretical and practical aspects of mathematics thinking, teaching, and learning. His current research draws on Lev Vygotsky's historical-cultural school of thought, as well as Evald Ilyenkov's epistemology, in a conceptual framework influenced by Emmanuel Levinas and Mikhail Bakhtin, leading to a non-utilitarian and a non-instrumentalist conception of the classroom and education.

Radford is an editor of the education journal For the learning of mathematics. In 2011 he was the recipient of the Hans Freudenthal Medal of the

International Commission on Mathematical Instruction for his "development of a semiotic-cultural theory of learning".He is the editor of book series "Semiotic Perspectives in the Teaching & Learning of Math" with Springer Verlag.

Pavel Medvedev (scholar)

Pavel Nikolaevich Medvedev (Russian: Па́вел Никола́евич Медве́дев; 4 January 1892 [O.S. 23 December 1891] in Saint Petersburg – 17 July 1938 in Leningrad) was a Russian literary scholar. He was a professor, social activist, and friend of Mikhail Bakhtin, as well as of Boris Pasternak and Fyodor Sologub. Medvedev held several government posts in education and publishing after the 1917 revolution, publishing a great deal of his own writing on literary, sociological, and linguistic issues. Medvedev was arrested during the 1930s period of purges under the rule of Joseph Stalin, and "disappeared" shortly after his arrest. He was shot on 17 July 1938.

One of his works, The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship, was believed to be written by his "co-thinker" Bakhtin, using his name to escape censorship. This belief was raised during the 1970s in Russia but developed fully in Clark and Holquist's English biography of Bakhtin of 1984. Now, it is mostly believed that the work was written by Medvedev although influenced by Bakhtin's ideas.

Polyphony (literature)

Polyphony (Russian: полифония) is a concept taken up by literary theory, speech act theory and linguistics to refer to the simultaneity of points of view and voices within a particular narrative plane. The concept was introduced by Mikhail Bakhtin, using a metaphor based on the musical term polyphony.

Bakhtin's primary example of polyphony was Fyodor Dostoevsky's prose. Bakhtin contended that Dostoevsky, unlike previous novelists, did not provide a 'single vision', or describe situations with a 'monological' authorial voice. Instead, he aimed for fully dramatic novels of ideas in which conflicting views and characters are left to develop unevenly. According to Bakhtin, the chief characteristic of Dostoevsky's novels is "a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices". His major characters are, "by the very nature of his creative design, not only objects of authorial discourse but also subjects of their own directly signifying discourse." (italics in the original)

Sabri Gürses

Sabri Gürses (born February 7, 1972) is a Turkish writer. He has published poetry, novels, and short stories. His best-known novel in Turkey is Sevişme ("Making Love"), which is a science fiction novel about the way people use their bodies in a postmodern age. He has also written a science fiction trilogy, Boşvermişler (which may be translated as "The Ones Who Gave Up").

Gürses is also making translations from Russian and English to Turkish; among his translations are works by Mikhail Bakhtin, Yuri Lotman, Andrei Bely, Werner Sombart, Joseph Campbell, John Smolens, Jonathan Lethem, Kim Stanley Robinson, Shusha Guppy, Charles Nicholl, Don Delillo, William Guthrie, Werner Sombart, Fredric Jameson, William Shakespeare, Niall Lucy, David Foster Wallace, Richard Stites, Slavoj Žižek and Annie Proulx. He has made a complete translation of the famous revolutionary Sultan Galiev's writings from Russian to Turkish in 2006. This is the first complete translation of Galiev's Russian writings to another language.

As of 2005, he is publishing an online magazine/blog, Çeviribilim, focused on translation and its studies in Turkey.

Semiotic literary criticism

Semiotic literary criticism, also called literary semiotics, is the approach to literary criticism informed by the theory of signs or semiotics. Semiotics, tied closely to the structuralism pioneered by Ferdinand de Saussure, was extremely influential in the development of literary theory out of the formalist approaches of the early twentieth century.


Skaz (Russian: сказ, IPA: [ˈskas]) is a Russian oral form of narrative. The word comes from skazátʹ, "to tell", and is also related to such words as rasskaz, "short story" and skazka, "fairy tale". The speech makes use of dialect and slang in order to take on the persona of a particular character. The peculiar speech, however, is integrated into the surrounding narrative, and not presented in quotation marks. This is not only a literary device, but is also used as an element in Russian monologue comedy.Skaz was first described by the Russian formalist Boris Eikhenbaum in the late 1910s. In a couple of articles published at this time, the literary scholar described the phenomenon as a form of unmediated or improvisational speech. He applied it specifically to Nikolai Gogol's short story The Overcoat, in a 1919 essay titled How Gogol's "Overcoat" Is Made. Eikhenbaum saw skaz as central to Russian culture, and believed that a national literature could not develop without a strong attachment to oral traditions. Among the literary critics who elaborated on this theory in the 1920s were Yury Tynyanov, Viktor Vinogradov, and Mikhail Bakhtin. The latter insists on the importance of skaz in stylization.In the nineteenth century, the style was most prominently used by Nikolai Leskov, in addition to Gogol. Twentieth-century proponents include Aleksey Remizov, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Andrei Platonov, and Isaac Babel. The term is also used to describe elements in the literature of other countries; in recent times it has been popularised by the British author and literary critic David Lodge. John Mullan, a professor of English at University College London, finds examples of skaz in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little.

Tom Cohen

Tom Dana Cohen (born August 13, 1953), is an American media and cultural theorist, currently a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He has published numerous important books on Alfred Hitchcock. Cohen has also written on other aspects of film studies, comparative literature, theory, cultural studies and on Paul de Man. Cohen has also published broadly on American authors and ideology, including Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Mikhail Bakhtin, William Faulkner and pragmatism, as well as on Alfred Hitchcock, Greek philosophy and continental philosophy.He is the editor (with Claire Colebrook) of the Critical Climate Change Book Series at Open Humanities Press and has lectured and taught internationally, including in China and Fulbright sponsored work in Thailand. He has been awarded a Distinguished Visiting Professorship by Shanghai Municipality in Shanghai.

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