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  • The Bakhtin CirclePhilosophy, Culture and Politics

    Craig Brandist


  • First published 2002 by Pluto Press345 Archway Road, London N6 5AAand 22883 Quicksilver Drive,Sterling, VA 201662012, USA

    Copyright Craig Brandist 2002

    The right of Craig Brandist to be identified as the author of this work hasbeen asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs andPatents Act 1988.

    British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

    ISBN 0 7453 1811 8 hardbackISBN 0 7453 1810 X paperback

    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available

    Reprints: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

    Designed and produced for Pluto Press by Chase Publishing Services, Fortescue, Sidmouth EX10 9QGTypeset from disk by Stanford DTP Services, TowcesterPrinted in the European Union by Antony Rowe, Chippenham, England

  • Contents

    Preface viii

    1 Introduction 1The problems of Bakhtin studies 1Problems of publication and translation 3Biographical sketch 5The phenomenon of the Circle 11Periods of work 12Philosophical trends 15

    Neo-Kantianism 16Lebensphilosophie 18Phenomenology 19Gestalt theory 21The crisis of neo-Kantianism 22Religion 23

    Patterns of appropriation 24

    2 The Early Ethical and Aesthetic Philosophy of the Circle (191926) 27Philosophy, culture and politics 27Matvei Kagan 32Ethics and aesthetics 34From ethics to literature 40Production of the aesthetic object 41Outsideness 44Crises of outsideness 48The sociology of interaction 50

    3 Marxism, Semiotics and Sociology (192629) 53Marxism and contemporary philosophy 53Voloshinov and contemporary psychology 55Voloshinov on discourse in life and art 62Sociological poetics and Formalism: Medvedevs Formal Method (1928) 66Voloshinovs Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1929) 74

  • Dialogue, literature and inner form 81Conclusion 86

    4 From Verbal Interaction to Dialogue: Dostoevsky and the Novel 88Voloshinov: Sociological Method and Problems of Syntax (1929) 88Bakhtins Problems of Dostoevskys Art (1929): Dostoevskys polyphonic novel 91Problems of Dostoevskys Art: discourse in Dostoevsky 99

    5 The Novel and Literary History (193441) 105Cassirer and the Hegelian shift 105Marrism 109Heteroglossia 112Heteroglossia and the novel 115Poetry and the novel 116The becoming of the novel 119The novel and history 122Laughter and critique 126Epic and novel 128

    6 The Novelist as Philosopher (194063) 133The origins of carnival 134Carnival as a proto-genre 137The grotesque 140Carnival in literature 143Socratic dialogue and Menippean satire 145Carnival in Dostoevsky 148Goethe and realism 149Conclusion 155

    7 Final Methodological Works 156The Problem of Discursive Genres (195354) 157The methodology of the human sciences 164The Problem of the Text 166Conclusion 171

    8 The Bakhtinian Research Programme Yesterday and Today 173The achievement so far 173

    vi The Bakhtin Circle

  • Problems and tensions 176Realist alternatives 178Critical and political alternatives 184

    Abbreviations and References in the Text 192Notes 197Bibliography 204Index 217

    Contents vii

  • Preface

    The present work began its life as a project commissioned by adifferent publisher to write a historically grounded introduction tothe work of the Bakhtin Circle. In the course of composition andnegotiation it turned out that what was required was rather more ofan introductory text than I was prepared to compose. After spendingseveral years researching the intellectual sources of the work of theCircle in the Bakhtin Centre at Sheffield University as part of theproject The Russian and European Contexts of the Works of MikhailBakhtin and the Bakhtin Circle, funded by the British Arts andHumanities Research Board (AHRB), I was keen to make sure thatnew research on the work of the Circle formed the basis of the study.The primer format excluded such a possibility. The work wasthereafter completely redesigned critically to survey the work of theCircle in the light of the considerable amount of research into thesources of their ideas carried out by a number of Russian and Westernscholars in recent years. As well as bringing together the insights ofothers, I was naturally concerned to foreground my own research.This is most apparent in analyses of the Circles debts to Hegelianismand Marxism, the Brentanian tradition exemplified by such figuresas Karl Bhler and Anton Marty, Oskar Walzel and the mediation ofthe ideas of such figures as Lucien Lvy-Bruhl and Ernst Cassirerthrough the work of Nikolai Marr and his followers, particularlyOlga Freidenberg.

    In highlighting the sources of the ideas of the Circle I do not wantto suggest that they had little original to say. Rather, I am concernedto show that while Bakhtin himself was a less revolutionary thinkerthan was often argued in the 1980s, and is still often argued inRussia, members of the Bakhtin Circle were nevertheless talented andsignificant thinkers who responded to the ideas around them inextremely productive ways. In understanding the work of the Circleas an ongoing engagement with several intellectual traditions, wealso need to be aware of the specific social and political circum-stances that conditioned that engagement. While the coherence ofthe ideas of the members of the Circle and their individual contri-butions might appear to be lessened by such an approach, the


  • historical significance of their engagement and the importance ofthe ideas with which they grappled are heightened. Intellectualhistory is not a gallery of great individual thinkers, but a history ofideas in their socio-historical becoming, enmeshed in institutionalforms and ideological battles. The Circle lived through some of themost significant transformations of the twentieth century, and theynecessarily rethought their ideas in relation not only to new publi-cations but also to the wider conflicts of the world around them. Wecan thus learn as much, if not more, from their revisions, contra-dictions and limitations as we can from their greatest successes andsystematic expositions.

    In writing this study I have accumulated debts to several scholars,to whom I have turned for information and advice or with whom Ihave debated, clashed, polemicised or simply chatted over the lastfew years. Among these I must highlight Galin Tihanov, whoseformidable knowledge of debates in several languages, good humour,helpfulness and encouragement have been unfailing supports; DavidShepherd, whose constant intellectual and practical support hasbeen a precondition of much of the work done here; Iurii and DariaMedvedev and Dmitri Iunov, whose hospitality, good will,knowledge and intellectual stimulation have helped to make myfrequent visits to St Petersburg so valuable; Nikolai Nikolaev, NikolaiPankov, Vladimir Alpatov and Vitalii Makhlin for their good-natured support, hospitality and/or assistance in Russia and abroad;and Mika Lhteenmki for many valuable discussions about thephilosophy of language and for facilitating opportunities to presentmy research in Finland. I have also benefited from discussions with,among many others, Brian Poole, Michael Gardiner, Ken Hirschkop,Erik Dop, Jonathan Hall and my many other interlocutors on theconference circuit: the present book would certainly be poorerwithout them all.

    The text itself has benefited considerably from the criticalresponses of David Shepherd, Galin Tihanov, Mika Lhteenmki andKarine Zbinden, who read parts or the whole manuscript at variousstages, pointing out my many misconceptions, exaggerations, flawedexpressions and confusions. While the text has certainly beenimproved by their interventions, any remaining flaws are, of course,my own responsibility.

    The following text makes no pretensions to be an exhaustiveaccount of the sources of the works of the Bakhtin Circle; whilearchival access remains severely restricted this will be deferred.

    Preface ix

  • However, an account of some of the main contours of the Circlesengagements with the ideas around them and an indication of howI think this should inform our reading and application of their workare presented below. Furthermore, I have attempted to consider someof the many problems and limitations of the work of the Circle andsome possible revisions that may overcome these difficulties. If thebook stimulates and facilitates further non-reverential, historicallygrounded and constructive engagements with the work of the Circleit will have succeeded in its aim.

    x The Bakhtin Circle

  • 1 Introduction

    The problems of Bakhtin studies

    The work of Mikhail Bakhtin and what is now known as the BakhtinCircle has, in recent years, aroused enormous interest and exerted asignificant influence on a variety of areas within the humanities andsocial sciences. The Circles work on the philosophy of language, thestudy of Russian Formalism, and the theory and history of the novelhave become firmly established as very important developments inall these fields. Although the Circles initial impact was withinliterary and cultural studies, it has now begun to establish a presencewithin philosophy, social science, history and cultural studies.Bakhtins key notions of dialogism and carnival have been adoptedas analytical tools for examining such varied phenomena as thenovels of Jane Austen, popular uprisings in the Middle Ages, theBlackpool Pleasure Beach, Brazilian cinema and the car boot sale.The bewildering variety of applications is mirrored by an equallybewildering variety of comparisons with the ideas of other thinkers,including Marxist theorists such as Walter Benjamin and TheodorAdorno, phenomenological philosophe