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  • BAKHTINS PSEUDO-OBJECTIVE MOTIVATION AND THE DEMISE OF

    ABNER

    Keith Bodner, pages 38-66, in David Observed: A King in the Eyes of His Court (Hebrew

    Bible Monographs, 5; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005).xii + 198 pp.

    ISBN 1-905048-23-8.

    I. A Brief Outline of Bakhtins Theory

    In earlier portions of this book I noted that the work of literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin

    has been helpfully applied to study of the Hebrew Bible.1 A number of Bakhtins

    concepts such as carnivalesque, double-voiced utterance, hidden polemical discourse, and

    chronotope have been applied to biblical narrative, particularly in the wake of Robert

    Polzins discussions of the Deuteronomistic History.2 In light of such promising forays, it

    seems that there is ample scope for further applying Bakhtins insights to biblical

    narrative. In this chapter I would like to argue that there is a suggestive correspondence

    between Bakhtins notion of pseudo-objective motivation and the Abner narrative of 2

    Samuel 3. In the fourth essay of The Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin explores the theory of

    hybrid constructions and pseudo-objective motivation by drawing on, among other

    works, Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens.3 In conceptual terms, pseudo-objective

    motivation is a literary technique that an author uses for representing the common view

    in a work of narrative; that is, what appears to be an authorial utterance in narration is

    actually the presentation of a commonly held opinion by a given general population. On

    the surface, such an utterance looks like a comment by the narrator (and thus looks like

    1 See especially R. Polzin, Moses and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History. I.

    Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, repr., 1993 (1980)]; Polzin, Samuel

    and the Deuteronomist:1 Samuel [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, repr., 1993 (1989)]; Polzin,

    David and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History. III. 2 Samuel (Bloomington:

    Indiana University Press, 1993); D. T. Olson, The Book of Judges, in The New Interpreters Bible, vol. II

    (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998); B. Green, Mikhail Bakhtin and Biblical Scholarship: An Introduction

    (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000); Green, King Sauls Asking (Interfaces; Collegeville:

    Liturgical Press, 2003); Green, Enacting Imaginatively the Unthinkable: 1 Samuel 25 and the Story of

    Saul, BibInt 11 (2004) 1-23; C. Mandolfo, God in the Dock: Dialogic Tension in Psalms of Lament

    (JSOTSup 357; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001); C. Mitchell, The Dialogism of Chronicles, in

    The Chronicler as Author: Studies in Text and Texture (edited by M. P. Graham and S. L. McKenzie;

    JSOTSup 263; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999) 311-326. 2 Convenient summaries and bibliographies can be found in B. Green, How Are the Mighty Fallen? A

    Dialogical Study of King Saul in 1 Samuel (JSOTSup 365. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003); C. A. Newsom, The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); J. A. Barnet, Not the Righteous but Sinners: M. M. Bakhtins Theory of Aesthetics and Problem of Reader-Character Interaction in Matthews Gospel (JSNTSup 246; London/New York: T & T Clark, 2003); M. P. Knowles, What Was the Victim Wearing? Literary, Economic, and Social Contexts for the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Biblical Interpretation 12 (2004) 145-174; M. M. Caspi, Forgotten Meaning: Dialogized Hermeneutics and the Aqedah Narrative, Scandinavian Journal of the

    Old Testament 18 (2004) 93-107; C. Mandolfo, You Meant Evil Against Me: Dialogic Truth and the

    Character of Jacob in Josephs Story, JSOT 28 (2004) 449-465. 3 M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. M. Holquist (Austin: University of Texas

    Press, 1981) 301-422.

  • the implied authors opinion), but in fact it is the opposite: the viewpoint of the collective

    citizens. Instead of an authoritative utterance, there is actually a tension between the

    belief as stated and the authors actual opinion of the matter at hand. To one degree or

    another, Bakhtin writes, the author distances himself from this common language, he

    steps back and objectifies it, forcing his own intentions to refract and diffuse themselves

    through the medium of the common view that has become embodied in language (a view

    that is always superficial and frequently hypocritical).4 Of course, detecting pseudo-

    objective motivation requires discernment on the part of the reader, so as an illustration

    Bakhtin turns to Book 2, chapter 12 of Little Dorrit:

    Mr. Tite Barnacles view of the business was of a less airy character. He took it

    ill that Mr. Dorrit had troubled the Department by wanting to pay the money, and

    considered it a grossly informal thing to do after so many years. But Mr. Tite

    Barnacle was a buttoned-up man, and consequently a weighty one. All buttoned-

    up men are weighty. All buttoned-up men are believed in. Whether or no the

    reserved and never-exercised power of unbuttoning, fascinates mankind; whether

    or no wisdom is supposed to condense and augment when buttoned up, and to

    evaporate when unbuttoned; it is certain that the man to whom importance is

    accorded is the buttoned-up man. Mr. Tite Barnacle never would have passed for

    half his current value, unless his coat had been always buttoned-up to his white

    cravat.

    The context of this quotation from Little Dorrit is a grand dinner party at the home

    of the redoubtable financier, Mr. Merdle, a party that includes a number of very important

    members of the ineffable Circumlocution Office. In general, one gets the sense that

    Dickens is not overly fond of the likes of Mr. Merdle and Tite Barnacle. The line that

    Bakhtin isolates in this paragraph is, But Mr. Tite Barnacle was a buttoned-up man, and

    consequently a weighty one. Bakhtin places the adverb consequently in italics, and notes

    that this is an example of pseudo-objective motivation, one of the forms for concealing

    anothers speech in this example, the discourse of current opinion.5 He continues, If

    judged by the formal markers above, the logic motivating the sentence seems to belong to

    the author, i.e., he is formally at one with it; but in actual fact, the motivation lies within

    the subjective belief system of his characters, or of general opinion.6 Bakhtins next

    example from Little Dorrit (Book 2, chapter 13) features the collective voice contained

    in narrational speech:

    4 Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, 302.

    5 Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, 305. Even a surface reading of Little Dorrit reveals the possibilities of

    pseudo-objective motivation for satirically undermining the houses of Merdle and Barnacle. 6 Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, 305. Bakhtin further comments: Pseudo-objective motivation is

    generally characteristic of novel style, since it is one of the forms for concealing anothers speech in hybrid

    constructions. Subordinate conjunctions and link words (thus, because, for the reason that, in spite of,

    and so forth), as well as words used to maintain a logical sequence (therefore, consequently, etc.) lose

    their direct authorial intention, take on the flavor of someone elses language, become refracted or even

    completely reified (305). While responsibility for discerning pseudo-objective motivation falls on the

    reader, Bakhtin clearly is interested in establishing certain controls, and the thus the technique is not

    arbitrarily invoked.

  • As a vast fire will fill the air to a great distance with its roar, so the sacred flame

    which the mighty Barnacles had fanned caused the air to resound more and more

    with the name of Merdle. It was deposited on every lip, and carried into every ear.

    There never was, there never had been, there never again should be, such a man as

    Mr. Merdle. Nobody, as aforesaid, knew what he had done; but everybody knew

    him to be the greatest that had appeared.

    Again, Bakhtin places the final words of this paragraph in italics, and notes that

    this is an example of an epic, Homeric introduction (parodic, of course) into whose

    frame the crowds glorification of Merdle has been inserted (concealed speech of another

    in anothers language). This is followed, Bakhtin says, by direct authorial discourse;

    however, the author gives an objective tone to this aside by suggesting that everybody

    knew (the italicized portion). It is as if even the author himself did not doubt the fact.7

    For Bakhtin, then, there is clearly a difference between the authors view of a matter and

    the subjective belief-systems of a character or the crowd.8 The technique of pseudo-

    objective motivation allows the author to be distanced from a particular opinion (or

    conviction) while at the same time preserving the tension of a hybrid construction.

    Thus, two stories emerge: the story told by the narrator and the characters, and the second

    story of the author who speaks (albeit in a refracted way) by means of the whole: We

    puzzle out the authors emphases that overlie the subject of the story, while we puzzle out

    the story itself and the figure of the narrator as he is revealed in the process of telling his

    tale. If one fails to sense this secon