Bakhtinian Theory

Texts reflect culture; to know the text, you must know the language. Texts are also reflection of cultural history. Literature is privileged in this space.

Reflexivity: Bakhtin is ambivalent about reflexivity. Used properly, can liberate us from bad theory. Used poorly, it becomes the foundation for bad theory. Bakhtin thinks Saussure has used reflexivity poorly; he believes Saussure missed the actual purpose of language. A synchronic/objective view of language is fiction; if you did observe a language omnisciently you would see only consistent changes.

The Bakhtin Reader: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, Voloshinov. pp. 25-37.

Summary: In this section, Bakhtin takes up Saussurian linguistics, specifically the idea that langue, or the system of language, exists abstractly. In fact, Bakhtin argues that the system of language is diachronic and only seen through parole, or creative, individual utterances. These utterances when put next to other utterance help shape meaning and help shape the structure. It’s through this method of examination or abstractionism that language can be codified into a system. Speakers aren’t conscious of this system but use it fluently and creatively. To understand the meaning of utterances you most contextualize its use. Deviations in parole help expose underlying norms and conventions in the system. The speaker of language does not see it’s language as a normative system. The role of the speaker is to figure out how to use the norms they do know in new contexts. Language is perpetually adaptable and language is a tool for connecting to new context and constituting and reconstituting social relationships.

Speech Genres and other late essays. “The Problem of Speech Genres.” pp. 60-102.

Summary: Bakhtin/Voloshinov often takes issue with Saussure’s missing social component.

Speech genres: the sphere in which language is used that develops its own relatively stable types of these utterances- 60; innumerable amounts of speech genres because human activity is endless; heterogeneity.

Genres correspond to communicative events of daily life. Activities, professions, social groups all have ways of speaking. Your sphere of activity helps determine genre and activate speech.

Speakers think their speech is monological and will often misrecognize their own heteroglossia. Monologic means that language is coming from a single source (i.e poetry). Heteroglossia can be defined as all the forms of speech of rhetoric used in the daily life. Genre then organizes the heteroglossia and participant structure. Framing for Goffman is stricter than Bakhtin’s genre because he works under a different model (dyadic speaker hearer model, same as Roman Jacobson).

There are primary (simple) and secondary (complex) speech genres; primary genres include greetings while secondary genres are novels (62). The primary genres get absorbed and digested into the secondary (embedded in larger narratives and organization) and dissolution us to reality.

Different genres imagine different audiences. This helps create stability for genres. It promotes cohesiveness and manageable predictability. Genre reflexively differentiates itself from other genres. Heteroglossia hinges on reflexivity.

  • 64- language or functional styles- inseparable link b/t style and genre
    • ex. state of union address; it’s a genre and a codified genre
    • more literary genres take on their own stylstics

65- historical changes in language style are inseparably linked to changes in speech genres; 66 individuals and general language styles govern SG. (One could use speech genres to track social changes at that specific time period.)

71- genre acts as a packaging principle for utterance; boundary exists in the speakers; the utterance ends in the change in speaking subjects

78- The forms of language and the typical forms of utterances, that is, speech genres, enter our experience and our consciousness together, and in close connection with one another.

  • 79- language forms are normative; speech genres are diverse.
  • utterance in a single word and up to a novel: ex racial slur, speech can be explained in terms of ideology
    • how language works to stimulate a response

80- creative genres of oral speech communication; the better our command of genres, the more freely we employ them (and how do we learn to command them?); formal, mandatory national utterance

  • ignoring speech genres leads to confusion between utterance and sentence-81
  • 84- any utterance is a link in the chain of speech communion (93); expressive aspect- emotional evaluation ; no such thing as neutral utterance
  • 88- words of a language belong to no one; which is why its continuous interaction with others individual utterances; 93- a speech is not the first time the subject has been a topic; the utterance is connected to the before and after sequences- 94
  • 93- links between utterances can be close or distant
  • 95- the active response: “I try to act in accordance with the response I anticipate, so this anticipated response, in turn, exerts an active influence on my utterance”
  • 96- thinking about the audience/addressee and their reaction multifaceted.

The Problem of the text in linguistics

  • 103- interpretation; the text as utterance- 104; 105- two poles: text is language and text is linked with other texts
  • 106- life of text develops on the boundary between two consciousness, two subjects; human act is potential text and understood in dialogic context-107; science CAN deal with the individuality- 108
    • because: In the first place, every science begins with unrepeatable single phenomena, and science continues to be linked with them throughout. In the second place, science, and above all philosophy, can and should study the specific form and function of this individuality.
  • 110- double voicedness; 113- text point of departure; 115- author of literary work creates a unified speech work (an utterance) but he creates it from heterogeneous utterance. 116- author cannot be separated from the images/characters since he is in them.
  • 118- Linguistics studies only the relationships among elements within the language system, not the relationships among utterances and not the relations of utterances to reality and to the speaker (author).
  • 120- what is given versus what is created
  • basic unit is between peoeple
  • 126-  in addition to this addressee ( the second party), the author of the utterance, with a greater or lesser awareness, presupposes a higher superaddressee (third), whose absolutely just responsive understanding is presumed, either in some metaphysical distance or in distant historical time (the loophole addressee)

Ruptures of genres from one to another that is hegemonic; you still are in relation with other conversations: activism, rights, identity, points of tensions. Rupture from one genre to move to another and if it is taken up why or how and if it’s not, why or how or who is taken it up and why or why isn’t and why in terms of language, representations, economic relativism.

Bakhtin, M. 1981. Discourse in the novel In The Dialogical Imagination. pp. 259-300.

Heteroglossia = centrifugal (separate); multiplicity of languages operating in a culture. Different rhetorical devices.
Monologic = centripetal (united); language that seems to come from a unified source. Homogeneity like a national language.

Centripetal pushes things to a central point; centrifgual pushes them out and away in different directions. Every utterance serves as a centrifugal and centripetal point; utterances hail a listener; it anticipates a response from others.

While a work of poetry, according to Bakhtin, usually offers a single language and style throughout, novels are a phenomenon multiform in style and variform in speech and voice, (261) hence novels can be understood as consisting of ―several heterogeneous stylistic unities, often located on different linguistic levels and subject to different stylistic controls‖ (261). The novel is diversity of social speech types (262).

  • Novels, Bakhtin contends, follow five basic linguistic or compositional styles:
    • 1. Direct authorial narration.
    • 2. Everyday, common, narration.
    • 3. Literary or written narrations (such as diary entries and letters between characters).
    • 4. Extra-artistic authorial speech‖ (262), such as scientific or philosophical presentations.
    • 5. The individual speech of different characters.

These heterogeneous stylistic unities, upon entering the novel combine to form a structured artistic system, and are subordinated to the higher stylistic unity of the work as a whole (262). The essence and uniqueness of the novel, Bakhtin asserts, comes from the combination of different styles, voices, viewpoints and philosophies that the novel is capable of presenting

267- Novel as a work of rhetoric; hence the principles of rhetoric and linguistics should be applied to novels in order to properly critique and understand them
269- novelistic discourse is not poetic discourse (monologic utterance)

  • Speech act//performative utterance 272
    • Every concrete utterance of a speaking subject serves as a point where centrifugal as well as centripetal forces are brought to bear. The processes of centralization and decentralization, of unification and disunification, intersect in the utterance; the utterance not only answers the requirements of its own language as an individualized embodiment of a speech act, but it answers the requirements of heteroglossia as well; it is in fact an active participant in such speech diversity. And this active participation of every utterance in living heteroglossia determines the linguistic profile and style of the utterance to no less a degree than its inclusion in any normative-centralizing system of a unitary language.

Hetero (Russian: razno): varied, different, split; gloss/speech: language as spoken and manifested, colloquial, non-standardized. [Schizo-lexism]

273- verbal-ideological life of the nation and the epoch

275- The dialogic orientation of a word among other words (of all kinds and degrees of otherness) creates new and significant artistic potential in discourse, creates the potential for a distinctive art of prose, which has found its fullest and deepest expression in the novel.

Today, we cannot utter something that hasn’t already been uttered

  • 279- Only the mythical Adam, who approached a virginal and as yet verbally unqualified world with the first word, could really have escaped from start to finish this dialogic inter-orientation with the alien word that occurs in the object. Concrete historical human discourse does not have this privilege: it can deviate from such interorientation only on a conditional basis and only to a certain degree.

All our utterances can be understand against the background (context) of language (281). This background of language feeds into the belief system of the reader and the discourse is thus understood based on its cultural and ideological understanding (283). Discourse lives in its context (284). Social life and history each connect to a unitary national language which becomes bound with ideology and social belief systems (288). Thus, genre is shared amongst speakers and these features of languages can be knit together and be intelligible to one another (289)


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