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7 - Bakhtin, the problem of knowledge, and literary studies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2011

Michael F. Bernard-Donals
Affiliation:
University of Missouri, Columbia
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Summary

There are two versions of Mikhail Bakhtin current in the literary academic community, and these two versions suggest, in microcosm, divisions within that community itself. The first version is the phenomenological Bakhtin. This is the theorist whose Art and answerability essays suggest that the grounding for all language theory is the sharedness of linguistic material, and the creation of selves that is possible only through such sharedness. The creation of the self depends upon individuals interacting with various “others” in exchanges of linguistic material. This process is lengthy, complex, and indeterminate, since the exchange is marked by unique time and space coordinates. This boundlessness of context makes literary criticism virtually impossible (or, at the very least, it makes reading and the interpretation of texts an endless task), since any single interpretation can be agreed upon or rejected based upon the language-background of the person with whom one is conversing. According to those like Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish and (to some extent) Don Bialostosky, this richness itself makes literary criticism a worthwhile enterprise: if you do not foreclose meaning, and since the creation of texts and readings of texts is largely the work of individual readers (from within their communities), then what we do in reading, writing and interpreting texts is liberatory since it allows us to imagine different contexts for our lives, and place ourselves into a “lived relation” with those contexts.

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Mikhail Bakhtin
Between Phenomenology and Marxism
, pp. 159 - 178
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1995

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