Digital Rhetoric
James P. Zappen

Rhetorical Theory 1b: Mikhail M. Bakhtin

A. Stalinist Monologue and Bakhtinian Dialogue

1. "[In the 1930s,] Soviet society was passing several milestones on the route of progressive Stalinization, including the centralization of all cultural institutions, the cult of personality, the heightened power of the secret police, the chauvinism, and the purges. Such trends necessarily alarmed someone of Bakhtin's basic assumptions and principles. But the institutions of Stalinism were by no means all that troubled him. He was most disturbed by what was happening to that key element in his philosophy, language. The official language had become homogenized and dominated all aspects of public life. Most literature and literary scholarship were mere subfunctions of the official rhetoric and myths. Official pronouncements were absolutely authoritative and final." (267)

2. "Thus, the rhetoric of Stalinism established a vertical ordering of reality, which was simplified to a binary contrast between everything ordinary and 'low,' on the one hand, and, on the other, everything different, extraordinary, and 'high.' Stalinist epistemology was a crude form of Neo-Platonism in which only the elect, specifically the leaders, had access to the higher order of reality.
   Bakhtin's response to Stalinism is organized around the dichotomy common to all his earlier writings, the distinction between official culture and the culture of the folk. In the case of Rabelais' world, the official culture was that of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, while the folk culture was that of the lower orders in the carnival and marketplace. The function of folk culture is not just to debunk authority figures and received notions, as a healthy antidote to the dullness and dryness of official culture. Folk humor amounts to considerably more than mere playful irreverence, for the folk assume willy-nilly the role of a bulwark against repression. The peculiarity of carnival laughter is its 'indissoluble and essential relation to freedom.'" (308)

Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, Mikhail Bakhtin (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1984), 267, 308.

3. "The Dostoevsky book also seems to have an implicit political agenda, which is anti-Marxist. Obviously, in the Soviet context such a view could not be expressed directly. But Bakhtin comes remarkably close to doing so in his lengthy attacks on 'dialectics' (in the Soviet Union, as every schoolchild knows, Marxism-Leninism is officially identified with dialectical materialism) . . . . Bakhtin also explicitly criticizes Hegelianism and utopianism, which are indeed permissible targets in the Soviet Union; but together with his critiques of dialectics, these passages triangulate the unnamed opponent, Marxism, to which we may draw 'dotted lines.'" (267)

Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1990), 267.

4. "The unified, dialectically evolving spirit, understood in Hegelian terms, can give rise to nothing but a philosophical monologue. And the soil of monistic idealism is the least likely place for a plurality of unmerged consciousnesses to blossom. In this sense the unified evolving spirit, even as an image, is organically alien to Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky's world is profoundly pluralistic . . . , while the image of a unified spirit is deeply alien to him." (26-27)

Mikhail [M.] Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson, Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 8 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 26-27.

5. "Dialogue and dialectics. Take a dialogue and remove the voices (the partitioning of voices), remove the intonations (emotional and individualizing ones), carve out abstract concepts and judgments from living words and responses, cram everything into one abstract consciousness—and that's how you get dialectics." (147)

M[ikhail]M. Bakhtin, "From Notes Made in 1970-71," in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, trans. Vern W. McGee, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, No. 8 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 147.

B. Bakhtin on Rhetoric, Utterance, Heteroglossia

1. "In rhetoric there is the unconditionally innocent and the unconditionally guilty; there is complete victory and destruction of the opponent. In dialogue the destruction of the opponent also destroys that very dialogic sphere where the word lives." (150)

M[ikhail] M. Bakhtin, "From Notes Made in 1970-71," in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, trans. Vern W. McGee, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, no. 8. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 150.

2. "Rhetorical genres ['the rhetoric of the courts,' 'political rhetoric,' 'publicist discourse'] possess the most varied forms for transmitting another's speech, and for the most part these are intensely dialogized forms . . . . [But] in most cases the double-voicedness of rhetoric is abstract and thus lends itself to formal, purely logical analysis of the ideas that are parceled out in voices, an analysis that then exhausts it." (353-54)

3. "Rhetorical genres possess the most varied forms for transmitting another's speech, and for the most part these are intensely dialogized forms." (354)

M[ikhail] M. Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel," in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, No. 1 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 353-54.

4. "The boundaries of each concrete utterance as a unit of speech communication are determined by a change of speaking subjects, that is, a change of speakers." (71)

5. "The sentence itself is not correlated directly or personally with the extraverbal context of reality (situation, setting, pre-history) or with the utterances of other speakers; this takes place only indirectly, through its entire surrounding context, that is, through the utterance as a whole." (73-74)

6. "Any utterance is a link in the chain of speech communication." (84)

M[ikhail] M. Bakhtin, "The Problem of Speech Genres," in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, trans. Vern W. McGee, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, No. 8 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 71, 73-74, 84.

7. "'Life is good.' 'Life is good.'" (183)

Mikhail [M.] Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson, Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 8 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 183.

8. "Bakhtin used the term dialogue in at least three distinct senses . . . . In Chapter One, we discussed dialogue as a global concept, as a view of truth and the world; we think of this as the third sense of dialogue. At present we are concerned with what we call the first sense of dialogue, according to which every utterance is by definition dialogic. Later in the present chapter, we will consider the second sense of dialogue, which allows some utterances to be dialogic and some to be nondialogic (or monologic)." (130-31)

Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 130-31.

9. "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 unifying language.
   Every utterance participates in the 'unitary language' (in its centripetal forces and tendencies) and at the same time partakes of social and historical heteroglossia (the centrifugal, stratifying forces)." (272)

10. "The living utterance, having taken meaning and shape at a particular historical moment in a socially specific environment, cannot fail to brush up against thousands of living dialogic threads, woven by socio-ideological consciousness around the given object of an utterance; it cannot fail to become an active participant in social dialogue." (276)

11. "The word in living conversation is directly, blatantly, oriented toward a future answer-word: it provokes an answer, anticipates it and structures itself in the answer's direction. Forming itself in an atmosphere of the already spoken, the word is at the same time determined by that which has not yet been said but which is needed and in fact anticipated by the answering word. Such is the situation in any living dialogue." (280)

12. "Thus at any given moment of its historical existence, language is heteroglot from top to bottom: it represents the co-existence of socio-ideological contradictions between the present and the past, between differing epochs of the past, between different socio-ideological groups in the present, between tendencies, schools, circles and so forth, all given a bodily form. These 'languages' of heteroglossia intersect each other in a variety of ways, forming new socially typifying 'languages.'" (291)

13. "For any individual consciousness living in it, language is not an abstract system of normative forms but rather a concrete heteroglot conception of the world. All words have the 'taste' of a profession, a genre, a tendency, a party, a particular work, a particular person, a generation, an age group, the day and hour." (293)

14. "Thus an illiterate peasant, miles away from any urban center, naively immersed in an unmoving and for him [or her] unshakable world, nevertheless lived in several language systems: he [or she] prayed to God in one language [Church Slavonic], sang songs in another, spoke to his [or her] family in a third and, when he [or she] began to dictate petitions to the local authorities through a scribe, he [or she] tried speaking yet a fourth language [the official-literate language, 'paper' language]. All these are different languages, even from the point of view of abstract socio-dialectological markers . . . . As soon as a critical interanimation of languages began to occur in the consciousness of our peasant, as soon as it became clear that these were not only various different languages but even internally variegated languages, that the ideological systems and approaches to the world that were indissolubly connected with these languages contradicted each other and in no way could live in peace and quiet with one another—then the inviolability and predetermined quality of these languages came to an end, and the necessity of actively choosing one's orientation among them began." (295-96)

M[ikhail] M. Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel," in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, No. 1 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 272, 276, 280, 291, 293, 295-96.

15. "The concept of 'dialogized heteroglossia' is often confused with the concept of heteroglossia, so it would be helpful to explore just what Bakhtln means when he says that languages may be dialogized. He clarifies his point by asking us to consider a hypothetical person, who probably could not exist: an illiterate peasant, for whom languages are not dialogized. We may imagine that this peasant uses several languages—prays to God in one, sings songs in another, speaks to his family in a third, and, when he needs to dictate petitions to the authorities, employs a scribe to write in a 'paper' language. Our hypothetical peasant employs each language at the appropriate time; his various languages are, as it were, automatically activated by these different contexts, and he does not dispute the adequacy of each language to its topic and task.
   By contrast, we may also imagine that another peasant is capable of regarding 'one language (and the verbal world corresponding to it) through the eyes of another language.' He may try to approach the language of everyday life through the language of prayer and song, or the reverse. When this happens, the value systems and worldviews in these languages come to interact; they 'interanimate' each other as they enter into dialogue. To the extent that this happens, it becomes more difficult to take for granted the value system of a given language. Those values may still be felt to be right and the language may still seem adequate to its topic, but not indisputably so, because they have been, however cautiously, disputed.
   In fact, this dialogizing of languages is always going on, and so when words attract tones and meanings from the languages of heteroglossia, they are often attracting already dialogized meanings. Having participated in more than one value system, these words become dialogized, disputed, and reaccented in yet another way as they encounter yet another." (143)

Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 143.

C. Bakhtin on Authoritative and Internally Persuasive Discourse

1. "The tendency to assimilate others' discourse takes on an even deeper and more basic significance in an individual's ideological becoming, in the most fundamental sense. Another's discourse performs here as no longer as information, directions, rules, models and so forth—but strives rather to determine the very bases of our ideological interrelations with the world, the very basis of our behavior; it performs here as authoritative discourse, and an internally persuasive discourse." (342)

2. "Both the authority of discourse and its internal persuasiveness may be united in a single word—one that is simultaneously authoritative and internally persuasive—despite the profound differences between these two categories of alien discourse. But such unity is rarely a given—it happens more frequently that an individual's becoming, an ideological process, is characterized precisely by a sharp gap between these two categories: in one, the authoritative word (religious, political, moral; the word of a father, of adults and of teachers, etc.) that does not know internal persuasiveness, in the other internally persuasive word that is denied all privilege, backed up by no authority at all, and is frequently not even acknowledged in society (not by public opinion, nor by scholarly norms, nor by criticism), not even in the legal code. The struggle and dialogic interrelationship of these categories of ideological discourse are what usually determine the history of an individual ideological consciousness." (342)

3. "When someone else's ideological discourse is internally persuasive for us and acknowledged by us, entirely different possibilities open up. Such discourse is of decisive significance in the evolution of an individual consciousness: consciousness awakens to independent ideological life precisely in a world of alien discourses surrounding it, and from which it cannot initially separate itself; the process of distinguishing between one's own and another's discourse, between one's own and another's thought, is activated rather late in development. When thought begins to work in an independent, experimenting and discriminating way, what first occurs is a separation between internally persuasive discourse and authoritarian enforced discourse, along with a rejection of those congeries of discourses that do not matter to us, that do not touch us." (345)

4. Internally persuasive discourse—as opposed to one that is externally authoritative—is, as it is affirmed through assimilation, tightly interwoven with 'one's own word.' In the everyday rounds of our consciousness, the internally persuasive word is half-ours and half-someone else's . . . . More than that, it enters into an intense interaction, a struggle with other internally persuasive discourses. Our ideological development is just such an intense struggle within us for hegemony among various available verbal and ideological points of view, approaches, directions and values. The semantic structure of an internally persuasive discourse is not finite, it is open; in each of the new contexts that dialogize it, this discourse is able to reveal ever newer ways to mean." (345-46)

M[ikhail] M. Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel," in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, No. 1 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 342, 345-46).

D. Bakhtin on Cultural Diversity

1. "A dialogic encounter of two cultures does not result in merging or mixing. Each retains its own unity and open totality, but they are mutually enriched." (7)

M[ikhail]M. Bakhtin, "Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff," in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, trans. Vern W. McGee, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, No. 8 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 7.

2. "What is the relationship between culturology and transculture? I call culturology the discipline that investigates the diversity of cultures and their common underlying principles. Transculture, however, is not just a field of knowledge; rather, it is a mode of being at the crossroads of cultures. A transcultural personality naturally seeks to free his or her native culture—be it Russian, Soviet, or any other—from self-definition and fetishism . . . . A culturologist is a 'universalist,' participating in a diversity of cultures. This presupposes some emotional openness and a scope of knowledge that can free a person from the limitations imposed by any particular cultural heritage. Transculture offers, moreover, a mentality capable of therapeutically benefiting those possessed by manias, phobias, and obsessions attendant upon their belonging to a specific cultural group." (296-97)

3.    "In the United States, the traditional emphasis that is placed on the rights and dignity of individuals naturally produces recognition of a variety of cultures proceeding from different nationalities, races, genders, ages, and so forth. Since the individual is the ultimate minority, it is logical that the individualistic and pluralistic tendencies in America support a multiplicity of separate and distinct minority cultures.
   On the other hand, the Russian philosophical tradition places a premium on wholeness, which has played a number of cruel tricks on the events of Russian history and spawned a political totalitarianism that ironically tried to envelop all of life into a single ideological principle. This consequence determined the specific boundaries of Soviet transculture in its attempt to attain a free multidimensional totality opposed to totalitarianism. Thus, the notion of transculture differs from American ideas with their acceptance of many separate and distinct cultures that may exist side by side without taking the slightest interest in one another." (301)

Mikhail N. Epstein, After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture, trans. Anesa Miller-Pogacar, Critical Perspectives on Modern Culture (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995), 296-97, 301.

E. Julia Kristeva on Intertextuality

1. Intertextuality. "Horizontal axis (subject-addressee) and vertical axis (text-context) coincide, bringing to light an important fact: each word (text) is an intersection of word (texts) where at least one other word (text) can be read. In Bakhtin's work, these two axes, which he calls dialogue and ambivalence, are not clearly distinguished. Yet, what appears as a lack of rigor is in fact an insight first introduced into literary theory by Bakhtin: any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another. The notion of intertextuality replaces that of intersubjectivity, and poetic language is read as at least double." (66)

Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), 66.

2. Transposition. "To these we must add a third 'process'—the passage from one sign system to another. To be sure, this process comes about through a combination of displacement and condensation, but this does not account for its total operation. It also involves an altering of the thetic [from the Greek thetos, 'placed'] position—the destruction of the old position and the formation of a new one. The new signifying system may be produced with the same signifying material; in language, for example, the passage may be made from narrative to text. Or it may be borrowed from different signifying materials: the transposition from a carnival scene to the written text, for instance. In this connection we examined the formation of a specific signifying system—the novel—as the result of a redistribution of several different sign systems: carnival, courtly poetry, scholastic discourse. The term inter-textuality denotes this transposition of one (or several) sign system(s) into another; but since this term has often been understood in the banal sense of 'study of sources,' we prefer the term transposition because it specifies that the passage from one signifying system to another demands a new articulation of the thetic —of enunciative and denotative positionality. If one grants that every signifying practice is a field of transpositions of various signifying systems (an inter-textuality), one then understands that its 'place' of enunciation and its denoted 'object' are never single, complete, and identical to themselves, but always plural, shattered, capable of being tabulated. In this way polysemy can also be seen as the result of a semiotic polyvalence—an adherence to different sign systems." (59-60)

Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984) 59-60.

3. "For Bakhtin, 'language for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else's.' The word becomes one's own through an act of 'appropriation,' which means that it is never wholly one's own, is always already permeated with traces of other words, other uses. This vision of language is what Kristeva highlights in her new term, intertextuality, and it brings us back to the issues of double-voiced discourse and speech genres, an area which in essays such as 'Discourse in the Novel' is given a new definition through the concept of heteroglossia. Given that hetero stems from the Greek word meaning 'other' and that glot stems from the Greek for 'tongue' or 'voice,' we can define heteroglossia as language's ability to contain within it many voices, one's own and other voices." (28-29)

Graham Allen, Intertextuality. New Critical Idiom (London: Routledge, 2000), 28-29.

4. Illustration: Introducing the Book

BoreMe:  http://www.boreme.com/boreme/funny-2007/introducing-the-book-p1.php
YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/ (Please search Introducing the Book.)

Latest Update: 2011-09-04


Valid CSS!     Valid XHTML 1.0!