Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 12-13 (Jan-June 1987) p. 109.


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Western Interpretations of Bakhtin

Rashmi Doraiswamy

DISCOVERIES and re-discoveries of the past are always inscribed in the context of the present and are significant for the present.

Structuralism 'rediscovered' Russian Formalism (the main contribution to the migration of Formalist theories from the Soviet Union to Prague, Western Europe and the USA being that of Roman Jakobson's). If both Formalism and Structuralism depended methodologically to a large extent on Ferdinand de Saussure's distinction between tongue and parole, and was, to put it briefly and schematically, concerned mainly with the relationship between signifiers in a given text and the formulation of a langue of literary narrative, folk tales, myths, etc., post-stucturalism's main concern was with the process and play of signification. What better discovery then, in the post-structuralist context, than that of Mikhail Bakhtin, who in the 1920s had not only formulated a critique of Formalism, but had offered a critique of Saussure, whose linguistic theory has formed the model for almost all domains of the human sciences in the twentieth century? Though reference to the works of the Bakhtin circle' existed in the West as early as the 1950s, and translations of their works appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was only in the context of the post-structuralist situation in the West that a widespread interest was evoked. This also coincided with the rehabilitation and publication of works by the Bakhtin circle in the Soviet U^iion.

The similarity of concerns and of a general philosophic context is striking :

briefly, an overriding interest in the human sciences, with Man as Homo significans and the problematic of the other at the level of the individual (conscious-unconscious) and at the level of the social system (operating on an axis of power-repression); the contexts of Marxism and the collapse of classical Western philosophy, mainly that of the dichotomous subject-object categories;

the formation of what has come to be known as the 'non-idealist problematic since Nietzsche; the notion of the originating-founding subject in phenomenol-

Journal of Arts & ideas 109


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