Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 9 (Oct-Dec 1984) p. 65.


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Mikhail Bakhtin:

The Politics of Language and Genre

Badri Raina

ALTHOUGH Mikhail Bakhtin's work dates from the 1920s, it is only with the publication in 1981 of The Dialogical Imagination [originally as four essays in Voprosy literatury i estetiki, Moscow, 1975] that Bakhtin has become an important new factor in the debate on cultural production and critical theory.1 Western scholarship is busily catching up with him, although book-length studies are not yet numerous.2 Much of this catching-up has to do with a readjustment and relocation of positions with respect of language/meaning, form/signification, genre/interpretationópositions that are handed down both from structural linguistics [and structural theorization generally], and from post-structuralist extensions and reversals of structuralism at various points. Within the Marxist theory also, Bakhtin has caused a revision of aesthetic postulations that held ground between the 1930s and the 1970s [Lukacs to Goldmann].

It is obvious at first sight itself that to the interested third-world practitioner of criticism/evaluationódt least to a sect, one that will hopefully grow and prosperóBakhtin offers very welcome new ground after the historically less appropriatable [in fact, historically alienating} tendencies of structuralist and post-structuralist thought, even after one has counted the value of their critique of earlier critical practices [such as of Formalism and American New Criticism]. For a start, Bakhtin's great strength seems his avowal everywhere that the shaping of experience into specific language styles and genres is essentially a process of the transformation of lived control-mechanisms into aesthetics. Rooting himself openly in a matrix of the ideologies of the historically neglected, Bakhtin is well-placed to dethrone the particular mediations of other ideologies and

Journal of Arts and Ideas 65


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