MIKHAIL BAKHTIN by Katerina & Michael Holquist Clark

MIKHAIL BAKHTIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Most readers will be surprised to hear that Mikhail Bakhtin, who died in Moscow in 1975 at the age of 80, ""is emerging as one of the major thinkers of the twentieth century."" And a list of Bakhtin's chief works translated into English--Dostoevsky's Poetics, The Dialogic Imagination, Rabelais and His World--only hints at what's going on. But Clark and Holquist, who have translated Bakhtin and publicized him in academic circles, are close to the mark in comparing him to our own Kenneth Burke. Like Burke, Bakhtin is tough to categorize--either by scholarly field or intellectual fad. Philosophy, linguistics, and literary criticism are just parts of what he weaves together. The connecting thread is the idea of dialogue--where the concept of language as both preexisting structure-of-meaning and specific instance-of-meaning comes together with the centrality of self/other relations to form a conception of knowledge, language, and history that is always open: meaning is constantly being made and made over. These ideas--some of which anticipated Heidegger, Sartre, and other fixtures in the 20th-century pantheon--were slow in coming to light. Clark and Holquist follow Bakhtin's life as an itinerant thinker, not an activist--who is seen moving from one ""circle"" to another where brainy people drink tea, smoke, and talk about big things. But though he stuck to his desk, Bakhtin got into trouble for belonging to a religious group that was suppressed in Stalin's early years, and he was arrested and sent into exile in Kazakhstan. (At age 35, he had published little under his own name and had been unable to obtain a teaching position.) His subsequent life consisted of writing, some teaching, and other undramatic doings; but he was suddenly discovered in the 1960s by a group of younger Soviet literary intellectuals, and by the end of his life was something of a renowned figure. In the West, his reputation has been building with the publication of his works, though the piecemeal nature of that publication had made it difficult for critics to place him. This study may make that a little easier, but Bakhtin's life was so resolutely intellectual that it's unlikely to speed up the Bakhtin movement. His books will have to do that themselves.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0674574176
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press