Literature and Theatre

The book acquires a new resonance in the intellectual context which they played a part in creating, for they were distinguished, then as now, by their insistence on placing Bakhtin in a larger intellectual world and probing his weaknesses. Rather than take Bakhtin's worship of the public festive culture at face value, Wills showed that concepts of publicity and privacy were shaped by the facts of gender difference, such that women writers might find gestures towards privacy, in form and content, more politically compelling than the simple act of going public. David Shepherd's discussion of Bakhtin and theories of reading was one of the first to put Bakhtin where he belongs: in the middle of an ongoing intellectual debate, where at best he might assume the role of primus, or even secondus inter pares. The final two chapters of the book focus on the status of the body and embodiment in Bakhtin, a strikingly proleptic theme in 1989, but here treated with a care and shrewdness usually missing from analyses on this topic. The thesis that Bakhtin's work consists of a sociological outside and a philosophical or theological inside is one such forcing apart. It reduces the ambiguities by insisting that the philosophical meaning of each term (dialogism, responsibility, chronotope) is the real one and the historical derivation of it mere window dressing for the Soviet censor.

Tony Crowley

One of the most remarkable facts about the history of the language as a field of academic research in recent years has been its tenacious resistance to modem theoretical work. For major theorists, Bakhtin's work has been resolutely ignored in the history of the language, despite the fact that this work seems to offer a number of crucial insights which open up new directions in the field. If dialogism-monologism are key themes in Bakhtin's work in general, then monoglossia, polyglossia, and heteroglossia would seem to have particular importance for the history of the language. His theoretical and historical treatment of forms of discourse appears to provide the foundations for bridging the gap between the internal and external approaches - or for exposing the division as theoretically untenable and regressive. This chapter considers the relevance of Bakhtin to the field of study entitled the history of the language.

in Bakhtin and Cultural Theory
David Shepherd

The purpose of this chapter is a two-fold and modest one: to pinpoint those aspects of Bakhtin's work which seem most relevant and useful to a reader-oriented project, and to place these aspects alongside and against some of the best known reader-oriented theories, illuminating their aporias and indicating possible new directions. A simple opposition of determinacy and indeterminacy is ultimately inadequate as a means of theorising this immensely complex position. As for the reader/critic who engages in this activity, for Bakhtin the most important thing is the concrete social and historical milieu in which s/he operates. The alternative to the reader-as-textual-function criticised by Bakhtin is to be found in one of the disputed texts of the 1920s. Although it refers specifically to Formalist theories of the nature of sound in poetry, the following passage from Medvedev/Bakhtin's The Formal Method possesses much broader significance for the general problem of readership.

in Bakhtin and Cultural Theory
Ken Hirschkop

For the peoples of the former Soviet Union had no opportunity to bask in their fearlessness: they found out there were all sorts of new things to be scared of once they had thrown off their Communist shackles - unemployment, gang warfare, homelessness, rampant inflation, the collapse of a welfare system. Bakhtin's brilliant insight is to see that responsibility in a world like modern Europe will not flow from even the most delicately framed legal procedures. It will depend in the final analysis on a sense of connection to historical change embodied in particular kinds of narrative, which he calls novels. An 'orientation to the future' maintained by an isolated I breeds only anxiety, but an 'orientation to an historical future', one that involves the 'foundations of the world', comes about through specific cultural forms, themselves the fruit of a long and complex history.

in Bakhtin and Cultural Theory
Terry Eagleton

Few modern critical concepts have proved more fertile and suggestive, more productively polymorphous, than the Bakhtinian notion of carnival. Indeed incongruity becomes in Schopenhauer's hands the basis for a full-blown theory of comedy which is not without relevance to the work of Bakhtin. If humour and hopelessness lie so close together, it is because human existence for Schopenhauer is less grand tragedy than squalid farce. Schopenhauer certainly believed in a common human condition; it is just that he also believed that this was the problem, not the answer. It may be that, as a concept, carnival has fought its way through the demystifying pessimism of a Schopenhauer and the dialectical ambivalences of a Kundera, to emerge somewhere on the other side; but this is a hypothesis to be demonstrated rather than assumed.

in Bakhtin and Cultural Theory
Robert Venturi

There was no promotion of postmodernism in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, published in 1966. The revivalism characteristic of postmodernism cannot, in the author's view, be derived from Complexity and Contradiction. Postmodernism, as a style involving historical revivalism, was engaged with symbolism in architecture, while Complexity and Contradiction was essentially about form in architecture. The issue here is the fundamental relevance of iconography in architecture - symbolic, graphic, informative, persuasive/didactic iconography that embraces a human dimension that was lost in twentieth-century modern architecture and is lost once again in revival modernism where abstract-expressionist form predominates. The unacknowledged industrial symbolism that accompanies modern formalism is as historical now as the symbolic classical vocabulary of Renaissance architecture would be now. Everyone except architects and critics knows we are in the Post-Industrial Age.

in Postmodernism. What Moment?
Abstract only
The politics of Venus and Adonis
Richard Wilson

Venus and Adonis was Shakespeare's most instantaneous success, with sixteen editions printed before 1640, yet the earliest recorded commentary on the poem was one of bitter disappointment. Robert Southwell's dismissal of Venus and Adonis as a 'pagan toy' has been ignored by almost all Shakespeareans, and this may be because the implications are sensational. Venus and Adonis conceals politics beneath erotics; yet behind the false facade of a pornographic narrative the text discloses its topicality as nothing less than a 'Bloody Question' of loyalty or betrayal. Venus and Adonis is more topical than even Hughes supposed, because it presents the 'Bloody Question' confronting Shakespeare's generation as a catastrophic ultimatum not from some 'Goddess of Complete Being' but from a Queen of Hell. Though Southwell conceded that he went to death like one of 'God Almighty's fools', the playwright understood better than the priest the 'Bloody Question' of loyalty and treason.

in Secret Shakespeare
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Self and Other in Bakhtin, Sartre and Barthes
Ann Jefferson

Indeed Sartre and Barthes both explicitly disown such a body, and they do so in the first instance because it does not correspond to the form in which human subjects actually experience their own bodies. In this chapter Bakhtin sees life largely in terms of the literary metaphors of 'author' and 'hero'. The relations between self and Other are viewed as equivalent to those between hero and author. This is because the self is always 'authored' or created by the Other/author (the near-homophony in English is a nice bonus for Bakhtin's association of the two terms). Like Sartre, Barthes is exquisitely sensitive to the hold that the Other has over the subject through his ability to represent the body of the subject. Barthes paradoxically pays the price of a dramatic reduction in the scope of the arena in which the battles are now fought and won.

in Bakhtin and Cultural Theory
Beauvoir on autonomous agency and women's embodiment
Catriona Mackenzie

The author shows how Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex Beauvoir's analysis of woman's situation simultaneously uses, is limited by, and reveals the limitations of, some of the philosophical presuppositions from which she begins. The chapter shows how her account of the way in which oppression structures the psyches and the bodies of women, is both constrained by and calls into question the account of autonomous agency, derived from themes in the work of Hegel and Sartre, which also provides the philosophical perspective from which she develops her analysis of oppression. It situates Beauvoir's analysis of sexual oppression in the context of her broader ethical concerns, through a reading of the interconnections between The Second Sex and The Ethics of Ambiguity. The author develops the argument that there is a tension between Beauvoir's ethical concerns, in particular her account of autonomous agency, and her characterisation of women's embodiment.

in Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex
New interdisciplinary essays

This book establishes the basic proposals of the Origin, which constitute the opening phase. In both structural and linguistic terms, 'difficulty' becomes the dominant principle in Darwin's negotiation of the relationship in the text between self-criticism and assertion. The book explores the profound awareness on Darwin's part of the lack of a coherent genetic theory upon which to predicate the mechanism of natural selection. 'Difficulties on Theory' then initiates that process of extensive questioning which has led Fleming to speak of Darwin's unsurpassed 'instinct for truth-telling': 'has there ever been another scientist who included in his great book all the arguments against it that he could ever think of?' The book outlines these main 'difficulties' and then proceeds to confront two of them, the absence of visible transitional forms in nature and the origin and development of common organs in creatures of widely different habit. It focuses on taxonomy via the 'Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings' serves as an important reminder that the whole structure of the Origin might be viewed as a debate around human systems of classification as much as an attempt to give unmediated access to the true principles of development in organic life. The 'ingenious' Darwin, subtly aware of the linguistic balancing acts necessary for the representation of a highly speculative theory in the terms of empirical method and observation, is an important aid to our understanding of the particular form of the Origin.