Study Guide

Mikhail Bakhtin Biography

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Basic Information


Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin


Carny, Clown Lover, The Body, The Liberator, Man of the People


Male Body—complete with reproductive organs and the ability to eat, drink, and defecate

Home town

I was born in Oryol in Southern Russia (good luck finding that one on a map!). But my dad's job (state bank official) required moving around, so I found myself in other cities, like Orel, Vilnius, and Odessa. As a child, I lived the sweet life. Yeah, I'm pretty fancy.

When I grew, up I wanted to live off the grid, so I usually took up residence in more remote places.

Work & Education


Given a choice, I would have hung out with intellectuals and discussed the role of social reality in art and language all day. But you gotta bring home the bacon, right? Because I had all manner of illnesses (i.e., osteomyelitis—inflammation and destruction of bone tissue, as painful as it sounds), I often had to eke by with a small medical pension. During times when I was under the weather, I just wrote as much as I could about how language serves as a sociological force.

Let's just say I had a lot of jobs. I've been an accountant in a government office, trained workers in clerical skills, and taught at the Mordovian Pedagogical Institute. So please don't complain to me if you don't like your job as a barista, okay?


I had a pretty top-notch education, I must say. Our German governess gave me and my brother Nikolai Greek lessons, and I went to Russian-ruled schools. At the University of Odessa, I studied philology (the study of literature and language). And like any good hyperintellectual, I went through books like a beaver through trees.

Don't give me any of those "easy listening" philosophers, though. I like my thinkers to be radical—like German  philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. I capped my education in 1940 when I polished up a dissertation on the 16th-century French satirist Francois Rabelais. I published like a maniac for much of my later life, all through a leg amputation, emphysema, and osteomyelitis.

No excuses for me. I just worked through the pain. Literally.


Political views

Sure, I loved the spirit of revolutionary change. But when the Russian Revolution got real in 1917, I stayed in school while my bro went off to fight for the White Army, which supported Russian royalists against Bolshevik revolutionaries. I wasn't out there taking up arms with communists or monarchists, like most people. Political revolution just wasn't my cup of tea. But I did hang out with a bunch of kooky leftist artists and loved the idea of taking art to the streets.

Plenty of critics still manage to interpret my work for political purposes. Why? Because I constantly thought about how we can gain even more personal and political liberty in this crazy, oppressive world, even if it's through the clever and covert messages of art. Here's the thing, though: in the Soviet Union, you didn't even need to be political to be seen as political—so I told my friends to keep their noses clean and discover themselves outside of political consciousness. Yo.

Actually, before you read on, you should know that Joseph Stalin led the Bolshevik Revolutionaries in the Russian Revolution of 1917. He's up there with Hitler in terms of the whole evil and murderous dictator thing. He became leader of the Soviet Union in 1924 (following Lenin—no, not the guy from the Beatles). He had slave labor camps (gulags) and coordinated the Great Terror in the 1930s, where he "purged" enemies, exiling, executing, and shipping 'em off to gulags.

Bottom line: I was not living in an era of peace and prosperity.

Religious views

This is where things get a little sticky. See, in 1929, I was just hanging out with my peeps, a little group of intellectuals I liked to modestly called the "Bakhtin Circle." Apparently the Soviet bosses didn't take a liking to my Christian religious practices. (Yeah, all expressions of religion had been banned in the Soviet Union.) They claimed I was mixed up with the Russian Orthodox Church's underground movement.

Eventually, I was sentenced without so much as a trial and packed off for ten years of exile in Siberia. I am not making this up. I wasn't exactly in fighting shape, so it was looking like lights out for me. Thankfully, I was saved by the Commissar on Enlightenment, who reduced my sentence to six years in Kazakhstan. Thank God—literally!

Activities & Interests


The People
Moral philosophy
Literary freedom
Social life
Global dialogue
Strong tea


Joseph Stalin
Being in exile :(
Heavy-handed authors
Political action (couldn't deal)
The elite and all of their little ways
Biographies and autobiographies
Getting all theoretical—unless it's me
Norms and taboos


The Bakhtin Circle
The Carnivalesque
The Grotesque


Russian Formalists
The Aesthetics
People for the Voice of the People
The Dialogists
The Grotesques

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