Study Guide

Mikhail Bakhtin Quotes

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Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction. [From Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics]

As you can see, I am not one to believe in absolutes. How can anyone person—or "voice," as I call it—be more right or truthful than another? Truth doesn't pop out of one person like Athena coming out of Zeus's head all full grown and armed to the teeth. Truth is created through exchanges between and among people who share words, argue, give opinions, and massage their ideas. People seeking truth come together in their searches and make conclusions by having a good healthy dialogue. Voilà—you have truth! (Though if you disagree, please let me know.)

Monologism, at its extreme, denies the existence outside itself of another consciousness with equal rights and equal responsibilities, another I with equal rights (thou). With a monologic approach (in its extreme pure form) another person remains wholly and merely an object of consciousness, and not another consciousness. No response is expected from it that could change anything in the world of my consciousness. Monologue is finalized and deaf to other's response, does not expect it and does not acknowledge in it any decisive force. Monologue manages without the other, and therefore to some degree materializes all reality. Monologue pretends to be the ultimate word. It closes down the represented world and represented persons. [From Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics]

Monologism is like listening to your iPod with one earphone. Well, not exactly, but I mean to say that it's very limiting—one-sided, to be precise. As I explain in this passage, monologism goes around acting like no one else's opinion matters and that one truth is worthy of just sitting there unquestioned, pretending like no other ideas exist. My belief is that there is no "I" without "you." We make meaning together and we become subjects together in that process.

Monologism is actually pretty disrespectful of anyone else's ideas and turns people (with all of their thoughts, ideas, and consciousness) into objects just cast aside like a pair of old underwear. Picture monologism like a three-year-old with her fingers in her ear, shouting "I'm not listening to you" over and over. Not too classy, eh?

Every utterance must be regarded as primarily a response to preceding utterances of the given sphere […]. Each utterance refutes affirms, supplements, and relies upon the others, presupposes them to be known, and somehow takes them into account […]. Therefore, each kind of utterance is filled with various kinds of responsive reactions to other utterances of the given sphere of speech communication. [From "The Problem of Speech Genres"]

Remember how the Bible says that "In the beginning was the Word?" Well, not to be disrespectful, but I don't believe that the word—or any one word— has a clear beginning like that. To me, every utterance (or saying or phrase) is a reaction to a previous utterance, which will result in another utterance, and so on and so forth. It's like one big echo chamber of utterances. So all of these utterances are swimming around in a big smoothie of language, bumping into each other, hugging, and giving each other piggyback rides. It's not all love, but it does respect and produce new ideas. No one utterance takes charge and gets to be boss.

There is neither a first nor last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and the boundless future). Even past meanings, that is, those born in the dialogue of past centuries, can never be stable (finalized, ended once and for all)—they will always change (be renewed) in the process of subsequent, future development of the dialogue. At any moment in the development of the dialogue there are immense, boundless masses of forgotten contextual meanings, but at certain moments of the dialogue's subsequent development along the way they are recalled and reinvigorated in renewed form (in a new context). [From "Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences"]

Not to beat a dead horse, but you can see that the multivoice thing is really a pet idea of mine. Remember that smoothie of utterances? Well, there will be no "cup runneth over" situation here because it's a smoothie with free refills! That's right—it will never get filled up with utterances. This limitless world of language extends way into the past and far into the future. And if you buy now you get unlimited quantity, and endless interpretability.

Don't bother trying to define everything that has been said or will be said. But let's say you tried—say, so you'd have something cool to write about on a statement of purpose because the whole Habitat for Humanity thing has been played out. As you went along trying to account for all of the meanings that have ever been expressed, you'd suddenly realize "By George, there's more!" But rather than being scared, you'd get really excited. Consider it a challenge.

Carnival is a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act… The laws, prohibitions, and restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary, that is noncarnival, life are suspended during carnival: what is suspended first is hierarchical structure and all the forms of terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with it… or any other form of inequality among people [From Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics]

Carnival isn't a night at the symphony; it's a romp in the mosh pit. Carnival is not a rock concert with huge bouncers wearing blue windbreakers that say "Security" on them; it's a rager where everyone is bouncing around. As I hope to make clear in this passage, carnival does not involve a stage and an audience. No, everyone is involved and everyone joins the party. Leave your penal codes at the door because we don't like rules and laws at the carnival; and we certainly don't have a boss, a leader, a hero, or a guru—or any of the domination that goes with having a chain of command. People may say we're rude and improper, but we're not looking to have tea and crumpets with the queen anyway. We're all equals here.

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