Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin

[Bakthin was all the rage, and his work justly influential, when I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s. When I was in the used book business, his books were scarce and therefore easily saleable. I include him here because I myself found Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics a fascinating book, but also because Bakthin was part of a circle of intellectuals in the Soviet Union that included the educational theorist Lev Vygotsky.]

Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhailovich: (1895-1975) Russian philosopher and literary critic. In 1929, Bakhtin was sentenced to six years’ exile in Kazakhstan and subsequently sought obscurity to hide from Stalin’s purges. Bakhtin introduced the notion of novelistic discourse as distinct from poetry; he characterized it as inherently ‘dialogical’ and open-ended, with potentially parodic and surprising features. His work began to be will-received in the 1950s, and he published Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1929; 2nd ed 1963; tr 1984) and Rabelais and His World (1965; tr 1968). Bakhtin might have also been the author of the more ostensibly Marxist works of Voloshinov (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, 1929; tr 1973) and Medvedev (The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship, 1928; tr 1978). Bakhtin’s ideas about dialogue were also developed in ethical discussions of aesthetics in Art and Answerability (tr 1990). His concept of the “carnivalesque,” a disruptive and parodic genre of social behavior, is notorious.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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