Thursday, January 27, 2022

Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, Chapter 1


Mikhail Bakhtin (1984 [1963]), Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Translated and edited by Caryl Emerson. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Summary of Chapter 1: Dostoevsky's Polyphonic Novel and Its Treatment in Critical Literature

In this first chapter, Bakhtin mostly responds to various other authors who have written about Dostoevsky, pointing out what they have properly understood, or more typically misunderstood about Dostoevsky. Through this interaction Bakhtin gives some insights into the character of polyphony as he will describe it, and some other useful insights into the difference between dialogue and dialectics. Hopefully his actual explication of his reading of Dostoevsky will be given more and clearer detail in later chapters (for example, in this chapter he makes assertions about Dostoevsky without reference to specific passages).

One of the most interesting exchanges is with some other theorists who link Dostoevsky to capitalism and the capitalist [or modern, "all that is solid becomes air" etc.] perspective. This of course links Bakhtin's polyphony to a range of other arguments – from Latour's We Have Never Been Modern to Brand's discussion of the flaneur. In contrast to these other critics, Bakhtin insists that the polyphonic novel will outlive capitalism --- though it remains to be seen what he means by that, or whether he will give an account of just why he believes it to be revolutionary. He also notes that the polyphonic novel arises in an experience of crisis/contradiction [a la critique in Gramsci] and notes that Dostoevsky's main characters are social wanderers, déclassé intellectuals. There is also a line about how his characters could all be authors.


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