Saturday, January 29, 2022

Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, Chapter 3

Summary of Chapter 3: The Idea in Dostoevsky

This chapter concerns Dostoevsky's use of "ideas" in his novels, and how this differs from their treatment in monologic novels. Dostoevsky was interested in being an "artist of the idea" and always has some idea which is the central motivation for each novel; however, he does not impose this monologically on his novel, but instead sets it in conversation with other ideas, other voices; it is only in this way that an idea can become "full" or "fully realized" or something like that. Dostoevsky's heroes are also "ideologues" who engage in commentary and explication of ideas through their engagement with the world and other characters/voices. There is a link between this engagement and the "confessional discourse" and self-consciousness of the characters: this provides a link between dialogicity as articulation, and as subjectification. 

In the "monologic world" of a monologic text, thoughts can only be affirmed or denied. The dialogic approach does neither of these, but instead has a third way. Bakhtin traces the history of modern monologism with the growth of rationalism [and thus of the abstract subject]. A monologic author expresses directly their own view, but represents others (or perhaps does not even fully represent them; anyway “representation,” meaning a fixed image, is monologic not dialogic, and subordinates the ideas and voices of the others to the control of the author). In the dialogic novel, in contrast, there is an unfinalizability of characters, and a plurality of independent "voice-ideas" which the hero or the author is able to hear and interact with.

Another key concept is the "form-shaping ideology" or "form-shaping worldview" which governs how ideas and interactions work and are depicted in his novels. "Dostoevsky's form-shaping ideology lacks those two basic elements upon which any ideology is built: the separate thought, and a unified world of objects giving rise to a system of thoughts"(93). [So it both is, and isn’t, an “ideology?”] This is a fairly direct contrast to the way statements and discourses work in (for example) Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge, and in Deleuze's book about it. Bakhtin instead focuses on the "position of a personality," which could presumably be equated with subject position. [Perhaps it could be argued that this is more like the more bottom-up approach which Foucault subsequently took up after the archaeology of knowledge]. Actually it seems like Bakhtin is saying that Dostoevsky focuses on the "integral points of view" of integral personalities, rather than on statements/utterances (like both Foucault and Volosinov), so Bakhtin's point here might not be as radical as he thinks it is. 

Dostoevsky (or his heroes) "thinks in voices," and moves in a "labyrinth of voices." Bakhtin attacks aphorisms because they separate the word out from its actual context, treating it as self-complete, something that nothing is, according to Bakhtin (cf. Debord’s similar critique of quotations). Instead of a monologic "I" judging the world, there is the interrelationship of "cognizant and judging 'Is' to one another" (100).


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