Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, Chapter 5, Parts 2-4

Summary of Chapter 5, parts 2-4

Compared to the extremely dense first part, the next three parts of the chapter are much fluffier and are mostly composed of specific examples from Dostoevsky's books.

Part 2: The Hero's Monologic Discourse and Narrational Discourse in Dostoevsky's Short Novels

This part of the chapter is mostly examples from the shorter novels of phenomena Bakhtin had already laid out. Prominent are The Double and Notes from Underground. B talks about the "word with a sideward glance" at another discourse or perspective; three voices (apparently the original voice, the imagined second voice, and a third that unites them), "loopholes" etc.


Part 3: The Hero's Discourse and Narrative Discourse in Dostoevsky

Bakhtin explores the internal dialogue and regular dialogue of heroes in Dostoevsky, particularly Raskolnikov, for whom other characters are “ideological positions,” that he reacts to and is in dialogue with, and places in dialogic juxtaposition with each other. Heroes reveal themselves or learn to situate themselves in a field of inter-orientations. "Penetrated word" (“a word capable of actively and confidently interfering in the interior dialogue of the other person, helping that person to find his own voice” (242)) and "penetrated discourse" (“a firmly monologic, undivided discourse, a word without a sideward glance, without a loophole, without internal polemic” which is nevertheless “only possible in actual dialogue with another person” (249)) are defined, though they seem to be opposites; the former is discussed but not the latter much. He ends with a reference to unfinalizabilty and the  fact that the narrator's voice does not dominate. 

He states that in Dostoevsky's novels, almost no evolution of thought happens; characters never change their perspective; when something happens, they knew it was going to happen, and are not changed by it. [Why would Bakhtin consider this good? Because surely everything Dostoevsky does is the most awesome thing possible... I guess the point is that such change in the character would be an internal situating; what Bakhtin wants is social situating, the interplay of ideas in a social setting, not just the internal development of an individual.]

Part 4: Dialogue in Dostoevsky

Bakhtin summarizes he importance of dialogue in Dostoevsky's works. Particularly emphasized is that external dialogue is always related to internal dialogue; sometimes speakers in external dialogue are responding to (wittingly or not?) another speaker's statement in an internal dialogue. It is also emphasized that the dialogue is not plot-dependent: though it still follows and relates to the plot, it has an openness or "unfinalizability.” He also talks about how words and themes "pass through" many different voices (the image reminds me of a motif in music, picked up and transformed through different instruments, etc.) – fitting for Bakhtin’s ideal of “polyphony” in the novel. (An example that comes to mind is the phrase “the lesser evil” in the Witcher story of that name).

A character's self-consciousness in Dostoevsky is thoroughly dialogized: in its every aspect it is turned outward, intensely addressing itself, another, a third person. Outside this living addressivity toward itself and toward the other it does not exist, even for itself. In this sense it could be said that the person in Dostoevsky is the subject of an address. (251)

[This marks an interesting potential link with interpellation; Dostoevsky's subjects are highly conscious of, knowingly dependent on, their interpellation? Some echo of Volosinov’s insistence that there is no interiority beyond or before language seems to link here as well.]


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