Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin on Language

Note: when page numbers are given in parenthesis, L refers to the text "From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse" in David Lodge, Modern Criticism and Theory, H refers to The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays , the edition of Bakhtin by Michael Holquist which contains most of what is referred to here (and a lot else), RW refers to the selection of "Discourse in the Novel" in Philip Rice and Patricia Waugh, Modern Literary Theory: A Reader .

There are references as well to Volosinov's Marxism and the Philosophy of Language . There has been a belief that this work was actually written by Bakhtin; whether it was or not, Bakhtin seems to share Volosinov's sense of the nature of language.


One might ask the extent to which Bakhtin's understanding of language leads to ideological reading, and the answer is, I think, that it enables ideological reading substantially. It assumes that language determines and is determined by cultural formations, that it is a material production of a particular time and place, that it has the world-view of the speaker embedded in it, that monoglossia mystifies experience by disappearing all experience and perspective other than that taken by the language, that social control can be exercised through cultural formations (language, art), that revolution, demystification, oppositional thought is healthy and necessary.