RE: Bakhtin: Toward a methodology for the human sciences

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Thu Jan 08 2004 - 16:53:38 PST

Dear Phil-


Can you elaborate on "it's a pretty sound distillation of his thinking (in a
post-modern sense??)", please?


Thanks for sharing your thinking!


My two favorite quotes from Bakhtin's article on methodology:

1) "The exact sciences constitute a monologic form of knowledge: the
intellect contemplates a thing and expounds upon it. There is only one
subject here-cognizing (contemplating) and speaking (expounding). In
opposition to the subject there is only a voiceless thing. Any object of
knowledge (including man) can be perceived and cognized as a thing. But a
subject as such cannot be perceived and studied as a thing, for as a subject
it cannot, while remaining a subject, become voiceless, and, consequently,
cognition of it can only be dialogic. Dilthey and the problem of
understanding. Various ways of being active in cognitive activity. The
activity of the one who acknowledges a voiceless thing and the activity of
one who acknowledges another subject, that is, the dialogic activity of the
acknowledger. The dialogic activity of the acknowledged subject, and the
degrees of this activity. The thing and the personality (subject) as limits
of cognition. Degrees of thing-ness and personality-ness. The
event-potential of dialogic cognition. Meeting. Evaluation as a necessary
aspect of dialogic cognition." (p.161)

2) "The inclusion of the listener (reader, viewer) in the system
(structure) of the work. The author (bearer of the word) and the person who
understands. The author when creating his work does not intend it for a
literary scholar and does not presuppose a specific scholarly understanding;
he does not aim to create a collective of literary scholars. He does not
invite literary scholars to his banquet table."


What do you think?





From: Phil Chappell []
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2004 7:59 AM
Subject: Re: Bakhtin: Toward a methodology for the human sciences


On Jan 5, 2004, at 2:27 AM, Eugene Matusov wrote:
Please share your observations and thoughts while reading this short paper.

Eugene, Bill and All,
Bakhtin's essay, which I haven't read for quite some time, reminds me of his
powerful theories of intertextuality and dialogicality. In his exposition of
a methodology for the human sciences as opposed to the natural sciences, the
latter which he claims is a monologic form of knowledge in the sense of one
subject contemplating a voiceless thing, Bakhtin foregrounds the boundaries
between text and context in a truly historical sense. A simple utterance
from his essay left me pondering for quite some time..."The text lives only
by coming into contact with another text (with context). Only at this point
does a light flash, illuminating both the posterior and anterior, joining a
given text to a dialogue". I'm not sure how much background knowledge of
Bakhtin's works is needed to be stimulated by this comment in terms of
methodology and research reporting, but it's a pretty sound distillation of
his thinking (in a post-modern sense??). In the human sciences, a
methodology that specifies context as being a uniquely human construct -
humans undertaking social activities in their everyday lives that
necessitates individual actions organised around situated collective
activity for me suits a dialogic form of inquiry.

Well, that's what I think ;-) and thanks for bringing this essay of
Bakhtin's out again, Eugene.


P.S I also love the excerpt of Boris Pasternak's poem, "August" that Bakhtin

Farewell, spread of the wings out-straightened
The free stubbornness of pure flight,
The word that gives the world its image,
Creation: miracles of light.

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