Re: Bakhtin: Toward a methodology for the human sciences

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Sat Jan 10 2004 - 02:49:34 PST

Dear Eugene,
The quotation that I refer to - "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". says to me that Bakhtin's grand idea is that
the world and the knowledge constructed in the world is found in
dialogue - the meeting of texts from past, present and future times and
spaces (your fave quotes from the essay point to this, don't they?).
I'm personally not very good with "isms" and "tions", etc, but this
does seem to fit within a postmodernist view of the world of their
being no metatheories that determine truths and verifiable facts. If we
link the idea that we can only interpret the meaning of a text by
referring to previous and anticipated like texts, with the essential
nature of dialogue in understanding knowledge creation between
individuals, then we are close to a postmodernist view of the world as
situated meaning making that is not aligned with any political,
religious or other worldviews. Text and Context is everything???

The relevance for me...I have been struggling with this in terms of my
research on understanding the processes of collaborative development of
another language. Rather than trying to prove or disprove instances of
the "development of an interlanguage" based upon universal notions of
ideal grammars, ideal speakers or ideal listeners, it seems much more
useful to me to seek descriptions and explanations of the ongoing
dialogue that a group of learners construct during the process of
developing their skills of using this new tool and understandings of
the way the new tool can work with the first language in development as
well as work as a tool for participation in present and future human
activity, and whatever motives emerge in each learning activity.

This is "garage rock" in form - emerging thoughts that are being
stretched and pulled as I work out how the research and the
interventions might benefit a group of language learners and their
teacher and hopefully other learners and teachers.

To rent your own words, "What do you think?"


On Jan 9, 2004, at 7:53 AM, Eugene Matusov wrote:

> 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 athing and expounds upon it. There is only
> one subject here-cognizing (contemplating) and speaking (expounding).
> In opposition to the subject there is only avoiceless 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 asathing, for as
> a subject it cannot, while remaining a subject, become voiceless, and,
> consequently, cognition of it can only bedialogic.Dilthey and the
> problem of understanding. Various ways ofbeing 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,
> thedialogic activity of the acknowledger. The dialogic activity of the
> acknowledged subject, and the degrees of this activity. The thing and
> the personality (subject) aslimits 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 whounderstands.The author when creating his work does not
> intend it for a literary scholar and does not presuppose a specific
> scholarlyunderstanding;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?
> Eugene
> 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.
> Phil
> P.S I also love the excerpt of Boris Pasternak's poem, "August" that
> Bakhtin quotes...
> 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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