RE: Bakhtin: Toward a methodology for the human sciences

From: Eugene Matusov (
Date: Mon Jan 12 2004 - 14:05:07 PST

Dear Phil and everybody-



From: Phil Chappell []
Sent: Saturday, January 10, 2004 5:50 AM
Subject: Re: Bakhtin: Toward a methodology for the human sciences


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???

Phil, I just realized that my question to you from my previous message was
caused by cultural/linguistic misunderstanding. You used the word
"distillation" that you used in a sense of "purity". However, in Russian
"distillation" metaphor may have negative connotations as something that
does not have any flavor. That is why I asked "what do YOU, Mister, exactly
meant by saying that Bakhtin's theory does not have any flavor?!." :-) (read
this direct speech with boyish cocking tone as I'm teasing myself). Looking
back at my misunderstanding I found how language can be affectively strong
charged with negative and positive valences embedded in semiotic networks.

As to postmodernist nature of Bakhtin, some people, including Mike, argue
not without merits that Bakhtin was premodernist rather then postmodernist.
In my personal view, Bakhtin was all at once: premodernist, modernist, and
postmodernist. I can easily find and see all aspects in his writing.

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.

Phil, I'd love to see specific examples and their discussion if it is
possible. What specific issues do you deal with?


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:


"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 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)


"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?




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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