Mikhail Bakhtin

Mikhail Bakhtin(1895-1975) was a Russian Literary critic. He brought forward a set of theories that were rooted in the idea of pluralism. Mikhail Bakhtin’s Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1963), introduced the concepts of polyphony and unfinalizability.

Polyphony means a diversity of voices and perspectives within a single narrative. Polyphony is a pluralistic set up in which a narrative uses multiple voices and perspectives to tell the story. For instance – In Crime and Punishment (1866), Raskolnikov’s internal struggle is diversified through the writer’s questioning and exploration of the mental state of the character.

In a way, the novel achieves a multi-layered narrative structure where Raskolnikov’s thoughts are both uncensored and at the same time questioned. Unfinalizability means that a character in a novel should never be concretely finalized or completed.

Incompleteness is the act of never reaching a stage of completeness so that there is always an openness to any kind of alteration or change within the story. In other words, unfinalizability is a rejection of the idea of a character as an enclosed, finished, known entity because finalizability leads to an absolutist and finite world where there is no scope for any change because everything has been accomplished.

So Unfinalizability is the rejection of the idea of the finiteness of knowledge. According to Bakhtin, knowledge should be infinitely open for exploration without ever reaching an ultimate state of destination. According to him, knowledge should always be in a state of flux. 

Mikhail Bakhtin introduced the concept of Carnivalesque in Rabelais and His World (1968). Carnivalesque refers to chaos as a liberating force from oppression. It is a deliberate act of artistic degradation of abstractions that are otherwise considered noble and spiritual. Thus carnivalesque is a subversion of the sanctified concepts within civilization. It is a chaotic realm where opposites come together.

The rules and logic of normal hierarchies are subverted. The disruption of the regular norms of existence creates a warp where marginalized and tabooed ideas are brought into life. For instance – Official festivities may represent authority while folk festivities may represent the peripheral figures of life in a setting of carnivalesque.

Carnivalesque also uses vulgarity such as laughter to bring down the hallowed ideas of existence. Sometimes carnivalesque is also represented through lower body stratum as a symbol of chaotic liberation from orthodoxy.

The idea of Carnivalesque is linked to another idea of “Grotesque Realism” talked about by Bakhtin. Grotesque Realism is a lowering of all forms of abstractions to the material level. It is a form of critique of the metaphysical world. The Dialogic Imagination (1981) introduced ideas such as Chronotope, Heteroglossia, and dialogism.

Chronotope is the representation of time-space within a narrative structure. Dialogism means dialogue. Dialogism is a rejection of monologue. According to the writer, the monologue was reductionist in nature while a dialogue was open and diverse.

Heteroglossia is a set of varieties and contradictions within a single language. Heteroglossia is a form of diversification of language. It is a rejection of the cohesive, unified nature of language.

It argues that language should not be cohesive because conflicts and contradictions make the language more dynamic. Heteroglossia is a form of diversification of language. 

Notable works of Mikhail Bakhtin include Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1963), Rabelais and His World(1968), The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays(1981)