The New Rhetorics:  Overview and Theory – Mikhail Bakhtin (Possible!!!)

“Towards a Methodology for the Human Sciences”

  • Bakhtin’s theory of language is arbitrary and dialogic.  By setting up language in such a way he can trace the historical and social contexts that generate meaning.
  • The empirical process of constructing meaning:

o    Psychophysiologically perceiving a physical sign (word, color, spatial form)

o    Recognizing it (familiar or unfamiliar)

o    Understanding its significance in a particular context (immediate and more remote)

o    Active-dialogic understanding (disagreement/agreement)

  • Contextual meaning – all meaning is contingent and incomplete, it is also saddled with all the meaningful residues it brings with it (and anticipates).
  • On the inadequacy of absolutes:  “To what extent can the contextual meaning (of an image or symbol) be revealed and commented upon?  Only the aid of another (isomorphous) meaning (of a symbol or image).  It cannot be dissolved into concepts (64).  This highlights the unfinalizeable nature of all things.
  • B. notes that, “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” (65).  So, Bakhtin highlights the dialogic nature of all knowledge and communication in this passage – the a priori requirement for subjectivity is a dialogic interaction with two interlocutors (even if they are both the self).  This pretty well dismisses any Platonic theories of idealized forms.
  • Monologization destroys subjectivity in that it makes static a dynamic process of becoming.  While monologization (or transcription in other works) is important in something like the hard sciences (where replicability is paramount) it is damaging to the existence of most things as it sheers off the possibility of their being something else/more (67).
  • Problems with structuralism: too rigid in adhering to a particular “code” and abstract, ideal author.  Too struck with the internal coherence of a text sheared off from its context.  Too interested in freezing language into structures instead of recognizing the inherent flux of language over great time (73).
  • Chronotope – space-time wherein language operates and is represented.
  • On formalism: the formalists underestimate the power of content while at the same time making “change” seem like a fairly straight forward process (72).

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