Hermann Cohen and Bakhtin's early aesthetics

Studies in East European Thought 63 (3):227-249 (2011)
Abstract
In this article, Bakhtin’s early aesthetics is reread in the context of Hermann Cohen’s system of philosophy, especially his aesthetics. Bakhtin’s thinking from the early ethical writing Toward a Philosophy of Act to Author and Hero in Artistic Activity and Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics is followed. In Author and Hero , an individual is in his life conceived as involved in cognitive and ethical action but as remaining without a consummative form; the form, or the ‘soul’, is bestowed upon a person by the creative activity of the artist alone. In his understanding of artistic creativity and the relationship between the ‘hero’ and the author, Bakhtin closely follows Cohen, with the exception that for Cohen the object of artistic form-giving is the universal, idealized man, whereas for Bakhtin it is an individual. In the concept of a ‘polyphonic novel’ as developed in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics , Bakhtin, however, considers this view of the activity of the artist (or the novelist) to apply to the “traditional” novel only, while in a Dostoevskyean novel the characters are not subordinated to any defining power of the author. Bakhtin’s theory of the Dostoevskyean novel is thus a return to the emphasis of the cognitive and ethical autonomy of the individual. His understanding of the encounter between persons as a ‘subject’—‘subject’ or an ‘I’—‘thou’ relation has a predecessor, among others, in Cohen.
Keywords Bakthin  Cohen  Aesthetics  Philosophy of ‘thou’
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