Whose Words Are These Anyway?

In Mykola Polyuha, Clive Thomson & Anthony Wall (eds.), Dialogues with Bakhtinian Theory: Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Mikhaïl Bakhtin Conference. Mestengo Press (2012)
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Is there, according to Bakhtin, such a thing as nobody’s or neutral words? Going over Bakhtin’s writings we might encounter an intriguing variety of answers to this question, ranging from a clear negative – there is no such thing – to a radical positive – all words are neutral, are “nobody’s” – and with a few other variants in between. This paper examines this puzzle both in its own right and from the perspective of what it can teach us about reading Bakhtin’s texts. I propose that Bakhtin’s conception of language has remained stable (even if not quite unchanged) in works from all periods, and link this conception to his early ethical philosophy (with an emphasis on the influence of Søren Kierkegaard on it). Bakhtin is firmly committed to the position that nobody’s words exist only in the abstract world of theory, and not in language as we speak it. This description also pertains to his own writing, which I maintain should be approached with a view to how other people’s voices are manipulated in it, rather than in the more literal fashion, in which scholarly works are usually studied.



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Sergeiy Sandler
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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