Dialogism as a Challenge to Literary Criticism

  • Ken Hirschkop


Dialogism has become the focus of a lot of recent literary discussion. Of the many new concepts which owe their introduction into literary studies to Bakhtin, it seems destined to be both the most popular and the most protean and controversial. Within Bakhtin’s writings alone there are many different definitions and formulations of dialogism, different not only in the sense of alternative but also contradictory. The range of possible definitions has only been increased by the critical assimilation of the last few years. It is tempting to assume that the relation between the elusiveness of this concept and its current popularity is direct, but part of the appeal must also lie in the clear way in which this concept connects literature to larger social questions at a time when this connection is being closely examined. For dialogism is not used by literary criticism today as only another analytical tool for the formal analysis of texts: it is also treated as the symbol, or index, of a social ideal. The dialogism of texts is simply the concentrated form of a dialogism in social life generally. In a familiar gesture, we find that the analysis of literature is supposed to lead us to the recognition of a hidden aspect of our social life — in this instance, the fact that we exist only in dialogue (whatever that is held to mean).


Literary Criticism Discursive Practice Linguistic Form Unify Language Subjective Intention 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    M. M. Bakhtin, ‘Slovo v romane’, in Voprosy literatury i estetiki, Moscow, 1975, p. 76.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    A point made by Julia Kristeva in Desire in Language, Oxford, 1980, p. 65, where she shows how Bakhtin makes the diachronic synchronic.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    Bakhtin, Problemy poetiki Dostoevskogo (4th edn), Moscow, 1979, p. 81.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Catriona Helen Moncrieff Kelly, Michael Laurence Makin and David George Shepherd 1989

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  • Ken Hirschkop

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