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Mikhail Bakhtin

Who was Mikhail Bakhtin?

Mikhail Bakhtin

The researcher, thinker, philosopher and theorist Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895-1975) was one of the most important figures in the history and evolution of human language, and his research has guided studies and theories around the world to this day.

Early, intense intellectual production

Mikhail Mikhailóvitch Bakhtin was born in Orel, south of Moscow, in 1895. At the age of 23, he graduated in History and Philology at St. Petersburg University, the same time he began meetings to discuss language, art and literature with intellectuals of varying backgrounds. , in what would become the Bakhtin Circle. In his lifetime, he published few books, notably Dostoevsky’s Poetic Problems.(1929). To this day, however, the question remains about who wrote other works signed by colleagues in the Circle (there are translations that attribute them to Bakhtin as well). During the Stalinist regime, the group was persecuted and Bakhtin was sentenced to six years of exile in Kazakhstan. His productions came to the West in the 1970s – and a decade later to Brazil. But Bakhtin had already died in 1975 of acute inflammation in the bones.

Its influence is easily noted in studies of history, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and semiotics. But his greatest contribution, no doubt, was the legacy of language studies – considered by many to be a “translinguistic” view, since for Bakhtin language did not fit into an isolated system. For him, any linguistic analysis should also address other factors, such as the sender’s relationship with the receiver, the social, historical, cultural, ideological and speech context, for example. According to him, if it were not so, there would be no understanding.

In addition, he was the intellectual leader of a group known as the “ Bakhtin Circle, ” considered revolutionary and a source of inspiration for countless researchers in the field. The subject is further explored in Craig Brandist’s Rethinking the Bakhtin Circle , which takes a critical approach to the circle and its work.

The intellectual heritage of this great thinker is also dealt with in other books, such as Augusto Ponzio’s The Bakhtinian Revolution , Bakhtin: Dialogism and Polyphony ,  Bakhtin and the Circle , Bakhtin: Key Concepts and Bakhtin: Other Key Concepts  – these four organized by Beth Brait , among others.



Open to the philosophical and scientific currents of his time, he followed closely, among many others, the theoretical postulates of Albert Einstein, transferring certain concepts about relativity to the study of dialogue and communication processes. Bajtin analyzes the dialogue and rhetoric, creating a new theoretical framework in which the interaction values ​​of the dialogues appear as actors capable of enriching or modeling the rhetoric. It presents a dialogic and, at the same time, dialectic rhetoric, determined by the cultural, psychological, etc. position. of the actors who communicate. Faced with the unidirectional, tax and dominant discourse character of classical rhetoric, it illuminates a participatory, integrative, social construction, which includes diversity, the multiplicity of voices, the ‘polyphonic’ scenario, in which many authors see features that anticipate the future drifts of cultural studies.

Bakhtin establishes a similarity between the act and the word, and the act is the concrete fact of communication. Compared to traditional linguistics, he proposes the study of language as a phenomenon of communication, always related to a context, with interlocution values ​​defined by the protagonists of the dialogue. It also distinguishes the scope of communication based on the expressive ‘genres’, the semantic ‘volume’, the dialogic nature of its actors, the situation in which it occurs, its extralinguistic and metalinguistic scopes. So, Those who produce a written text do not do so outside the logical circuit of communication, of their intention to dialogue with a specific audience in a specific environment. Therefore, the interpretation of classical texts cannot be done from the temporal, social and cultural abstraction of the moment in which the author used the resources of dialogue with his readers, that is, he needs to know what he describes as his ‘chronotope’ . The expressions of the media, their narrative and agenda values,
Bakhtin also speaks of dialogic ‘hybridization’, as an instrument of permeability and freedom of languages ​​to favor communicative pragmatics between expressions of different eras or between contemporary cultural values, differentiated by heterogeneous contextual nuances or different idiomatic matrices, that is, by their ‘heteroglossia

Thinking language beyond the theories of the time

Bakhtin and his Circle conversed with the main currents of thought of their time. In Russia in the 1920s, Karl Marx’s theories (1818-1883) stood out, from which the Circle took advantage of the fundamental notion of life lived as the source of consciousness formation. At the same time, formalism prevailed as a model for analyzing literature. Along these lines, the first step in building a literary science was to consider in this field of study only what was strictly “literary” (with emphasis on poetry and a clear disregard of prose, considered a minor genre, which merited severe objections from Circle). Regarding the reflection on language, Bakhtinian theories departed from the approach proposed by the Swiss Ferdinand Saussure (1857-1913), which conceived of language as social only as regards exchanges between individuals. Bakhtin and the Circle, however, saw language suffer influences from the social context, dominant ideology, and class struggle. Therefore, it was both a product and a producer of ideologies. “It is worth mentioning that, before refuting any thesis, these Russian thinkers outlined a panorama of the ideas and concepts approached and, starting from little explored aspects, proposed new conceptions,” explains Beth Brait.

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