Mikhail Bakhtin’s name is not well known. In fact, he himself did not want to become a famous person and was always surrounded by a halo of mystery and anonymity, either by his own will and desire, or because the political situation in his native Russia did not allow it. not.
Despite this, the truth is that in his time he became a big reference and even created a group of intellectuals and artists who revolved around Bakhtin. In addition, after the fall of the Soviet Union, his work became more famous and was able to be populated in the first world
Of course, the figure of this philosopher of language, theorist and literary critic arouses great interest today, in particular his theory of dialogue. In this article we see a biography of Mikhail Bakhtin, With his life and his contributions to the study of language and literature.
Brief biography of Mijaíl Bajtín
Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (also spelled Bakhtin or Bakhtin) was born on November 17, 1895 in Oriol, the former Russian Empire. He was part of a declining aristocratic family. Due to the profession of his father, who was a bank manager, Bakhtin moved several times during his childhood, living in cities like Vilnius and Odessa.
At the age of 9, he started showing symptoms of osteomyelitis that would accompany him throughout his life. and, which would cost him the amputation of a leg several decades later. This first experience of suffering, especially with the fact that his body was seriously affected, marked him for life and influenced his work.
Formation and post-revolutionary period
Bakhtin began his studies at Odessa University between 1913 and 1916, but later he moved to the University of Saint Petersburg / Petrograd to study philosophy and literature until 1918.
After the Russian Revolution, Bakhtin had the opportunity to make contact with great figures of the culture of the time. He met academics, philosophers, thinkers and artists of several arts which, with the passage of time, would form what one would call “The circle of Bajtín”.
This circle, as the name suggests, focused on the thought and work of Mikhail Bakhtin and united its members with an interest in German philosophy. This group organized public lectures, evening dialogues and plays.
In the circle they were approached from a philosophical perspective of the social and cultural problems suffered by Soviet society. Although the Russian Revolution initially promised great liberation for the proletariat, over time the new regime degenerated into Stalin’s dictatorship.
The work of Bakhtin and those who surrounded him focused on social life in general, highlighting how artistic creation was given in this era as a means of expressing the concerns and concerns of society. Particular emphasis was placed on how the language reflects the conflicts between new social classes that have emerged as a result of the change of government.
According to the circle, linguistic production is, or at least should be, dialogic insofar as it is a social interaction. In other words, just like in a normal conversation between two people, those who speak and listen to each other, the powers and the people must undertake a dialogical communication.
traditionally the most powerful classes, whether economically or politically, try to impose a single discourse, Trying to define it as the specimen, which also implies trying to impose a single vision. Instead, the less advantaged classes receive only one message given in the form of a monologue, an imperative. In other words, they have no voice or vote on how government should be given or, in the most serious cases, risk being “silenced”.
The era of Stalin: exile and literary production
Under Joseph Stalin’s regime, several maneuvers were carried out to end any criticism of the government whose government was already the well-established Soviet Union. Bakhtin Circle was the victim of this persecution, and several of its members were executed. Mikhail Bakhtin himself underwent these interventions in his flesh, but by his “fortune” he was simply exiled to Kazakhstan.
Despite his prolific literary activity and his great knowledge, the fact that he was persecuted by the Stalinist government brought him great discredit when returning to public life in the 1940s.
During these years he worked in a thesis focused on laughter, which was later transformed into one of his most important works, Rebelais et son monde. This work is one of Bakhtin’s great contributions to a more parody type of aerial literature.
Despite the bad reputation he had acquired for being critical of the regime, he was recovering the prestige and years of intense literary production living in Moscow during the approaching 1940s.
After living in Moscow, Mikhail Bakhtin moved to Saransk, another Russian city where he had the opportunity to work as a teacher at an institute specializing in pedagogy in the region. From 1957 to 1961 he worked as head of the department of Russian and world literature, Until his health problems forced him to retire.
Bakhtin died on March 7, 1975 in Moscow, Russia, at the age of 79.
Work and reflection
Bakhtin’s work fits into Russian formalism. During the 1920s, his work mainly focused on ethics and aesthetics.
Among the great works of this Russian theorist, there are four works which are essential for his reading to understand the complex theory of Bakhtin:
1. Towards a philosophy of the act
Although this essay has not been fully recovered, it seems Bajtín explains in it his peculiar way of understanding how human beings understand and interpret the world around them.
this work suggests what will later be characteristic of the ethical and moral vision of this Russian author. He defends the idea that explains the understanding of each human being who is a unique being.
According to what was recovered from the play, it explains how people understand that we act both actively and passively in our own existence, whether physical or emotional.
It also states that our perception of uniqueness only exists to the extent that we think about it and that, as we are irreplaceable beings, we must update this idea that we are unique.
These premises are complex, and as his literary career evolved he became more specific about what it all meant.
2. Problems of Dostoyevsky’s poetics
In this work, he explains that at the individual level, people are not completely definable from the outside.. According to the idea behind this explanation, it is not possible to describe a person in a certain way if it is not that person, as aspects such as their emotionality cannot be felt.
According to Bakhtin, Dostoyevsky in his works attempted to portray the characters in his works in relation to the number of writers, avoiding treating them as if they were objects accessible from different perspectives.
Moreover, it is thanks to the work of Dostoyevsky that Bakhtin offers the concepts of polyphony and dialogue.
Polyphony, evoked in the literary field, is the fact of exhibiting different characters in a novel and that they are responsible for explaining their inner world, without having to resort to the narrator or the main character if necessary.
3. Rabelais and his world
It is a work in which he analyzes the social system of the Renaissance with a focus on language. His goal was to see what was the balance between the language that was allowed at that time and that that was not.
4. Dialogic imagination
This posthumous work is about a set of essays by Bajtín in which he deals with subjects related to the language. Concepts such as heteroglossia, dialogism and chronotope are introduced and detailed.
The term dialogic, particularly linked to Bajtín’s dialogism and which has become the most remarkable idea in his long professional career, is somewhat complex to explain. This refers to the fact that the information processed by two people who are having a conversation is not static.
People, in their communicative interactions, they modify according to the meaning of the words they use, Either because the receiver wants to give it a particular meaning, or because the receiver interprets it badly. Also, the words can be used in an alternative way to the meaning that has been socially assumed to have.
Heteroglossia refers to the fact that there are different records between people. This is particularly applicable to novels, in which the register of the characters and that of the narrator must not coincide in aspects of the use of colloquialisms, of solemnity, of the use of the first and of the third person. .
Finally, the chronotope is the way in which references to space and time are made in language and discourse. That is, what terms and expressions are used to describe and indicate places and times, whether from the novel or from an article about an actual event.
- Todorov, T. (2010). “Jakobson and Bajtin”, in The Totalitarian Experience. Barcelona, Spain, Gutenberg galaxy.
- Morson, GS and Emerson, C. (1990) Mijail Bakhtin. Creation of Prosaics, Stanford, USA, Stanford University.
- Holoquist, M. (1991) Bakhtin and his World, London-New York, United Kingdom-USA., Routledge