Журнал научных разысканий о биографии, теоретическом наследии и эпохе М. М. Бахтина

ISSN 0136-0132   

Диалог. Карнавал. Хронотоп

Диалог. Карнавал. Хронотоп.19974

Диалог. Карнавал. Хронотоп, 1997, № 4
166   167
Dialogue. Carnival. Chronotope, 1997, № 4

Clive Thomson

Crisis in Calgary

Some Impressions of «Dialogue and Culture»
(The Eighth International Mikhail Bakhtin Conference,
20—25 June, 1997, University of Calgary)  

It was on the fourth day of the Eighth International Mikhail Bakhtin Conference that Vitaly Makhlin made several responsibly provocative comments as he presented his paper during the session held at the Banff Springs Hotel. Bakhtin Studies, he suggested, are in a state of crisis, adding that a «new, third Bakhtin» seemed to be emerging. He urged us to «put aside for the time being» applications of Bakhtin's concepts in fields like cultural studies. In his view, we would do better to refocus our attention on Bakhtin's works in order to understand questions of authorship and authorial intent. These comments unsettled me, and they also served to pinpoint the sense of indeterminate unease that I had been experiencing over the previous days. Toward the end of the conference I began to suspect that Makhlin's sense of crisis was not the same as mine. My objective in this very brief, incomplete account of the conference, is to record my personal impressions — no «objective» analysis here.

Most of us, I'm sure, arrive at these conferences with complex feelings of curiosity and floating anxiety (not to mention the anticipated pleasure of meeting old friends). The reasons have much to do with the chaotic and mysterious state of the Bakhtin archive in Moscow and the possibility that someone, «in the know», will have a miraculous revelation about a new, as yet unpublished, Bakhtin text, or that someone will produce, during the conference, a brilliant, conclusive reading of the most recently available Bakhtin text. Neither of these events took place in Calgary. There was a high level of excitement, however, because one volume in the new Moscow-edition of the collected works had been published just a few months before the conference. The burning question, particularly in the minds of the non-Russianist Bakhtinians, was: is it any good? My own sleuthing was directed at least in part, over the week of our meetings, toward getting some answers to that question.

In the meantime, I attended as many sessions as possible, keeping my ear to the ground as I tried to figure out where Bakhtin Studies might be headed. Some 120 papers were presented between June 20 and 25, approximately the same number as in Moscow in June, 1995, at the Seventh International Conference. Were there any discernable threads or trends? I was struck almost immediately by the overarching inclusionary strategy that Anthony Wall had used in preparing the event. There were participants from at least twenty countries and, in some cases (for example, Russia), Anthony managed to include a wide variety of distinctive and even opposing voices from within a given national group of scholars. This strategy sent the implicit message of a generous pluralism to all of us. Virtually everyone understood it. The pre-conference papers (Francis Jacques, Jerusa Pires Ferreira, Gary Saul Morson) provided a chance for early arrivees to whet their intellectual appetites in what continued to be a collegial atmosphere. In the formal and informal exchanges over the week of the conference, I witnessed — not an attitude of polite or condescending tolerance among those with differing views — but rather a sincere commitment to explore thoroughly and to engage with the issues at hand. Anthony should be commended for his success on this fundamental level, not to mention his extraordinary efficiency in dealing with the practical details of the conference organization.

In the first session of the conference, Anthony demonstrated in his paper («In principio erat prosa») a masterful grasp of the complexities of the Bakhtin canon and set a high standard for the rest of us. His initial claim — «The word's origin is always already indeterminate and multiple» — was extended in his conclusion: «… (the) word is … forever a victim of its own fundamental instability or insecurity, the anxiety of always missing the most cherished knowledge, that of being able to say whence one comes». This productive line of thinking, although probably not the dominant one at the conference, was continued in several other papers whose authors appeared to speak «from the margins» of Bakhtin Studies.

Critical Genealogy

One dominant focus of the conference in Calgary, as in Moscow, was the critical genealogy of Bakhtin's texts and ideas. Several important papers were given by scholars who have varying degrees of access to Bakhtin's manuscripts (Brian Poole, Nikolai Pan'kov, Nikolai Ni

Crisis in Calgary

Диалог. Карнавал. Хронотоп, 1997, № 4
168   169
Dialogue. Carnival. Chronotope, 1997, № 4

kolayev), or who seem to work on the margins of that inner circle (Ludmila Mikeshina, Alexandar Mihailovic, Pavel Olkhov, Galin Tihanov, Igor Shaitanov, Caryl Emerson). This genealogical work must continue because its results, as became clear in Calgary, help us to understand with increasing clarity not only how Bakhtin produced his writings in their immediate context, but the fascinating affinities between Bakhtin and certain of his contemporaries. Not that these investigations are without controversy or aporiae. What is the pertinent term — «borrowing» or «plagiarism», in relation to certain Bakhtin texts where he refers to or summarizes what he had been reading, especially in those texts which he never prepared for publication.? Certain of our accepted conventions (the difference between preparatory manuscripts and finished/final version, for example) in editorial scholarship seem absolutely to break down when we are confronted by the unique nature of the Bakhtin corpus. We need to work out new theoretical approaches in order to account for these indeterminate texts. If we are going to continue to talk about «reliable» or «definitive editions» (Craig Brandist, David Shepherd), then these terms need considerable redefinition.

Did any of Bakhtin's works receive more attention than others? The «genealogists» or critical commentators took their inspiration from: Bakhtin's early works (Aleksander Bondarev, Tatyana Schitzova, Neil Gohill, Deborah Hicks, Judith Thorn, Nikolai Nikolayev, Greg Nielsen); the late 1920s or 1930s writings (Tara and Philip Collington, Ruth Schьrch-Halas, Scott Bakker, Jeff Derksen, Barry Brown, Jean-Franзois Bourdet, Jerald Zaslove, Roseline Tremblay, Rolf Helebust, Lakshmi Bandlamudi); or Bakhtin's study of Rabelais. Bakhtin's latest texts, from the 1950s and 1960s were quoted infrequently.


Although I have no statistics, Bakhtin's study of Rabelais appeared to get much more attention than other texts and this turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the conference. In Moscow, my impression was that questions relating to carnival, the carnivalesque and Rabelais, although present, were left in the background. In Calgary, Caryl Emerson, near the beginning of the conference, seemed to set a new symptomatic tone when she admitted in her exceptionally insightful paper that she and Gary Saul Morson had given carnival «scant attention» in Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (1990)
and that she was rethinking her position. Carnival deserves serious study, she added. Bakhtin's Rabelais was a major touchstone in many discussions and papers (Vitaly Maklin, Caryl Emerson, Jerusa Pires Ferreira, Solange Arsenault, C. Bryn Pinchin, Nikolai Pan'kov, Marie-Christine Lala, David Robb, Robert Bennett, Galin Tihanov, Angela Cozea, Paul Tyrer, Ramon Alvarado, Rose Ferronato, Judy Hen). Whether Caryl Emerson's wish comes true — that carnival might most usefully become an objective analytical category in future scholarship — remains to be seen.

Chances are (this is my speculation) that Emerson's corollary view — carnival as analytical category has the advantage of «sobering down» Bakhtin's utopianism — would have little resonance in the minds and work of the large group of anthropolgists and communication specialists who hailed from Mexico, Cuba and South America (Jerusa Pires Ferreire, Danielle Zaslavsky, Boris Schnaiderman, Beatriz Dorfman Lerner, Maria Laura Pardo, Tatiana Bubnova, Jorge Alcazar, Ramon Alvarado, Josй Alejos Garcia, Lauro Zavala, Eduardo Penuela, Desiderio Navarro). Josй Alejos Garcia (Mexico), creating enormous excitement with his multi-layered analysis of the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, demonstrated convincingly that Bakhtin's work can lead both to a constructive critique of the institution of anthropology and to hopeful (utopian?) solutions in the complex arena of Mexican politics. As with the sixth international conference in 1993 (Cocoyoc, Mexico), the Calgary conference highlighted the exciting work being done in the southern hemisphere and proved that scholarly dialogue along a north-south axis is every bit as important and valuable as dialogue along the east-west one. Our Eurocentric bias, unfortunately, prevents us from realizing this.

Comparative and General Studies

Another type of valuable research represented in Calgary, as at many earlier conferences, was comparative in nature. It focussed on setting up parallels between Bakhtin and other great thinkers: Socrates (Aubrey McPhail), Nietzsche (Derek Littlewood), Rosenstock-Huessy (Alexander Pigalev), Solinus (Charles Byrd), Lyotard (Jelena Jovicic), Bourdieu (Dominique Perron), Charles Taylor (Maroussia Ahmed), Hegel (Jean-Franзois Cфtй), Lotman (Desiderio Navarro), Arendt (Shanna Braden), Barthes and Todorov (Alastair Renfrew), Merleau-Ponty (Michael Gardiner), Kierkegaard (Tatyana Schitzova), Levinas

Crisis in Calgary

Диалог. Карнавал. Хронотоп, 1997, № 4
170   171
Dialogue. Carnival. Chronotope, 1997, № 4

(Paul Garcia), Lukacs (Stafford Neal), Gadamer (Marie Cusson), Ricoeur (C. Bryn Pinchin), Schlegel (Rachel Schmidt). This list which documents our «east-west» bias should be an incitement to pursue connections between Bakhtin and «oriental» thinkers. Lakshmi Bandlamudi was, indeed, a lone voice as she gave her comparative study of Bakhtin and the Sanskrit philosopher, Bhartrhari.

Many papers demonstrated convincingly that specific texts (especially literary and artistic ones) can be read profitably in light of specific Bakhtinian concepts. Inspired by the notion of genre in Bakhtin's work, Igor Shaitanov presented a brilliant comparative reading of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and Pushkin's Angelo. Another set of papers showed that dialogism can be put to good use in negotiating theoretical and practical problems in the field of translation (Anne Malena, Danielle Zaslavsky, Natalia Nikulina). M.-Pierrette Malcuzynski gave a wonderfully original paper on music and Bakhtin. Mireya Folch-Serra's paper on the Canadian artist, Jamelie Hassan, was another original extension of Bakhtin's concepts. (Limitations of space prevent me, of course, from mentioning all the other excellent papers of this kind.)

And then there were the broadly focussed papers that presented ambitious, energetic and densely argued extensions or overviews of the value of Bakhtin's work: «Bakhtin and Tempics» (Gary Saul Morson), «Bakhtin/"Bakhtin": The Real, the Relevant, and the Reified» (Peter Hitchcock), «Bakhtin from the Beginning, at the End of the Century» (Vitaly Makhlin), «Mimйsis conflictuelle» (Antonio Gуmez-Moriana), «Dialogue, dialogisme, interlocution» (Francis Jacques).

Next Time — Berlin

I think it would be fair to say that the Calgary conference outdid previous ones. We heard junior scholars, senior scholars and everything in between, and the variety of intonations and accents from around the world created an extraordinarily rich chorus of voices. There were, of course, some absences. Next time, in Berlin, I hope it will be possible to do even better and find a way to include our colleagues from Africa and Asia. This would promote, to our great benefit, thoroughly international debates. We would also do well, next time, to try to reinvent the conference format by allowing for more, different kinds of sessions: round table discussions at the beginning or the end of the day; workshops where a small group could spend an
hour reading together a difficult page from a Bakhtin text or where translators could improvise collectively the translation of a key passage; sessions where the requirement would be that papers be circulated in advance of the conference or where speakers would not read a paper for twenty minutes but would give a ten-minute summary followed by in-depth discussion; sessions where the principal conference organizer would invite individuals to guest-organize a panel on a topic where that person has a particular interest and expertise; dramatic readings from Bakhtin's and related works. In other words, let's be more experimental.

The Calgary conference was particularly innovative in that several papers theorized in stimulating ways issues relating to the computer, thus pushing Bakhtin's work into a completely new sphere (Brian Greenspan, Rйgine Robin, Domingo Sanchez-Mesa Martinez, Miha Javornik). Bakhtin's notion of dialogism, even when launched into cyberspace, showed that it has relevance and potential for helping us to elucidate some of our most basic preoccupations about democracy, the self, and utterance. The presenters of these papers, in my view, brought us back down to earth in a certain way, contradicting some of the postmodern pundits of the cyborg who have been proclaiming the death of the author and narrative as we have known them, the disappearance of the subject, and a new era of total freedom in cyberspace. The carnivalesque may be a notion that gives a positive unity to this optimistic take on cyberspace but Bakhtin can also be an antidote in reminding us: that utterance is always ideological, even for the so-called decentred selves engaged in cyber-chat (the exchange imagined by Rйgine Robin — «I am nobody»/«Are you nobody?», between two supposedly virtual, dissipated egos, could turn out to be nothing more than a pose); that reality does not disappear completely for surfers of virtual reality (you can't surf if you don't have a computer, as Craig Brandhist bluntly put it); that cyberspace is also in time; and that the web page may be one of the most monologic or authoritarian forms of discourse ever invented.

If the conference had one «unBakhtinian», monologizing moment, it occurred, for me, during the plenary session at which Berlin was chosen over Havanna as the site for the 1999 conference (Jurij Murasov and Brian Poole will be the organizers in Berlin). In what I took to be a fleeting lapse in which polemics got the better of us, some discussants, in a shorthand effort to classify our ongoing research (including that presented at the conference), divided us into

Crisis in Calgary

Диалог. Карнавал. Хронотоп, 1997, № 4
172   173
Dialogue. Carnival. Chronotope, 1997, № 4

two camps — 1) the archivists and 2) those who do «applied» research. My brief overview of the conference, given in the preceding paragraphs, will have shown, I trust, the poverty of such a reductive «take» on what actually happened in Calgary. Like most binaries (which Bakhtin called «theoricist»), the «archivist-applied» one turns to dust, after brief scrutiny.

I also hope that we can return to another of our good traditions next time and use «a show of hands» (instead of a secret ballot) as we vote on the site of the next conference. The secret ballot is the accepted procedure in democracies for the election of officials to public office. Once elected, officials in government or university positions typically decide on matters of principle or law by a show of hands. Participants at the Bakhtin conference in Mexico will remember that we actually voted in large majority to reject the use of the secret ballot when we were choosing between Moscow and Barcelona for the 1995 conference. Voting by show of hands is a way of being openly responsible for one's positions of principle.

And Volume 5 of the new Moscow edition? «More or less definitive», said some colleagues, while others were reluctant to comment. Still others affirmed that, although the editorial work involved in establishing the Bakhtin texts was both conventional and satisfactory, the critical apparatus demonstrated a certain bias because it emphasized Bakhtin's place in a somewhat narrow, Russian-centred tradition. Volume 5 (731 pages) contains already published works by Bakhtin from the 1940s to the early 1960s, as well as hitherto unpublished material such as an essay on Flaubert. We shall look forward to reading some detailed reviews of Volume 5 in the scholarly journals. In the meantime, the Sheffield Bakhtin Centre's exciting project of an electronic edition would seem to hold great promise since it will allow for a more dynamic flexibility than the printed edition — that is, from the user's point of view.

Vitaly Makhlin did not say exactly what he meant by the crisis in Bakhtin Studies. Perhaps he is worried that Bakhtin's concepts are being used too loosely in fields like cultural studies and he would prefer that our primary focus shift back to exegetical studies. If this is the case, then I would respectfully have to disagree. Research of all kinds, represented by the branches or trends laid out above, can co-exist. Cross fertilization is the beneficial result, as the Calgary conference amply demonstrated. Makhlin did make it clear that he is concerned about the way some researchers leave unproblematized the gap be
tween two very different «horizons» — that of Bakhtin and our postmodern one.

The crisis, to go back to the beginning, comes rather in the form of a risk. Will future conference organizers manage to continue our generously pluralistic, inclusive traditions? Will the work of our friends to the south be present in Berlin in 1999? Will the experience of Calgary encourage those voices on the margins to keep coming back? Can we somehow work within and even maintain the «insecurity and instability of the word» (Anthony Wall's terms)? The advantage of such an approach certainly contributes to what Peter Hitchcock called that «tremulous feeling of being a Bakhtinian». It may also, in the future, allow our scholarship to be more original.

London (Canada)

Crisis in Calgary


Главный редактор: Николай Паньков
Оцифровка: Борис Орехов

В оформлении страницы использована «Композиция» Пита Мондриана

Филологическая модель мира