Bakhtin and Religion: A Feeling for Faith

Overview

The dimension of religion in the life and work of Mikhail Bakhtin has been fiercely contested -- and willfully ignored -- by critics. Unique in its in-depth focus on this subject, Bakhtin and Religion: A Feeling for Faith brings together leading British, American, and Russian scholars to investigate the role of religious thought in shaping and framing Bakhtin's writings.

These essays comprise a valuable overview of Bakhtin's attitude toward religion in general and Russian ...

See more details below
Paperback (1)
$27.33
BN.com price
(Save 8%)$29.95 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (9) from $2.50   
  • New (2) from $26.54   
  • Used (7) from $2.50   
Sending request ...

Overview

The dimension of religion in the life and work of Mikhail Bakhtin has been fiercely contested -- and willfully ignored -- by critics. Unique in its in-depth focus on this subject, Bakhtin and Religion: A Feeling for Faith brings together leading British, American, and Russian scholars to investigate the role of religious thought in shaping and framing Bakhtin's writings.

These essays comprise a valuable overview of Bakhtin's attitude toward religion in general and Russian Orthodoxy in particular, addressing topics ranging from how Bakhtin's religious ideas informed his linguistic and aesthetic theories to the idea of love in Bakhtin's secular and religious thought to the religious component of Bakhtin's theory of laughter.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810118256
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Series: Rethinking Theory Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 252
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan M. Felch and Paul J. Contino

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Bakhtin and Religion: a Feeling for Faith


By Paul J. Contino

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 2001 Paul J. Contino
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0810118254

Introduction: A Feeling for Faith

Paul J. Contino and Susan M. Felch

Among the questions that have arisen over the work of Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, perhaps none has been more fiercely contested by some, or more ignored by others, than the religious dimension of his life and work. Clark and Holquist, his first biographers, declared unambiguously in 1984 that "Bakhtin was a religious man," but this is a statement both they and others have come to qualify, if not repudiate. As Caryl Emerson comments in her recent The First Hundred Years of Mikhail Bakhtin: The jury is still out on "the role of truth and faith in Bakhtin's thought."

This collection moves a bit closer to a verdict. As its subtitle--and the longer quotation from which it is taken--suggests, Bakhtin was careful to distinguish between "faith," which he identified as an abstract codification of a belief system, and "a feeling for faith." The latter involves both the preparation for personal encounters--the adoption of a proper attitude--and the actual living engagement of persons, human and divine. Bakhtin himself comments upon such a feeling in Dostoevsky: it is "an integral attitude (by means of the whole person) toward a higher and ultimatevalue" ("TRDB" 294). As Robert Louis Jackson notes of Dostoevsky, one leans toward this value and stands "in a positive relation to it."

Examinations of Bakhtin's own "feeling for faith," his leaning toward the religious, have tended to divide into the biographical and the textual. The essays in this volume take the latter path, investigating the religious dimensions of his thought as these shape and frame his writings. But the biographical evidence, which is both suggestive and disputed, should not be entirely overlooked, if for no other reason than Bakhtin's own emphasis on the answerability for one's life.

The Biographical Evidence

In their 1984 seminal intellectual biography, Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist offer what is still the best sketch of Bakhtin's religious activities and associations. They emphasize Bakhtin's immersion in the Russian tradition of kenosis that highlighted Christ's descent to earth, his Incarnation as a common man, and his death on the cross. Their claim that Bakhtin was "a highly religious man" was bolstered in the 1990s with the publication of reminiscences from Bakhtin's literary executors.

Vadim Kozhinov (born 1930), chief among those Russian scholars who, in the early 1960s, rediscovered Bakhtin, sought him out in Saransk, rescued him from obscurity, and saw that his work came back into print, insists in a 1992 interview with Nicholas Rzhevsky that "his religious convictions were apparently noncanonical," but "Mikhail Mikhailovich was a deeply religious person." In particular, Kozhinov recalls Bakhtin's statement that "there was never a great human being who was not a believer" because "only religion truly gives human beings freedom of spirit." In a later article, Kozhinov argues that while Holquist and Clark mayhave been the first to state in print that "all Bakhtin's ideas had a Russian Orthodox axis.. . . The people who were close to Bakhtin understood this after the first frank conversation with him." Such religious convictions, however, could not be publicly expressed during the Soviet era. Kozhinov admits that "Mikhail Mikhailovich did not discuss religious issues very often," but

several times he spoke at length about the most intimate [beliefs]. I recall that, still in the 1960s in Saransk, he spoke to me about God and Creation for several hours, finishing long after midnight. He spoke with such inspiration that I came back to my hotel, literally in a state of astonishment and could not fall asleep, remaining in a spiritual state which I had never experienced before.


In this article, as in the previous interview, Kozhinov repeats that Bakhtin believed "the human being in communion with Russia could confess only and exclusively Orthodox Christianity."

Kozhinov's colleague in the project of reviving Bakhtin's reputation, Sergey Bocharov (born 1929), recalls his "Conversations with Bakhtin" in an essay published in Russia in 1993 and claims: "The religious aspect of Bakhtin's aesthetics is deep but concealed, an unspoken, implicit theme, evidently because of the external conditions of writing in the Soviet period." Indeed, Bocharov remarks on the penitential tone in Bakhtin's voice as he recalled the "moral flaws" in his Dostoevsky book:

"After all, in that book, I severed form from the main thing. I couldn't speak directly about the main questions."


"What main questions, M. M.?"


"Philosophical questions. What Dostoevsky agonized about all his life--the existence of God. In the book I was constantly forced to prevaricate, to dodge backward and forward. I had to hold back constantly. The moment a thought got going, I had to break it off. Backward and forward" (he repeated this several times during the conversation). "I even misrepresented the church."


Finally, Vladimir Turbin (1927-93), Bakhtin's personal aide for his final decade in Saransk, in an article published posthumously, also recalls conversations with Bakhtin and records one comment in particular that was highly suggestive of Bakhtin's "feeling for faith." " 'A cross and a prayer,' he told me simply and with conviction, 'a cross and a prayer are the most important.' " Turbin comments: "The words about a cross and a prayer are a clear result of Mikhail Mikhailovich's dialogue with the Gospels which continued throughout his whole life."

One difficulty with these personal accounts (on which the Clark and Holquist biographyis also based) is their late publication date--some twenty years after the conversations took place. As a result, some scholars in the West have regarded these reports with misgivings, suspecting that devotion to a master may have colored the memories of the disciples. The notes of L. V. Pumpianskyon Bakhtin's 1924-25 lectures, which are included in the appendix to this volume and are contemporaneous with Bakhtin's early works, do lend credence, however, to these memoirs. In his lecture on "The Problem of Grounded Peace," Bakhtin argues not only for the necessary engagement of the self and the other in the creation of meaning, but for the presence of the "incarnated Third One." God's activity in the world is even more clearly articulated in Bakhtin's response to a paper delivered by M. I. Tubiansky. Against Tubiansky's dismissal of miracle and revelation on the grounds that such supernatural intrusions would render morality and even faith meaningless, Bakhtin argues that the world itself is constituted by revelation as well as natural laws. Furthermore, revelation is always personal, "the relationship of two consciousnesses." So it is not science, or reason, or intellectual maturity that causes people to deny the reality of revelation, but fear--fear of an encounter with a personal God, "of receiving a gift, and thereby obligating oneself too much." Against such fear, with its resulting cultural immanentism, Bakhtin posits a world that is meaningful because God has revealed himself, thus enabling human beings to enter into a face-to-face encounter with the divine person: "a personal relationship to a personal God--that is the distinguishing feature of religion." Such a relationship frees humans from the "attempt to enact an event with only one participant," an attempt that, for Bakhtin, is always doomed to failure.

Religious Dimensions in Bakhtin's Works

The Pumpiansky notes are a valuable contemporary witness to Bakhtin's early thought and also point us along the second path of exploring Bakhtin's relationship to religion through a close study of his own writings. The essays in this volume follow Pumpiansky's lead. Russian commentators on Bakhtin have been particularly sensitive to this approach. As Alexandar Mihailovic notes, "[T]he theological subtext of Bakhtin's work . . . has become a given in Russian interpretations of him." Thus Rzhevskyconcludes from his interview with Kozhinov:

The issue, given the biographical data, is not whether Bakhtin was religious-- the evidence is too strong to suggest he was not--but to what extent religion entered his philosophical concerns.. . . To define Bakhtin as a thinker who stood outside religion is to reduce the writer to ahistorical abstractions, to place him beyond the cultural dimensions of his own intellectual context, and, of course, to reduce religion itself from the role it actuallyplays in intellectual history.


Similarly, Kozhinov remarks that Bakhtin's religious convictions "are present under various guises in anyof Bakhtin's texts: one onlyneeds to treat his texts without prejudice and in depth."

Writers in the West have been slower to realize the religious significance of Bakhtin's writings. Julia Kristeva's 1970 introduction to the French edition of Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics discounted Bakhtin's religious language as "the unrecognized influence of Christianityin a humanist terminology." As early as 1982, however, Anthony Ugolnik noted the congruence between Bakhtin's sense of materiality and that of the Orthodox tradition, but few scholars until the 1990s picked up on this clue. In her 1990 essay, "Russian Orthodoxy and the Early Bakhtin," Caryl Emerson affirms Bakhtin's qualifications as a thinker in the Russian Orthodox tradition not by way of his biographybut bynoting his adaptation of the relational aspects of Trinitarian theology, his iconic emphasis upon the vitality of seeing, and his rejection of the Cartesian split between body and mind. In Bakhtin's Toward a Philosophy of the Act and his "Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity," proper seeing of the other entails love in its "willingness to concentrate attention," and here the incarnate Christ emerges as exemplary: "If there is an Ideal in Bakhtin's otherwise passionately quotidian philosophy, it is here in the intimate individuating reciprocity promised by the embodied image of Christ."

Embodiment is also the theme of Charles Lock's 1991 essay, "Carnival and Incarnation: Bakhtin and Orthodox Theology," which emphasizes the holiness of matter in the Orthodox imagination--and in Bakhtin's. In the eighth century, for example, St. John of Damascus, in his defense of icons, insisted that paint, wax, wood, and gold were fitting materials with which to image the Divine, above all because God "[took] up His abode in matter, and [accomplished] mysalvation through matter. 'And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.' " The event of the Incarnation means that matter matters, that it is sacramental in its capacity to mediate divine grace. Thus, as Lock insists, drawing on Toward A Philosophy of the Act, "the realization of one's 'singular irreplaceable involvement in being' is to be achieved through the body, through the opposite of what Bakhtin rejects as 'non-incarnated thought, non-incarnated action, non-incarnated accidental life as an emptypossibility.' " So, too, is the body affirmed in Rabelais and His World, its "foods, banquets and ingestions" suggesting the Eucharist and the Paschal Feast of Easter.

More recently, Alexandar Mihailovic's Corporeal Words (1997) draws especially upon the Gospel of John and the Chalcedonian formulation of the Fourth Ecumenical Council (A.D. 451) in their understanding of Christ as both human and divine, his two natures present "without change, without confusion, without separation." As Mihailovic demonstrates, terms that recall the Christological (and Trinitarian) notions of unity in diversity and interpenetration "emerge in almost every essay in Bakhtin's long and varied career." Furthermore, as Mihailovic notes, "We cannot dismiss his interest in theology as simply terminological because the interaction among Christological motifs saturates his critical lexicon of dialogue, carnival, and polyphony and is in fact crucial in defining the interrelatedness of those latter concepts."

Although these readers locate Bakhtin primarilywithin the particular Russian Orthodox tradition, Ruth Coates understands his religious subtexts within, one might say, the broadly orthodox and biblical tradition of the Christian faith. In Christianity in Bakhtin: God and the Exiled Author, Coates argues for a "coherent theistic framework to Bakhtin's aesthetic theory," based upon the biblical doctrines of God, persons, creation, fall, and incarnation. This framework is clearly established in his early works such as "Author and Hero" and modified, but not abandoned, in his middle and later writings.

The essays in this volume build on these earlier textual studies and focus on works from the entire span of Bakhtin's scholarly life, progressing in roughly chronological order from his early to his later writings. With their explicit references to Christ and religious experience, the works of the 1920s, however, receive special attention. Indeed, Bocharov claims that "Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity" is a treatise "which one could call Bakhtin's theology in the form of aesthetics or his aesthetics resolved in theological terms."

In the first essay, "Bakhtin and the Hermeneutics of Love," Alan Jacobs draws from "Author and Hero" as well as Toward a Philosophy of the Act to present a convincing explanation of the ways in which Bakhtin might be taken to extend and enrich Augustine's notion of charitable interpretation. Jacobs does not situate Bakhtin exclusively within Russian Orthodoxy, but rather thinks through the implications of his thought in a broader Christian context. For Bakhtin, aesthetic creation--and by extension, hermeneutical responses to works of art--are marked by "lovingly interested attention" (TPA 64). In his discussion of this loving attentiveness, Jacobs provides an illuminating gloss on two of Bakhtin's most fertile reflections on Christ. The first is from Toward a Philosophy of the Act:

[S]elf-renunciation is a performance or accomplishment that encompasses Being-as-event. A great symbol of self-activity, the descending [?] of Christ. The world from which Christ departed will no longer be the world in which he had never existed; it is in its very principle, a different world. (TPA 16)


One might immediately connect this passage with Christ's act of kenosis, the emptying of self that St. Paul writes of in his Letter to the Philippians, and that has played such a formative role in Orthodox spirituality. And rightly so, argues Jacobs, who sees it as Bakhtin's commentaryon the Philippians passage. But Jacobs insists that the self-renunciation of which Bakhtin (and St. Paul) speaks cannot be equated with the utter self-emptying, even self-annihilation, that an author like Simone Weil seems to advise. As the context of the passage from Toward a Philosophy of the Act makes clear, "losing oneself . . . [has] nothing in common with the answerable act/deed of . . . self-renunciation" (TPA 16). For Bakhtin, self-evacuation evades the authentic ethical deed that onlyI can accomplish. Indeed, it evades incarnation itself, as I fail to embody my own singular deed of attention, fail to undersign it as myown (TPA 51). Christ is the exemplar of such embodiment, as becomes clearer in the second passage, this time from "Author and Hero," which Jacobs cites:

[T]he Christ of the Gospels. In Christ we find a synthesis of unique depth, the synthesis of ethical solipsism (man's infinite severity toward himself, i.e., an immaculately pure relationship to oneself) with ethical-aesthetic kindness toward the other. For the first time there appeared an infinitely deepened I-for-myself--not a cold I-for-myself, but one of boundless kindness toward the other; an I-for-myself that renders full justice to the other as such, disclosing and affirming the other's axiological distinctiveness in all its fullness. ("A&H" 56)


In his explication of kenosis that is not self-annihilating, Jacobs presents an implicit response to the Russian critic K. G. Isupov, who, in his 1995 essay, "The Death of the Other," also links Bakhtin's ideas with those of Russian Orthodoxy. According to Mihailovic, however, Isupov sees kenosis as "the complete purging of consciousness" and "explicitly links Eastern Orthodoxy's annihilation of the other with political authoritarianism in general and Stalinism in particular, implicitly suggesting that the purges were possible precisely because of the particular kind of spirituality that operated on the level of the Russian collective unconscious."

But what does appropriate self-renunciation have to do with reading? Extending Bakhtin, we see how we might bring attention and loving kindness to our encounter with the text. Wayne Booth's golden rule of hermeneutics applies: "Read as you would have others read you; listen as you would have others listen." But the golden rule operative here necessitates an intentional, attentive love. If I totally give myself up to the text I am reading, or lazily allow its words to roll over me, I fail ethically in that I bring nothing of myself to the encounter. As Bakhtin insists in one of his final essays, "The event of the life of the text, that is, its true essence, always develops on the boundary between two consciousnesses, two subjects"(SpG 106). Even as I attend in loving contemplation to the text I am interpreting, I retain myunique and irreplaceable outsideness in relation to it. And yet, Jacobs suggests at the end of his essay, Bakhtin hints in his early writing that the answerable deed of charitable interpretation is not necessarily only shared by two. According to Bakhtin, Christ not only serves as exemplar in the "I-for myself" he brings to the encounter with the other, he remains as a presence, a third, for "[w]hat I must be for the other, God is for me" ("A&H" 56). As Jacobs writes: "the suggestion here is first that God's 'I-for-myself' and 'I-for-the-other' finds its perfect expression in the kenosis of Christ: 'the Word become flesh' (John 1:14) is God's signature, in Bakhtin's sense, of his love for us. But second, the divine signature, once recognized byme, provides the ground for, or source of, myown determination to act answerably, to 'undersign' and 'incarnate' my love for the other." Jacobs identifies a kinship here between Bakhtin and the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, but one recalls, too, Bakhtin's own late notion of the "superaddressee," the third present in every dialogue, "whose absolutely just responsive understanding is presumed" (SpG 126).

Jacobs's Bakhtinian gloss on Augustinian hermeneutics reminds us that when St. Augustine first encountered the Gospels he resisted them because of their low style. St. Ambrose helped him to see that the sermo humilis--the low and humble style--may not only be the bearer of the divine word, but is indeed most apt because the union of elevated and low evokes the Incarnation itself. As Erich Auerbach has written, "the Incarnation, as it actually happened on earth, could only be narrated in a lowly and humble style."

Graham Pechey, in his essay "Philosophy and Theology in 'Aesthetic Activity,' " rehearses the links between Bakhtin and Auerbach in his elucidation of a related paradox: for Bakhtin "the novel is our gospel, and (like the Gospels themselves) it offers at every turn a direct route from the everyday into the most elevated." Bakhtin works toward this position in "Author and Hero," which is Pechey's primary focus. In a further paradox, Bakhtin "sacralizes the novel"--and modernity itself--by embracing and exploring the problematics of faith within a genre that stands as one of modernity's signature achievements. The novel has often been seen as rising out of the development of Cartesian consciousness, with all of its destructive capacities for isolated rationalization and objectifying instrumentalization. The novel images modern thought in its celebration of the autonomous hero. Bakhtin affirms the autonomyof the hero, but grounds the hero's freedom within the authority of the author, thus reinscribing a communalism and intersubjectivitythat manytrends in modern thought had banished to the realm of theology. For Bakhtin, Dostoevsky's authority emerges in his willingness to grant his characters their freedom. As Pechey writes, "Dostoevsky matters so much for Bakhtin because his writing keeps faith with modernity's promise of freedom while resisting its will to totality."

A literary image from Dostoevsky--pictorially represented on the frontispiece--might make more concrete the dynamic that Pechey explores. In Christ's response of "lovingly interested attention" toward the Grand Inquisitor, Christ kenotically resists any imposition of power and sustains the Inquisitor's freedom. The Inquisitor, with his totalitarian blueprint for the future, could very well stand for what Pecheycalls the "sinful hubris of modern reason [that] produces in the twentieth centurythe terroristic heresies of its characteristic politics." But although the Inquisitor "adheres to his idea," Christ's graceful kiss upon his lips glows in his heart, and opens up his chance to exit his solipsism. Indeed, Eichenberg's woodcut suggests that the door leading from imprisonment is now open to the Inquisitor. On the one hand, the Inquisitor's last word to Christ--"Go!"--suggests willful refusal of the grace-bestowing other, and the utterance could stand for modern epistemology writ large. But "Go!" also comprises his release of the One whom he had willfully determined to destroy. The Inquisitor seems here to recognize that he is not his own author but, rather, is authored by an authoritative, grace-bestowing Other. To borrow Pechey's terms, the moment suggests a movement from sin toward faith: "Sin in Bakhtin's ethical-aesthetic sense is the absurd presumption that I can, as it were, 'rhythmicize' [give form to] my own life. Faith is the rightfully insane belief against all odds that I do not coincide with myself, the desperate refusal of the last word which spurs on my life-as-it-is-lived." The fact that in this episode Christ chooses a tactile kiss to communicate his loving authorial authority recalls Bakhtin's own embrace of figures like St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Francis of Assisi who celebrate embodiment and who, as Pechey writes, "might be seen as the saints who preside over" Bakhtin's "Author and Hero." Further, the Inquisitor's experience at this moment is one of paradoxical "passive activity" in his acceptance of Christ's kiss, an experience "of at once encompassing and being encompassed," and the moment might be read as emblematic of Bakhtin's sophianic dance, which Pechey explicates in the conclusion of his essay.

In "The First and the Second Adam in Bakhtin's Early Thought," Ruth Coates also observes Bakhtin's critique of--and hope for--the modern world in his early writings. In both Toward a Philosophy of the Act and "Author and Hero," human pride takes the form of claiming a false autonomy and, thus, a falling away from God, other, and the world. Coates looks closely at Bakhtin's choice of specific words that "strongly connote the bid of Adam and Eve for autonomyas theyeat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden." In Toward a Philosophy of the Act, such bids take the form of human thought detaching itself from life and refusing personal responsibility; in "Author and Hero," they comprise refusals of the form the other offers me as gift and "prideful attempts of the self to pursue his or her own form." Bakhtin, however, envisions redemption from this fall into the sin of pride, and, as in Christian theology, reconciliation and healing come through the process of incarnation. Like Jacobs, Coates calls up Bakhtin's kenotic example of Christ, and the virtue of humilityembodied there. Just as Christ embraced the limits of time and place, so must we embrace our own "unique situatedness" and "develop humility to the point of participating in person and being answerable in person" (TPA 52). I must also have the humility to accept the gift of form the other offers, and offer that form to others with the "kindness" and "loving mercy" that Christ exemplifies ("A&H" 56).

Five years later, however, with Problems of Dostoevsky's Art (1929; revised and expanded as Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, 1963), Bakhtin no longer celebrates the redemptive capacities of form, nor is he so sanguine that all authors will approach their characters with loving kindness and not exploit their position of outsideness. To finalize through form is to reify--and thus the author may fall into the sin of a monologizing pride and violence toward his creation. Here again Christ's kenosis emerges as the model of redemption, of which Dostoevsky is the authorial exemplar in his respect for his character's unfinalizability. But, Coates wonders: Is this scenario of redemption in fact an illusion, "a new and impossible utopia of authorial-heroic equality?"

Perhaps not, Coates suggests, and she finds hope in Bakhtin's focus upon a particular type of dialogue between characters, namely his emphasis upon the penetrative word. As Coates observes, Bakhtin defines the penetrative word twice: "the first time as 'a word capable of activelyand confidentlyinterfering in the interior dialogue of the other person, helping that person to find his own voice' (PDP 242), and later on as 'a firmlymonologic, undivided discourse, a word without a sideward glance, without a loophole, without internal polemic' (PDP 249)." The characters who utter such penetrative words--Myshkin, Tikhon, Alyosha--"offer a model for responsible, embodied authorityin which, as before, their 'otherness' is absolutely essential to the 'hero,' and yet who kenotically assist the latter to approach a finalized image of themselves . . . rather than doing the finalizing for them."

One might extend Coates's analysis and say that the penetrative word respects the unfinalizability of the other, yet calls that other toward incarnating his wish into a deed, often a deed of public confession. Sonia speaks such a word to Raskolnikov; Zosima does the same with Mikhail, his mysterious visitor. In doing so, such confessors integrate the open and closed dimensions of Bakhtin's thought and give novelistic witness to the possibility of practicing loving, authoritative authoring in everyday life. Furthermore, such a word suggests a third presence, to return to a point that emerged in our discussion of Jacobs's essay. Caryl Emerson has corrected the translation of "the penetrative word" to "the penetrated word," which suggests both its horizontal dimension--it penetrates the other, assisting that one to find his or her own voice--and its vertical dimension: it is itself penetrated by the Divine presence. This notion of the penetrated word recalls one of Bakhtin's favorite lines from Scripture: "For where two or three are gathered in myname, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20, RSV).

As Coates points out, the speakers of the penetrated word are invariably Christlike. They are kind, charitable, and authoritative in their kenotic self-denial--yet they are cheerful, indeed joyous. But S. S. Averintsev's essay, "Bakhtin, Laughter, and Christian Culture," causes us to pause and ask, do they ever laugh? The young, ecstatic Alyosha does with the boys at the end of The Brothers Karamazov, and Zosima does in his youth, at the moment of his liberating discovery of vocation. But in his old age as an elder, Zosima hardly ever laughs (though he always smiles). Why might this be?

Averintsev's essay turns our focus to one of Bakhtin's middle works, Rabelais and His World, and considers "the possibility of combining Bakhtin's theory of the 'culture of laughter' and its subordinate internal categories--'carnivalization' and the 'menippea'--with Christian culture and, in particular, with that old tradition according to which Christ never laughed." Averintsev asks, could this tradition be true? And if so, how might it be significant? These questions lead Averintsev to a trenchant critique of carnival laughter as Bakhtin celebrates it in Rabelais, one akin to criticisms leveled by Michael Andre Bernstein and Konstantin Isupov. Averintsev begins, however, with an appreciation of laughter. Laughter's dynamic, impulsive, explosive quality often liberates us from fear and anxiety. But what of the person who is already free from such constricting emotions? Such a person has no need or desire to laugh, and thus the tradition of Christ's never laughing: "[T]he God-man Jesus Christ, as he has always been imagined and conceived by Christian tradition . . . is absolutely free, and not from the moment of some liberation . . . but before the beginning of his earthly life, before the creation of the world, from the very pre-temporal depth of his 'pre-eternity.' . . . At the point of absolute freedom, laughter is impossible because it is superfluous." Averintsev recognizes that there is laughter that might be understood as Christian, namely laughing at oneself, and links such laughter with a prayer, "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24, RSV), that Bakhtin saw as exemplary of "the penitent and petitionary tones of confessional self accounting" ("A&H" 144). One is reminded here of the etymology of the English word "humor," which, like "humility," finds its roots in the Latin humus, "soil," or "earth." Such laughter can bring us "down to earth." But the Russian Orthodox spiritual tradition, as Averintsev explains, is not so sanguine about the virtuous potential in laughter, and uses the word "joker" as a "common Russian euphemism for the devil." And rightfully so. Historically there are more instances of demonic laughter than examples of Bakhtin's reductively benevolent carnival. Bakhtin claims that "violence never hides behind laughter"; Averintsev points to Ivan the Terrible, Condorcet, Mussolini, and Stalin, and insists that "all of history, literally, screams against" such a claim.

V. N. Turbin recollects a conversation with Bakhtin:

"The Gospels are also carnival!" said Bakhtin, half whispering, wincing as if a [wire] spring had contracted inside of him. This was in Saransk in the 1960s. He spoke about the Gospels like a conspirator speaking to his accomplice.


Averintsev would agree, but in a different tone: "The Gospel episode in which Christ is jeered at seems to throw us back to the very sources of the popular culture of laughter, to the age-old procedure of the ambivalent crowning-decrowning. But this procedure overshadows the bitter seriousness of the innocent man's torment, which is followed by his execution immediately after the end of the mock ceremony."

Near the end of his essay, Averintsev imagines a scene redolent of Dostoevsky in its tones of penitence. An English soldier has just been mocking Joan of Arc as she burns at the stake. He has "engag[ed] in the culture of laughter at the victim's expense." He faints, revives, and "hurries to repent of his guilt." One might imagine the soldier's confession, and the peace, which Bakhtin calls "grounded peace," that follows: "this time liberation coincides not with laughter, but with the end of laughter, with the sobriety that comes after laughter."

Although Averintsev presents a pointed critique of Bakhtin's "absolutized laughter," he movingly avows his respect and gratitude to Bakhtin, and recognizes that Bakhtin's celebration of the foul-mouthed folk comes from his genuine love for the Kustanai peasants with whom he worked. And Bakhtin himself, in the "Notes" he wrote three years before his death, seems to anticipate--and respond to-- Averintsev and others when he declares, first, that "[e]verything that is truly great must include an element of laughter," but then distinguishes between two kinds: "The joyful, open, festive laugh. The closed, purely negative, satirical laugh. This is not a laughing laugh" (SpG 135).

As noted earlier, Charles Lock has written on carnival in a more celebratory vein. In his 1991 essay, he reads Bakhtin's Rabelais book within the Christian context that affirms matter's goodness; such an affirmation is grounded in and required bythe confession that "the Word became flesh." Here, in "Bakhtin and the Tropes of Orthodoxy," Lock reflects again on what he calls the central paradigm of Bakhtin's thinking, that of the Incarnation, as it shapes his essays on the novel, especiallythose collected in The Dialogic Imagination. As Lock writes: "Two natures, divine and human, in the one hypostasis of Christ. The formula affirmed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 serves Bakhtin as a paradigm for the dialogical: two voices in the hypostasis of one word." Unlike Pechey, who stresses, in part, Bakhtin's Kantian dimension--his love of Dostoevsky's novels for their autonomous, free, modern heroes--Lock emphasizes Bakhtin's project "of resistance to dualistic models of thinking and being" such as Kant's, which maintain the split between the sensible material world and the immutable intelligible world. Like Pechey, however, Lock suggests ways in which Bakhtin's thinking on the novel offers an exit from destructive dualisms by affirming the bond between the ordinaryand the holy. Bakhtin's notion of the "chronotope," for example, bears affinities to Gregory of Nyssa's notion of diastema--the extension in time and space characteristic of creation, but not of God--"and to the theological argument that time and space and intelligibility all belong to creation . . . and must therefore all be subject to change and variation."

Gregory of Nyssa emphasizes the asymmetrical relation that exists between Creator and creature: although creation is limited, it does not limit the Creator, but neither does it completely separate the Creator from creation. From this, the twentieth-century emigre theologian Georges Florovsky develops "an asymmetrical Christology." Lock links Florovsky's understanding of Christ to Bakhtin's central notion of outsideness: "In making Himself circumscribable, God--inaccessible, essential, transcendent--rendered himself as an outside, took on outsideness." Indeed, God's circumscribing of Himself in the Incarnation becomes, as we saw earlier with St. John of Damascus, a central defense for the circumscribing of God's image in the icon. Both Incarnation and iconography give witness to the tropic nature of all creation. In Christ, the human is revealed to be like the divine: we are made in God's image and likeness; after the Fall, and through Christ, we are called to restore that image. Thus, in Christ, "two natures--human and divine--[are] joined together, without confusion, without separation." And although the icon is not the same as Christ, the image participates in the holiness of the prototype. This asymmetrical relation is, perhaps, best imaged in the icon reprinted at the end of this introduction. One of the earliest known icons, painted in Sinai in the sixth century, probably less than one hundred years after Chalcedon, it shows the face of Christ--especially His eyes--as clearly asymmetrical. The countenance suggests both human and divine, accessibility and omnipotence, tender mercy and powerful judgment, flesh and Logos: each is represented without confusion or separation. Or, to borrow Caryl Emerson's paradoxical paraphrase of Bakhtin's position, "separation and connection happen simultaneously, in a complementary way, without contradictory aims."

This icon provides a trope for Bakhtin's understanding of the novel. For, as Lock writes, "What is not possible in speech is possible in writing: a Chalcedonian, two-voice, double-natured discourse." Indeed, Lock points out that the "classical" arguments against the novel are verymuch like the claims of the iconoclasts-- that God cannot be circumscribed in an image. The novel dispenses with clear markers between self-contained and singular voices, and, especiallyin free indirect discourse, "insists . . . on the incarnation of language, and therefore on its representability." Language is represented in all of its double-voicedness, and such dialogism renders the novel "a text [that is] readable without being readable aloud."

In his discernment of likeness between the silent reading the novel invites and the hesychast practice of bodily silence, Lock looks ahead to the apophatic dimension in Bakhtin's work that Randall Poole will develop further.

For Lock, Bakhtin discovers in the novel "the Chalcedonian trope of the Logos incarnate: the double-nature and double-voice of Word-play." Alexandar Mihailovic emphasizes this Chalcedonian pattern throughout Bakhtin's work, both in his groundbreaking Corporeal Words, and here, in his essay "Bakhtin's Dialogue with Russian Orthodoxy and Critique of Linguistic Universalism." In this essay, Mihailovic sees Bakhtin's "theology of discourse" as determinative in his disagreement with the Soviet linguist Nikolai Marr and with Stalin, who declared Marr's theories anathema in the 1950s, but whose own forayinto linguistics reveals thinking much akin to Marr's. Both Marr and Stalin prove exemplary of what Bakhtin understands as faith: that which rigidlyadheres to frozen dogma and objectifies and reduces the vitalityof human experience. Marr asserted both the existence of a single originary language and, with the inevitable triumph of world communism, the ultimate convergence and synthesis of all languages. Such ideas "could not be farther from Bakhtin's reverence for the individual utterance" and for "the actual process of cultural development." Bakhtin's reverence here suggests his "feeling for faith" and his engagement with three central Christian ideas: the Chalcedonian formula of "coexisting yet separate twin natures of Christ"; the notion of perichoresis or Trinitarian interpenetration; and the Johannine word become flesh. Bakhtin's employment of these doctrines as structural paradigms evinces both his indebtedness to and idiosyncratic attitude toward the Orthodox tradition he inherited.

In "The Problem of Speech Genres"--written during the Marr controversy of the early 1950s, but not published until twenty years later--Bakhtin uses these doctrines to present a covert critique of both Marr and Stalin. For example, "Bakhtin's concept of the primacy of speech genres underscores a coexistence and a conditional merging of opposites that would be unthinkable to Marr. This conflation of synchronicityand diachronicitygoes deeply against the grain of Marrist linguistics." Ultimately, "[f]or Bakhtin, the Marrist and Stalinist positions are flip sides of the same double-faced coin in their frozen ideological versions of the liquidation of all discourses into a single language." Bakhtin rejects both versions through the "theoretical constructs" provided him by the Johannine Logos, Trinitarian interpenetration, and Chalcedonian unity within diversity.

By the end of Mihailovic's essay, however, one wonders whether these doctrines are functioning only as "theoretical construct[s]," "expressive metaphor[s]," or "structural paradigms." After all, Mihailovic points to Bakhtin's "ultimate underscoring of [the doctrines'] spiritual provenance and content byusing them as tools of political criticism." But then, as Lock's essay emphasizes, the power of metaphor, of trope, in the Orthodox imagination should not be underestimated.

With Randall Poole's essay, "The Apophatic Bakhtin," we come full circle, back to Bakhtin's first writings, especially "Author and Hero." We turn as well to another link between Bakhtin and a vital strand of the Orthodox spiritual tradition: that of apophasis, approaching God by relinquishing all conceptual categories. Orthodoxy emphasizes belief in theosis: that the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, is ultimately called to deification, to a sharing in or union with the Divine life. Thus the person (lichnost) can also be approached apophatically because each person is made in the image of God. And Bakhtin's personalism, Poole shows, bears remarkable resemblances to Orthodox apophaticism.

In the early parts of his essay, Poole helpfully elucidates Bakhtin's indebtedness to--and departure from--the philosophy of Kant. Drawing from Kant, Bakhtin asserts that consciousness is irreducible to nature; a person is thus a subject. As Bakhtin emphasizes, I can never fully coincide with myself as pure object ("A&H" 109). But whereas for Kant this insight becomes the occasion for developing a transcendental idealism, and leads him to postulate the existence of God, Bakhtin insists that his focus is upon concrete lived life, the waya subject experiences his life phenomenologically. "Bakhtin brings Kant down to earth," and as part of his phenomenology Bakhtin explores myrelationship with the other--and with the Other, God. In Poole's reading of Bakhtin, however, my "internal uniqueness of consciousness" does not necessitate metaphysical theism. As Poole writes, "If [Bakhtin] was a believer, it was, apparently, on other grounds."

But Bakhtin does insist upon "the unknowabilityof the self to itself (I-for-myself) and thus in the need for the seeing and knowing other--'deity becoming human,' becoming, that is, an embodied grace-bestowing other, Christ, Bakhtin's ideal image of the other." Here is where Poole locates the "apophatic moment" in Bakhtin. He links it to Timothy Ware's commentary on theosis--in which the particular identities of self and Other are preserved--and to the Cappadocian emphasis upon the particular personhood of each member of the Trinity, thus Bakhtin's imaging of Dostoevsky's worldview as "the church as a communion of unmerged souls" (PDP 26). Mycommunion with the other opens up "the possibility of creation" and a recognition of mycall to assist the other to "help fill in the apophatic gap of non-self-sufficiencythat everyself faces." For, what God is for me, "I must be for the other" ("A&H" 56).

As Philip Swoboda has written, "deification"--the culmination of which is theosis in which we shall know even as we are known--denotes a process, not a finished state: "The salvation of man comes about by his sharing, through sacrament and prayer, in the deified humanity of the Incarnate Logos." Bakhtin draws on this patristic emphasis upon process. Poole aptly calls it a "process of self-discovery": God is unknown; but if he were known we would not grow in personhood, in our true form as the image and likeness of God. Thus process entails "grace, confession, penitence and prayer, and faith." And hope: for Bakhtin, apostle of the second chance, the self can always recall its loophole of non-self-coincidence. Furthermore, in confessional self-accounting, "the very fact of becoming conscious of myself in being, testifies in itself that I am not alone in my self-accounting, . . . that someone wants me to be good" ("A&H" 144).

Poole points out that "someone" is capitalized "Someone" in the notes that Bakhtin's friend and colleague L. V. Pumpiansky took on Bakhtin's lectures on Kant and religion in 1924-25. These lecture notes are included in this volume as an appendix, for which Poole's essay--and Vadim Liapunov's framing remarks-- serve as a fine introduction. Bakhtin's lectures on Kant offer keen insights into the opening sections of the Critique of Pure Reason and contextualize the philosopher's achievements within a typology of philosophic systems. Central to these discussions, as N. I. Nikolaev points out in his introduction to the Pumpianskynotes, is the notion of responsibility or answerability, which Bakhtin recasts in personalist moral terms. Of most immediate interest to readers of this volume are Bakhtin's 1924 lecture, "The Problem of Grounded Peace," and his 1925 response to a paper by M. I. Tubiansky, whom Clark and Holquist describe as "a particularly contentious member of the [Leningrad] circle and a consistent opponent of Bakhtin." In reading Bakhtin's response to Tubiansky, some may call to mind the encounter depicted in Eichenberg's woodcut from Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov (cited hereafter in this introduction as BK). The Grand Inquisitor fears authentic miracle and revelation, and fears the gift of personal relationship that Christ offers him: "[W]hy dost Thou look silently and searchingly at me with Thymild eyes? Be angry. I don't want Thy love, for I love Thee not." Christ's response--a silent kiss--glows in the Inquisitor's heart. Ivan Karamazov, of course, authors this encounter, and if, as his brother Alyosha discerns, the story reveals Ivan's own fears, the "hell" he carries in his heart and head (BK 243), it also suggests Ivan's hope, his recognition that "Someone needs me to be good," and that, with trust, he might accept the gift that Someone offers.



Continues...

Excerpted from Bakhtin and Religion: a Feeling for Faith by Paul J. Contino Copyright © 2001 by Paul J. Contino. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: A Feeling for Faith 1
Bakhtin and the Hermeneutics of Love 25
Philosophy and Theology in "Aesthetic Activity" 47
The First and the Second Adam in Bakhtin's Early Thought 63
Bakhtin, Laughter, and Christian Culture 79
Bakhtin and the Tropes of Orthodoxy 97
Bakhtin's Dialogue with Russian Orthodoxy and Critique of Linguistic Universalism 121
The Apophatic Bakhtin 151
Afterword: Plenitude as a Form of Hope 177
App M. M. Bakhtin's Lectures and Comments of 1924-1925 193
Index 239
Notes on Contributors 251
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)