The Dialogic Imagination by Mikhail Bakhtin

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Summary

To summarize The Dialogic Imagination, by philosopher and literary theorist Michael Bakhtin, you should consider form and structure, context, argument, themes, and any other aspects of the book that seem relevant to understanding its place in literary theory and in the author’s body of work.

Firstly, it would be worth noting that Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher and literary theorist. His main areas of work were the philosophy of language, ethics, and literary theory. As such, this book continues and furthers his work in these areas.

It should also be noted that this book contains four separate but connected essays, which had originally been published separately, prior to the 1975 publication of this book. The four essays contained in this book are considered crucial to understanding Bakhtin’s literary theory and to introduce and explore some of his most important contributions to the field.

Your summary should discuss the contents of each essay, by introducing the main theme and argument of each one. The first essay, “Epic and the novel,” focuses on defining the novel by contrasting it to the epic. The second essay, "From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse," focuses on the history of the modern novel and explores how different texts in history have been crucial to its development. "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel" is the third essay, and this is where Bakhtin introduces and explores the concept of chronotope. "Discourse in the Novel," the fourth and final essay, discusses the philosophy of language and particularly the concept of heteroglossia.

Finally, it would be worth paying some attention to the the terms "chronotope," "heteroglossia," and "dialogism." A summary could explore how Bakhtin’s arguments represent a significant shift from the theories of other philosophers of language, like Saussure, and perhaps discuss how he connected the philosophy of language and literary theory to society and social hierarchies.

The Epic and the Novel

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The first of The Dialogic Imagination’s four essays, “Epic and Novel,” was written in 1941 and first published in 1970 (and in expanded form in the 1975 collection). It offers a succinct and relatively straightforward introduction to one of Bakhtin’s most important ideas, in effect defining one genre, the novel, by contrasting it with another, the epic. According to Bakhtin, what distinguishes the epic is the complete separation of its world from contemporary reality (the time of its narration) and by means of this separation, the creation of a valorized past: absolute, closed, complete, uncontaminated by the present, above all unchanging, and therefore both inhuman and ahistorical.

The novel is everything the epic is not. It is alive, liberated, and liberating; this is its aesthetic and its ethic. Anticanonical, unfinalized and unfinalizable, the novel is less a carefully defined genre than an antigenre, whose plasticity and formlessness define or constitute its form. The novel intersects with other genres, which it critically examines, using parody and other means to expose their limitations and conventionality. Freely absorbing other literary as well as subliterary and extraliterary forms, the novel proves itself the most omnivorous, fluid, and organic of the genres and therefore the most resistant to theoretical explanation. Written one year earlier (1940), and first published three years earlier (1967), the collection’s second essay, “From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse,” follows much the same line of thought. It traces the novel back to its roots in those forms (Socratic dialogue, Menippean satire, folklore, carnival, popular laughter) which, unlike the epic, emphasize what is low, present, contingent, and parodic. These are the forms that prepare the way for the novel as “the genre of becoming.”

Dialogism and the Novel

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The last essay in The Dialogic Imagination is also the earliest of the four to be written (1934-1935) and arguably the most interesting if at times the most confusing. As...

(The entire section is 943 words.)