Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 313

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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.

Dialogism and the Novel

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 351

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 Bakhtin points out at the beginning of “Discourse and the Novel,” “The principal idea of this essay is that the study of verbal art must overcome the divorce between an abstract formal’ approach and an equally abstract ideological’ approach.” Defining the novel as a diversity of voices and speech types, Bakhtin here contrasts it not with the epic (as in The Dialogic Imagination’s opening essay) but with poetry. Unlike poetry, which Bakhtin faults for giving rise to the idea of “a purely poetic, extrahistorical language,” novelistic discourse “cannot forget or ignore.” Against the monologism of poetry (and the epic) and its “Ptolomaic” conception of language, he posits the novel’s essential dialogism, its Galilean “decentering” of meaning and liberating sense of “linguistic homelessness.” This liberation gives rise both to the centripetal forces that seek to limit meaning and to a speaker’s yearning not just to speak but to be heard and responded to—important ideas that Bakhtin discusses elsewhere. Rather than excluding or limiting heteroglossia (“another’s speech in another’s language,” serving two speakers, each with his or her own intentions), the novel intensifies it. Indeed, Bakhtin explains the development of the novel as “a function of the deepening of its dialogic essence,” which leaves “fewer and fewer neutral, hard elements” outside its relativizing gaze.

Bakhtin turns his attention to the stages in the novel’s development. One of his most interesting observations concerns the difference he finds in the way the Baroque novelists of the eighteenth century approached heteroglossia and incorporated it in their work, whether condescendingly from above or more enthusiastically from below. Another is the part played in the novel’s development by the English comic novel with its parodic recycling and stylization of literary language. Unfortunately, not all of this important essay is quite so clear or provocative, least of all the perhaps overly fine distinctions he makes between different kinds of hybrid constructions.

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