Unmasking Bakhtin Agrandir

Unmasking Bakhtin

The story of the lie that took over the humanities

Traduit par Ian MACKENZIE

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The (presumed) author of books on Dostoevsky and Rabelais, Mikhail Bakhtin was elevated to the rank of “the greatest theoretician of literature in the twentieth century” by a two-pronged process: the publication of a number of his old manuscripts, and the assertion that he was also the true author of most of the texts published in the 1920s under the names of his “friends” P.N. Medvedev and V.N. Voloshinov, who both died at an early age. Even though the theory of authorial substitution rests entirely on the declarations of Bakhtin, this dual process gave birth to the “Bakhtin Industry,” involving the elaboration of extremely creative hypotheses as to how exactly the works signed by his friends were written, and numerous studies aiming to demonstrate the unity and coherence of the Bakhtinian corpus.

But at the end of the 20th century, the publication of archival texts and interviews with Bakhtin revealed that he had lied about his biography and about his participation in the writing of the disputed texts. Further research showed that the supposed dates of his early manuscripts had been falsified, and that many of these writings consist largely of plagiarism.

Jean-Paul Bronckart and Cristian Bota’s conclusions lead us to investigate the motivations behind Bakhtin’s usurpation of other people’s work, as well as the true origin of the various texts that appeared under his name. They also call for reflection as to why belief in the existence of a single and homogeneous Bakhtinian corpus persists among many literary scholars, alongside their continued celebration of its author’s many-sided genius.

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Unmasking Bakhtin

Unmasking Bakhtin

The (presumed) author of books on Dostoevsky and Rabelais, Mikhail Bakhtin was elevated to the rank of “the greatest theoretician of literature in the twentieth century” by a two-pronged process...

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1. The first life of Bakhtin and his Circle

1. Bakhtin’s trajectory

1.1. Childhood and education

1.2. Nevel and Vitebsk (1918-1924)

1.3. Leningrad (1924-1929)

1.4. Bakhtin’s arrest and the publication of the first Dostoevsky book

1.5. Kostanay and Saransk

1.6. Savelovo (1937-1945)

1.7. The return to Saransk and the defense of the thesis on Rabelais

1.8. From Saransk to Moscow: the consecration of the man and his work

2. The members of the Bakhtin Circle

2.1. Portraits of members not involved in the affair of the disputed texts

2.2. Portraits of Voloshinov and Medvedev

3. Some provisional assessments


2. The initial reception of the “rediscovered texts”

1. The situation before the revelation of the affair

2. The initial reception of the disputed texts

2.1. The dismissal of Ivanov’s claims

2.2. Support for Ivanov’s theory and early interpretive excesses

2.2.1. The French reception

2.2.2. The first Americans rally to the cause

3. The first receptions of the texts signed by Bakhtin

4. Synthesis: The “disputed texts” in the 1960s and 1970s.


3. The irresistible rise of Bakhtin and his oeuvre

1. Ivanov’s glorifying article (1973/1975)

2. Todorov’s decisive intervention (1981)

2.1. Bakhtin, “the twentieth century’s greatest literary theorist”

2.2. The disputed texts

2.3. Assembling the Bakhtinian corpus

2.3.1. Bakhtinian epistemology

2.3.2. The theory of the utterance

2.3.3. Dialogism and intertextuality

2.3.4. The theory of literature

2.3.5. Bakhtin’s philosophical anthropology

3. Clark & Holquist’s Mikhail Bakhtin (1984), or the heights  of hagiography

3.1. The groundbreaking work of a thinker of genius

3.2. The disputed texts

3.3. The analysis and interpretation of the reconstituted  Bakhtinian corpus

4. Concluding remarks


4 The blossoming of the Bakhtin Industry and its literary and political squabbles

1. The positions taken in the early 1980s.

1.1. Reservations about the status of the Bakhtinian corpus

1.2. Reservations about the affair of the “disputed texts”

2. The positions taken after Clark & Holquist’s Mikhail Bakhtin

2.1. Positive reviews

2.2. Critical positions

3. Morson & Emerson enter the fray

3.1. Criticizing the Bakhtin Industry

3.2. Morson & Emerson’s new Bakhtin

3.2.1. The analysis of Bakhtin’s first writings

3.2.2. Trenchant criticism of the theory of Bakhtin’s sole authorship

3.2.3. Morson & Emerson’s underlying argument

3.2.4. The ambiguities of the analysis of the “Bakhtinian” corpus

4. Literary, epistemological and political disputes

4.1. The relations of influence among the members of the circle

4.2. Bakhtinian epistemology: phenomenology or Marxist dialectics?

4.3. The political implications of the Bakhtinian corpus

5. Some provisional remarks


5. The final declarations of the “witness” Bakhtin

1. Bakhtin’s account according to Bocharov and Kozhinov

1.1. The affair of the disputed texts

1.1.1. Bakhtin’s letter of January 10, 1961

1.1.2. The conversations of the 1970s.

1.2. Bakhtin’s strange relation to “his” first Dostoevsky book

1.3. The new “historical facts” about the crucial year of 1929

2. The interviews with Duvakin

2.1. Bakhtin’s religious and political commitments in the 1920s.

2.2. Bakhtin, his circles and his friends 

2.3. The first edition of Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art and the circumstances surrounding its re-publication

3. Paths to the probable truth

3.1. The affair of the disputed texts: a tissue of lies  and an insidious fraud

3.2. The reasons for the fraud

3.3. From lies … to madness


6. Appeals to history and their strange effects on Bakhtinianism

1. The reconstruction of Bakhtin’s life and work

1.1. Bakhtin’s second life

1.2. The problematic origin and dating of Bakhtin’s texts

1.3. Bakhtin’s numerous unacknowledged borrowings

2. The second life of Voloshinov, Medvedev and their works

2.1. Putting Voloshinov and Medvedev’s work in context

2.2. Medvedev and Voloshinov’s professional relationships with Bakhtin 

3. The poison of lies

3.1. More rewriting of history and interpretive madness

3.2. Making allowances for Bakhtin and his promoters’ lies

3.3. Making allowances for Bakhtin’s plagiarism

3.4. Remaining silent about misappropriated authorship

4. The strange ethics of some Bakhtinians






7. Bakhtin’s early work

Preliminary remarks

1. The motives behind Bakhtin’s “philosophy of the act"

1.1. The crisis of human culture

1.2. Denying the relevance of all formal knowledge

1.2.1. The critique of psychology

1.2.2. The critique of ethics

1.2.3. The critique of the philosophy of culture

2. Bakhtin’s philosophical project

2.1. A philosophy of life

2.2. A “non-epistemological” philosophy

2.3. A totally subjective “first philosophy”

3. The specific domain of the philosophy of the act

3.1. Life, act, event

3.2. Life, experience and representation 

3.3. Singularity and responsibility

3.4. The emotional-volitional tone, truth and language

3.5. Values and architectonics

4. Aspects of a philosophy of aesthetic activity

4.1. Some aspects of “author and hero” 

4.1.1. From the performed act to the soul 

4.1.2. The author as high priest of divine exotopy 

4.1.3. “Bad authors” 

4.2. Some aspects of “The Problem of Content”

4.2.1. The critique of formalism and the Bakhtinian counter-project

4.2.2. Content, material and form

5. Towards a conclusion

5.1. Does Bakhtinian “philosophy” merit the name? 

5.2. The foundations of Bakhtinian ideology

5.3. Bakhtin’s early aesthetics


8. Voloshinov’s oeuvre 

1. A firm grounding in Marxism

2. Psychology 

2.1. The “crisis” of psychology 

2.2. The critique of biological reductionism and subjective idealism 

2.3. An objectivist psychology that can account for consciousness 

2.4. Language and the sign as the bases of the psyche and consciousness

3. Aesthetics and literary discourse

3.1. Aesthetics as a sociological issue

3.2. A detour via everyday speech

3.3. How literature works 

4. Discourse analysis 

4.1. Discourse as the manifestation of social psychology 

4.2. The “fictional” character of language

4.3. Speech and utterances as social phenomena

4.4. The methodological program

5. The major themes 

5.1. The radical critique of subjectivist and phenomenological approaches

5.2. The focus on speech genres

5.3. Dialogism

5.4. The social and historical values of signs

5.5. Interactions among language, discourse and situation: the “theme”

5.6. The relations among form, content and material in poetic discourse 

5.7. Polyphony in poetry and everyday language

6. Conclusion: a foundational work


9. Medvedev’s The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship 

1. Constructing a science of literature

1.1. A resolute and critical form of Marxism 

1.2. Appraising literary scholarship 

1.3. A science of ideology 

1.4. The principles of sociological poetics 

2. The critique of formalism

3. Sociological poetics 

3.1. The object of a science of literature 

3.2. Social evaluation and the literary work

3.3. Literary scholarship as a science of human life

4. Final evaluation


10. Bakhtin’s early writings and the work of Medvedev and Voloshinov


11. The problem of the two versions of the Dostoevsky book (1929 and 1963)

1. The 1929 edition

1.1. An academic approach to Dostoevsky’s polyphony

1.2. Three ambivalent chapters

1.3. Applying discourse analysis to Dostoevsky’s work 

2. Bakhtin’s criticism of “his” book and the project for rewriting it

3. Some aspects of the rewritten version

3.1. Eliminating the sociological perspective

3.2. An attempted ideological reorientation

4. Commentaries and interpretations


12. On the status of the later work signed by Bakhtin

1. Truly apocryphal texts

2. The reformulation and transformation of the foundational themes 

2.1. Speech genres 

2.2. The active-responsive nature of the utterance 

3. Bakhtin’s late hermeneutics

4. The return of a truly Bakhtinian philosophical ideology

5. The very ambivalent relation to Dostoevsky’s work

6. Conclusions




Translator’s Postface


Titre Unmasking Bakhtin
Sous-titre The story of the lie that took over the humanities
Volume 145
Auteur Cristian BOTA, Jean-Paul BRONCKART
Traduit par Ian MACKENZIE
Collection Varia
Numéro 25
Langue Anglais
Avec Index; Bibliographie
Support Livre broché
ISBN-13 978-2-600-06020-2
GTIN13 (EAN13) 9782600060202
Référence 25-145
Date de publication du format
Support PDF
ISBN-13 978-2-600-16020-9
GTIN13 (EAN13) 9782600160209
Référence 25-145-PDF
Date de publication du format 08/11/2019
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