Sunday, 24 November 2013

ABC blog: B

See previous entry A

B is for Bakhtin, inescapably. The most important single theorist who has inspired all my research, from the magical chronotopes in my PhD thesis through carnival and polyphony and intertextuality and back to carnival. The trouble with Bakhtin in Western scholarship is that people tend to be familiar with only one of the cornerstones of his all-encompassing theory of the novel. Sadly, Bakhtin died before he could write up his works and fragments into a coherent whole, an ultimate theory of everything. Some people use the chronotope, correctly or incorrectly; some people have no idea that polyphony and heteroglossia are two translations of the same Russian word; some people use carnival in a very narrow sense, while it was for Bakhtin the decisive philosophical approach to all art. Intertextuality is used everywhere, but it is Julia Kristeva's translation of Bakhtin's original concept of text in dialogue. And since Bakhtin's groundbreaking works were published in the West after Booth's and Genette's, he doesn't get credit for the fundamental ideas of narrative theory: the relationships between the author, the narrator and the character. 

 Last year, some of my students asked for a crash course on Bakhtin, and we had some great sessions, but I could easily teach a whole course on Bakhtin and children's literature and never run out of topics. For a full bibliography, see my academia page. Bakhtin is omnipresent, even when he is not specifically tagged. 

You can stop reading here if you wish, but if you want a more detailed and academic mini-introduction to Bakhtin and children's literature, here is a panel proposal I recently sent to an international Bakhtin conference.

The works of Mikhail Bakhtin have been widely employed in international research on children's literature since the late 1980s when they became available outside Russia. The research community not only seized the various parts of Bakhtin's theoretical framework as fruitful tools for examining texts produced and marketed for young audience, but in the first place realised the significance of Bakhtin's theory of the novel for holistic approaches to children's literature as an art form. Firstly, children's literature is inescapably heteroglot, since it is built on the coexistence of and conflict between the adult and the child discourse. This is not merely reflected in the text through the cognitive discrepancy between the adult and child narrative subjectivities, but also in the inevitable asymmetical power positions, reminiscent of other heterological discourses, such as feminist, queer and postcolonial, where Bakhtin's ideas have similarly been creatively utilised. However, secondly, children's literature is also inherently carnivalesque, since it allows temporary empowerment of the disempowered (children), sanctioned by those in power (adults). While the social norms disrupted by carnival in children's literature are typically re-established, the carnivalesque structure has a strong subversive and transformative potential, textual as well as extratextual. Thirdly, children's literature is consciously and consistently dialogical because of its integral eclecticism, drawing on folktales, mainstream literature and popular culture, apart from its own rich intertextuality. Children's literature, more than any other kind of literature, is transnational and transgenerational. Finally, the specific chronotope of childhood, with its restricted spatiality and temporality and its focus on futurity, reflects Bakhtin's concept of incompleteness as the foremost characteristic of the polyphonic novel. 

So. Now you can sit an exam on Bakhtin. But don't forget to refer to me as your source.

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