Friday, June 5, 2009

Bakhtin on Specialist vs. Generalist

In an earlier post, I commented on the recent SBL Forum paper on Specialist vs. Generalist.

Here are some snippets from Bakhtin speaking in a similar vein:

In our enthusiasm for specification we have ignored the questions of the interconnection and interdependence of various areas of culture; we have frequently forgotten that the boundaries drawn of these areas are not absolute, that in various epochs they have been drawn in various ways; and we have not taken into account that the most intense and productive life of culture takes place on the boundaries of its individual areas and not in places where these areas have become enclosed in their own specificity.


If it is impossible to study literature apart from an epoch's entire culture, it is even more fatal to encapsulate a literary phenomenon in the single epoch of its creation, in its own contemporaneity, so to speak. We usually strive to explain a writer and his work precisely through his own time and the most recent past (usually within the epoch, as we understand it). We are afraid to remove ourselves in time from the phenomenon under investigation. Yet the artwork extends its roots into the distant past. Great literary works are prepared for by centuries, and in the epoch of their creation it is merely a matter of picking the fruit after a lengthy and complex process of maturation.... Works break through the boundaries of their own time, they live in centuries, that is, in great time and frequently (with great works, always) their lives there are more intense and fuller than are their lives within their own time.... But a work cannot live in future centuries without having somehow absorbed past centuries as well.... Everything that belongs to the present dies along with the present.

(M.M. Bakhtin, "Response to a Question from the Novy Mir Editorial Staff," in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays; trans. Vern W. McGee; ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist)

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