Terry Eagleton

Janus-Faced Genius

Mikhail Bakhtin

By Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist

Harvard University Press 416pp £19.95 order from our bookshop

No star has been rising more rapidly in the critical firmament over the past decade than Mikhail Bakhtin, communist, Russian Orthodox theologian, revolutionary philosopher of language, founding father of historical poetics and uncanny precursor of much in contemporary poststructuralism. Bakhtin brooded for a lifetime on the incarnational unity of body and word, plucking from this religious theme a ‘dialogical’ theory of human discourse, a rediscovery of the ‘carnivalesque’ sub-cultures of the Renaissance, and a startlingly original account of the world novel. His critique of Russian Formalism remains unparalleled today; his major critical works, on Rabelais and Dostoevsky, rank among the masterpieces of modem socialist aesthetics. From Freud to folklore, ethics to anthropology, there seems almost nothing which Bakhtin did not touch, transforming it with all the cavalier eccentricity which led him once to tear up one of his invaluable manuscripts for cigarette paper.

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