Summary on Mikhail Bakhtin's "Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics"

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  • Topic: Mikhail Bakhtin, Utterance, Fiction
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FR 511 – Bakhtin (Day one) Summary
The subject of our October 29th lecture was Mikhail Bakhtin and his text “Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics.” To start the class, Dr. Wall reminded us that Laura talked about polyphony in her presentation the week before, and that that was where we would start the lecture on Bakhtin. To help the class better understand the concept of polyphony, we were shown a piece of music written by Bach: “No. 4 of 6 little preludes.” In the piece, the right hand was singing something completely different than the left hand. There were in fact two completely different melodies happening at the same time. We were told that, in Romantic music, there is one central melody, and the other instruments are there solely to accompany it. Their job is to reinforce the melody. But with older music, we see that it is possible to have more than one melody at a time, sometimes even four or five. You can listen to one melody at time or both at once, etc. This example of polyphony in music is basically a metaphor for the way that Bakhtin understood Dostoevsky. In classical literature, the text is dominated mainly by the voice of the narrator, and everything else simply reinforces what the narrator has to say. With Dostoevsky, this is not the case. That is the first important point to remember in understanding Dostoevsky’s poetics. According to Bakhtin (not Amy), Dostoevsky is the author of the first polyphonic novel. At this point Dr. Wall stated that Dostoevsky is really just a foil and that other authors could be substituted (Diderot for example). Again, coming back to the first main point in understanding Dostoevsky’s poetics (or Diderot, etc.), one has to imagine a type of literature where the narrators voice is no longer all powerful and no longer dominates the entire text. Furthermore, Russian orthodox theology also had an influence on Bakhtin. In the same way that God created man to have free will, the author creates the literary character to have...
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