22 November 2010

Bakhtin revisited

James Philip Zappen quotes from Bakhtin’s “Discourse in the Novel”:  “Hybridization is both linguistic and cultural.  Hybridization ‘is a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by an epoch, by social differentiation or by some other factor.’  Hybridization may be either intentional or unintentional.  Unintentional hybridization is ‘a mixing of various “languages” co-existing within the boundaries of a single dialect, a single national language, a single branch, a single group of different branches or different groups of such branches, in the historical as well as paleontological past of languages.’  Intentional hybridization, such as the artistic image of a language re-created in the novel, is not only a mixing of various languages but is more importantly a ‘collision between different points of views on the world’ that produces ‘a semantic hybrid; not semantic and logical in the abstract (as in rhetoric), but rather a semantics that is concrete and social.’  Intentional, novelistic hybridization is thus productive of new linguistic and cultural possibilities, for just as the mixing of heteroglot languages forms a complex unity of self with other, so also the mixing of differing worldviews forms novel cultural hybrids.”

Bakhtin was looking at multilingual texts (or monolingual texts that actually use languages at different stages of development) from the outside, as a critic.  We can look at these texts from the inside, as practising multilingual writers.  We know that our selves are complex, we know that languages co-exist within us, we know that we have linguistic resources much richer than the language-challenged, but we also know that mixing languages is not a matter of our choice.  The languages choose us.  Texts write themselves through us.  We do not write texts through our languages.

1 comment:

  1. The idea of language choosing the practising multilingual writer echoes Heidegger. It also picks up an earlier notion of the "Romantic ventriloquist" as image of the poet speaking inspired ideas. I can think of an instance, however, of a writer mixing languages by choice, e.g., a dramatist appropriating overheard dialogue to lend authenticity to the character's voice.