I have been away for a while… I have been reading though; I’ve just been lazy about writing, so I plan to spend the next couple of weeks writing about everything I read so that I can better remember it. This short time is it! I got comps at the end of October, so I really have to get to all this stuff.

With that in mind, I am going to work on narratology and marxism this week, as well as Firmat’s living on the hyphen stuff and Cuban literature. We’ll see how it goes.

Now: M.M. Bakhtin: (doesn’t he look a little like General Zod?

In The Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin explores the “new genre” called the novel, a new form “that is as yet uncompleted” (3). Other genres, established traditional ones, are complete and have a fixed, pre-existing form that an artistic uses. These established genres (such as the epic and tragedy) live a completed life and present a history that happened. Furthermore, the older genres retain their oral tradition beginnings; where as, the novel “is younger than writing and the book” (ibid.). The novel, however, does have a canon, but a canon that is mutable, growing and changing—older genres have established canons, and Bahktin compares studying older genres with studying dead language as opposed to the novel, which is living and contemporary.

Since the novel is a new genre, it requires a new theory of reading. The novel fails to get along with other genres (although I believe Bahktin’s idea here is outdated: the 21st. century novel adapts to all other genres—it steals from poetry, from epic, from tragedy, from comedy). Bahktin claims that the older genres delimit each other and are interconnected and compliment each other, but the novel goes against them. The older genres have hegemony on poetics: “Their aim is not a living and organic fullness but rather an abstract and encyclopedic comprehensiveness” (5). The completed, older genres can be studied together, but the incomplete novel fails to fit in anywhere. The animosity of the novel arises out of the manner in which the novel parodies other genres. The stuffy language here makes the older genres sound like they have no sense of humor, and the novel comes along and makes fun of them. Bahktin says “Those genres that stubbornly preserve their old canonic nature begin to appear stylized” to the point that they begin to sound like parodies of themselves—an essential, central point for the novel. The novel parodies dominant forms.

The novel incorporates humor, laughter, irony and renews itself with heteroglossia . Since the novel keeps developing, it reflects current reality, reflecting a new world in the making. Additonally, by becoming the dominant genre, the novel infects the other genres because the novel embraces inclusiveness (7). This inclusiveness, along with the newness, reflecting contemporary reality and time creates a problem for theory, which can explore set genres easier because established genres have a set canon and rules to follow. The novel defies any easy classification.

Some common novel characteristics: 1) the novel should not be poetic; 2) employs anti-hero—he should be both high and low; 3) Hero should be a round character; 4) “the novel should become for the contemporary world what the epic was for the ancient world” (10). Through these characteristics, the novel criticizes other genres (critique of hero, for instance), while also attempting to establish itself as a dominant genre. Bahktin makes sure to inform his reader that these definitions/characteristics he explores should not be taken rigidly because the novel is the most fluid of all genres. He goes on to outline characteristics that distinguish the novel from other genres: style, time, and contemporary, all three of which resulted from globalization and Europe’s encounter of other cultures and languages, resulting in a polyglossia unique to the novel. The world mixes knowledge, language, and culture, which makes language distinctions fall apart, and all these factors create a new “polyglot world” where “completely new relationships are established between language and its object (that is the real world)” that creates problems with old genres.

Bahktin then compares the epic: national epic which reflects a nation’s past; national tradition—not personal history—serves as material; distance between epic world and contemporary world. The epic reflects on a past that can never be directly experienced and tells the story of a nation’s history—a history closed, ended, that is reflected upon and is distinct from the present. The epic passes down, already defined to new generations. It also valorizes temporality by reflecting on a romantic (better) past—it privledges the “original” while also relying on memory instead of knowledge. The novel, on the contrary, relies on personal experience and knowledge about contemporary time. Where epic time is sacrosanct, isolated, and finished, the novel’s time is open, ambiguous, and future directed. All completed genres have three charcteristics: 1-same time; 2-role of tradition; 3-hierarchical distance (past on top, present on bottom of hierarchy) (18). The established genres have valorized the past and has established this valorization as official, but the novel lives now, taking everything now and using it, living, growing, changing, including language.

The novel, furthermore, uses humor to familiarize itself with the world and brings the high low. A new attitude emerges. From here, Bahktin explores older forms of “comedic” genres as the precursors to the novel, emphasizing laughter because it breaks down distance and brings subject closer, which makes the object familiar, taking fear away and makes scientific knowledge possible (23). He uses the example of Socrates, a hero who parodies himself (his greatness comes from knowing that he knows nothing), uses irony, multiple styles, etc, and he brings the world closer in order to analyze the world fearlessly. The novel intrudes on the present.

Bahktin then moves on to explore the artistic features related to the novel’s conception of time. – which I will get to later… (31).

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