Bakhtin’s homesickness: A late reply to Julia Kristeva

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The article focuses on Bakhtin’s early essays and fragments, written in 1919–24 and translated into English under the titles Toward a Philosophy of the Act and Art and Answerability. The belated English publication of these early writings opens up a different view of Bakhtin’s subsequent work and calls for a re‐evaluation of his position in the postmodern (post‐Nietzschean) philosophical arena. The article would take issue with some of Kristeva’s (now widely current) views of Bakhtin, which celebrate the radically ‘centrifugal’ power of his work, and tend to dismiss, or even tactfully suppress his metaphysical outlook as an embarrassing rhetorical residue of the Russian cultural context. Following the ‘centripetal’ vectors in the early essays, I would argue that this outlook is, in fact, a fundamental enabling constituent of Bakhtin’s work; that it is closely related to a ‘theory’, or rather, an ‘anti‐theory’ of the subject; and that this theory deconstructs itself in a series of aporetic twists which I would attempt to outline and diagnose. Finally, I would suggest that, rather than an unwitting precursor of our libertarian age, Bakhtin is all‐too‐aware of the stakes of the postmodern condition. His refusal of monologicity is not a purely emancipatory act: when the need for a ’point d’appui’ outside the subject, the most fundamental metaphysical need, remains unanswered, the problem of grounding emerges in full force both in the constitution of the subject and in the constitution of the ethics. Situated on the borderline between a religious and an aggressively secularized culture, straddling both territories, Bakhtin — like Dostoevsky, his hero ‐ is not at home in either of them. It is precisely this liminal position and the symptomatic tensions it produces, which enables him to engage with the Mobius strip of ethics and subjectivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-242
Number of pages20
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995

Bibliographical note

. Rpt. in Mikhail Bakhtin, the Masters of Modern Social Thought series, ed. Michael E. Gardiner (London and Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage Publications, 2003), vol. IV, pp. 119-135


  • Answerability
  • Bakhtin's early works
  • Dostoevsky
  • Kristeva
  • Metaphysics
  • Modernity
  • Subject (self)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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