Barthes, Bakhtin, Structuralism: A Reassessment
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The thesis is a comparative analysis of the shared ideas and concerns in the works of Mikhail Bakhtin and Roland Barthes from the point of view of differences between French and Slavic literary structuralisms. Its background argument is that the structuralism developed in the later works of the Russian Formalists and by Prague Structuralists and Soviet Semioticians is more historically and socially oriented than its French version, defining the structure of a literary work as a system of all of its elements and effects (even those that take us outside of the text, like literary tradition and historical and political circumstances). In this sense, Bakhtin can be seen as a part of the Slavic structuralist tradition (and not opposed to it as is often claimed), and Barthes (seen throughout his career) is on the whole perhaps closer to the Slavic structuralism than he is to the French. The particular problems discussed are those of the relationship between literature and ideology, the notions of intertextuality, heteroglossia, dialogism and polyphony and the differences between them, and the role of the author. Barthes and Bakhtin shared a lifelong interest in the role of ideology in literature and the influence of authoritarian language or myth on culture in general and the literary text in particular. They looked for ways in which the deadening effect of the mythological (epic, monological) thought and word can be counteracted through literature, and different versions of what Kristeva termed 'intertextuality' played an important part in their treatment of the subject. They also both discussed the role of the author and their voice in the literary text, and the question of their power over the text, its characters (Bakhtin) and the reader (Barthes). The main thread of Barthes and Bakhtin's thought focuses on the problem of counteracting authoritarian language through literature, and the solutions they proposed can fruitfully be seen in the light of Slavic structuralism's notions of literary structure.
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