Christianity in Bakhtin: God and the Exiled Author by Ruth Coates

By Ruth Coates

The paintings of the good Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin has been tested from a large choice of literary and theoretical views. not one of the many experiences of Bakhtin starts to do justice, even though, to the Christian measurement of his paintings. Christianity in Bakhtin for the 1st time fills this significant hole. Having verified the robust presence of a Christian framework in his early philosophical essays, Ruth Coates explores the way Christian motifs, although suppressed, proceed to discover expression within the paintings of Bakhtin's interval of exile, and re-emerge in texts written through the time of his rehabilitation. specific recognition is paid to the topics of production, Fall, Incarnation and Christian love working inside of metaphors of silence and exile, suggestions which tell Bakhtin's global view as profoundly as they effect his biography.

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On one level, the most obvious, he fell silent by ceasing to publish almost immediately after he started. Following the Tolstoy Prefaces of 1929 and 1930 there followed a period of thirty-three years during which Bakhtin literally `wrote into his desk', as the Russians say; his voice was not heard in the scholarly dialogue. This period of silence almost exactly coincides with his years of exile, for ®ve years understood in the literal sense of banishment from cultural centres by law, and thereafter as enforced life in the provinces pending rehabilitation.

On one level there is the distinction between the product of cultural activity and the activity itself, the former being part of a closed intellectual realm developing according to its own internal, autonomous laws, where everything is a theoretical possibility but nothing is concrete, the latter being rooted in real time and space, in what Bakhtin calls `the open event of being'. The cultural product is of course given, whilst the cultural act is posited. On a smaller scale every individual act consists of a given product and a posited action which gives rise to that product.

This damaged universe is strongly reminiscent of the fallen universe of Judaeo-Christian theology, according to which the Fall introduces death into the world for the ®rst time and the struggle for life begins (the expulsion from paradise and the injunction to work `by the sweat of one's brow' and to endure pain in childbirth). In a fallen universe chaos always threatens: `the whole transcendental unity of objective culture is in fact dark and elemental [stikhiinyi] when cut off completely from the single and unique centre of responsible consciousness' (104, my emphasis).

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