Bakhtin and problems with American conservatism

Two things that will become evident over the course of this blog is my interest in the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin and my tendency to look a little politically liberal. I assure you that I am not really very liberal in the grand scheme of things, but in the context of current American politics, I look far to the left of most Democrats. Explanations to follow in coming posts.

Until then, here is an excerpt from a book I came across that may help explain the current manifestation of the Republican party’s obstructionist behaviour (why I spelled behaviour that way will also be explained in future posts):

The Vilnius of Bakhtin’s youth was thus a realized example of heteroglossia, the phenomenon that was to become a cornerstone of his theories. Heteroglossia, or the mingling of different language groups, cultures, and classes, was for Bakhtin the ideal condition, guaranteeing a perpetual linguistic and intellectual revolution which guards agains the hegemony of any ‘single language of truth’ or ‘official language’ in a given society, against ossification and stagnation in thought. (Clark and Holquist, 1984: page 22.)

The Republican party’s recent turn to white, populist, English language, middle American isolationism may be the root of its inability to generate much support outside of its dwindling base. This is obvious for many reasons, but it also is exacerbated by Palin-Buchanan-Limbaughish xenophobia since any idea that stems from elsewhere is deemed unamerican or liberal or worse.

“Stagnation in thought,” thus, has led to ossification, which may seem strong to some, but cannot lead to growth.

There is something to be said about purity, but that won’t really help come election time.

It’s not enough to be open to new ideas, though. One must also interact with the Other to see how these ideas work. I imagine Bakhtin would view this interaction necessary, not just so one might be able to replicate the Other’s ideas, but so the energy that results in the dialogical friction might lead to something entirely new.

There has been a very interesting discussion occurring on Andrew Sullivan’s blog (see last paragraph for further links) that argues that American culture, in general, is black culture.

However, if I may add my two cents: When the Scots-Irish culture of the South commingled with the African culture of the South, the result was not that the White southerners co-opted African culture, but the dialogue created something new. We can see this most clearly in Bluegrass music. No one would classify Bluegrass as Black, nor is it obviously Celtic. However it does find its roots in both.

The banjo originated in Africa, for instance. Clog dancing does resemble Irish or Scottish country dancing, but, if I’m not mistaken, the steps are on different beats of the measure. Am I wrong in thinking these different beats reflect African influence?

Of course it’s obvious that this intermingling of cultures has made into the Red states as well. The problem is that eventually, the heteroglossic nature of all cultures becomes monologic over time. Country and Bluegrass have outside influences, but they are distinctly American and fairly white as well at the present moment.

Alright, I’ll leave it right there for the moment. I need to get back to Bakhtin.


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