A Bakhtinian reading of a selection of poems by Holderlin and Whitman

Stephen W Pierson, Purdue University


Bakhtin's critical theory is shown to hold out the possibility of reading lyric poetry dialogically and monologically at the same time: dialogically as an utterance, and monologically as an artistic utterance. Lyric poetry is shown to exhibit all the major dialogic attributes of the utterance, as Bakhtin defines it: a change of speaking subjects, finalization of the utterance, expressive intonation, and discernible orientation toward an audience (addressivity). At the same time, the traditional lyric possesses a monologic author-hero relationship, insofar as lyrical author and speaker tend to merge. This merging, Bakhtin maintains, violates a fundamental dialogic condition of human being (the non-coincidence of self and other) and its corollary: one's excess of perception and cognition vis-à-vis another human being in everyday social intercourse. This surplus of seeing and knowing can be exploited artistically in any literary genre; however, the lyric's author-hero relationship works against it, while the novel's author-hero relationship favors it. Central to our claim is the importance of Bakhtin's early philosophical writing, where the author-hero relationship is treated in depth. Furthermore, we consider Bakhtin's views on lyric poetry consistent in the context of his dialogic theories of communication and cognition. These claims constitute a reconsideration of the scholarship on Bakhtin and lyric poetry, for it largely neglects the early philosophical writing and finds Bakhtin's views on poetry misguided and contradictory.^




Howard Mancing, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature, Comparative|Literature, Germanic|Literature, American

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