THE NOVEL AND ITS OTHERS
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We might begin by observing that for Bakhtin the novel stands to the other genres as the textuality of incarnation to the textuality of transcendence. There are strong hints in the Dostoevsky book of a homology between the authorial position in the polyphonic novel and the mediating figure of Christ, the ‘highest and most authoritative orientation’ perceived as ‘another authentic human being and his voice’ (PDP, 97).2 There are equally strong hints in ‘Discourse in the Novel’ (see the epigraph above) that the task of the poet is an impossible approximation to the figure of Adam. Whilst the prose word foregrounds the difficult drama of arriving at its object, the word in poetry seeks a direct relation with an object conceived as ‘virginally full and inexhaustible’ (DN, 278), behaving for all the world as if it had not had to struggle with other words in order to reach the latter. Every word in poetry strives ideally towards the status of the first word ever uttered, uniquely and primally naming alien things while acknowledging no alien words. The epic thematizes this putative condition of the poetic word by encoding the values of ‘best’ and ‘highest’ in the ‘first’, in a narrative of beginnings. Poetry, in short, names a postlapsarian impossibility: language living wholly inside itself; a language of the Name and the Same. The historicity and social specificity that are so sensitively and minutely registered by novelistic prose escape poetry altogether, whose temporality is that of the epoch rather than the moment. True, in periods of change in ‘literary poetic language’ a certain hybridization may take place – poetry might admit the Other into itself – but the outcome is an instant codification, rather like the Saussurean langue which opens itself momentarily to take
in change from the world of parole and diachrony, reshuffling its internal relations only to close ranks again immediately afterwards.