What would Bakhtin do?

I’m reading Bakhtin’s Discourse in the Novel on a sunny Labor Day afternoon (ah, the odd joys of studying for comps), and just ran into this:

Opposed to the language of priests and monks, kings and seigneurs, knights and wealthy urban types, scholars and jurists–to the languages of all who hold power and who are well set up in life–there is the language of the merry rogue, wherever necessary parodically re-processing any pathos but always in such a way as to rob it of its power to harm, “distance it from the mouth” as it were, by means of a smile or deception, mock its falsity and thus turn what was a lie into gay deception. Falsehood is illuminated by ironic consciousness and in the mouth of the happy rogue parodies itself. (401-2)

As we’ve been preparing for Harlot‘s October launch (woo hoo), there’s this natural impulse to reflect on the project, its ideals and actuality, its goals and challenges. And so reading Bakhtin’s admiring description of the “merry rogue” immediately challenged me to consider how–and how well– Harlot will live up to the rogue part of its persona.

The rogue speaks ironic, parodic truth to, and more importantly about, power. The rogue is a member of the folk culture, a person of the masses, one who stands on the edge of dominant culture, points its finger, and dares to laugh. And in that laughter there is a shifting of power and authority.

So I wonder: How can Harlot perform the role of the rogue, to not just analyze but critique, to playfully (as Kaitlin says) kick the stuffyness out of intellectualism? To participate in what Bakhtin calls “the common people’s creative culture of laughter”?

Or more to the point, how can Harlot encourage YOU to perform that role?

Like this post? Check out others like it:

2 thoughts on “What would Bakhtin do?

  1. The Bakhtinian rogue or carnivalesque should probably be tempered by the Foucaultian parrhesiaste and Julien Benda’s intellectual.

    The parrhesiaste is the figure in classical culture who speaks truth to power, fearlessly.

    Benda’s intellectual speaks the truth even at risk of political, personal and professional consequences — at risk, even, Benda says, of being burned at the stake.

    There is trouble in “truth” in these writers — neither is referring to some ideal truth that we, in our post-post condition, know to be impossible. So don’t let that turn you away. Instead focus on the bravery of the act in the face of consequences.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *