D is for… Dialogism: Bakhtin and his world (Book) #AtoZChallenge

D is for… Dialogism: Bakhtin and his world (Book)

I thought I would use this challenge to remind myself why I had bought a few of the books on my bookshelf. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to read whole books I decided scan reading and providing an overview of each on my A to Z list would be sufficient for now; providing me with a synopsis I could return to.

I bought Dialogism: Bakhtin and his world by Michael Holquist (New Accents series) after attending a session at BU led by someone from the media school. It sounded interesting, possibly relevant and I remember Bakhtin was one of the theorists who cropped up a few times when I was studying for my OU degree in Literature. I bought this book (originally published in 1990) for my Kindle (2002 edition).

I started scanning and reading and quickly I got lost. I was confused and the words on the page didn’t all seem to make sense when combined. I felt stupid – I believe this is a feeling that will occur again on my PhD journey. Occasionally though there was a glimmer of hope and I was highlighting sentences, sometimes even whole paragraphs that I understood and thought could be useful.

I guess the fear is that is where I could stop – only using that which makes sense – in terms of understanding, and with reference to my worldview. I have to be cautious to push myself further – push myself back. Theorists refer to other theorists and so it goes on. I feel I need to make myself a timeline – distinguish how Bakhtin relates to and differs from Kant, Heidegger and the like (names mentioned in this book). Believe me I’m already lost in a sea of names that sound familiar but that I can’t automatically place.

Anyway back to a very brief synopsis of this book and why I think it might be relevant:

Clearly it refers to the idea of writing (particularly the novel) as being a dialogue and one that is context driven. I can’t tell you how much this links to my distrust of learning literature at school – “just read the words” and then the more satisfying experience at university – “yes it is ok to understand the social, political, historical and personal contexts of when the words were written”. Dialogism also refers to a ‘multiplicity’ of perception – again acceptance that opinions and perception will be different.

The book talks about relations (this is becoming more important to me and the direction I am taking) – between an author and their heroes for one, and even goes as far as referring to novels being able to actively shape cultural history. A quote from the book ‘In dialogism, literature is seen as an activity that plays an important role in defining relations between individuals and society.’ (Location 1692 in the kindle edition).

It mentions intertextuality (which I have another whole book on – see the letter I post to come).

Generally this appears to discuss language and books with less discussion for example about what this all means for the author/writer – that is something that I hope to explore.

And that’s it – all I seem to have understood (?!) at the moment. I think this is a book to come back to when I’ve grown more brain!

How do you best tackle books/articles that you just don’t get on a first read, especially if you think you need to understand them?

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Posted on April 4, 2013, in April A-Z Challenge, Book Reviews, PhD and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I’ve found that taking notes, summarizing paragraphs, or chapters in my own words helps me find out if I really understand what I just read. Putting that paragraph or chapter in my own words then helps me better come to grips with what the author is saying, remember it, and also dialog with the author–even putting counter-arguments, or supporting arguments that come to mind in the margin of my notebook, and thinking through how the author might respond. This means it takes longer to read the book, but those notes can then be an invaluable resource when writing papers later.

    On “just read the words” vs. context, I think good novels work on both levels. A good novel, in my view, shouldn’t just be a product of its time. Sure, understanding the context within which a novel was written will add a depth of meaning, but it should primarily be a good story. C. S. Lewis complained at people–mostly fellow Christians–who lauded the Narnia books because of the strong Christian allegorical elements. He wanted the series to be known and remembered as great stories more than anything else.

    • Thanks for the helpful advise Colin – I already draw on my textbooks – was doing so with my book for F last night but I think I need to find a better way to take searchable notes. Somebody recommended mind maps in general but I remember a ‘speed-reading’ course I wet on that recommended doing one before reading on what you already knew about the topic and to come up with some questions you wanted answering before.

      I agree with you regarding the words versus context thing but we were almost banned from knowing anything about the books. If I remember correctly it was a poem from one of the war poets that was about some fish – if I didn’t know it was by a war poet it seemed just about fish – with that information it bought a whole new meaning. I had some friends who weren’t sure about reading Narnia because of that but I read them when I was young – probably lots of that bypassed me and I just liked the stories – it does give extra layers though if you want them.

      Thanks for commenting – I’ll see if I can use some of the advice.

  2. awriterweavesatale

    You’re an interesting A-Z discovery!

  3. I won’t lie, sometimes when I encounter a book like that? I let it win LOL Usually I don’t, usually I’ll just go back when I have lots of time and no distractions and just slowly work my way through it, but sometimes, sometimes I surrender.

    Good luck!

    • Cori – I think if I didn’t feel I needed it this would have made me surrender too – interestingly enough it started to make a little more sense with reference to some other things I was reading. Lots of time and no distractions sounds like bliss – where can I get me some?

  1. Pingback: An Ontological Understanding of Dialogue in Education « Learning Change | Reason & Existenz

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