‘B’ is for Bakhtin

Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975)

Russian Orthodox literary theorist, philosopher, semiotician.


  • Dialogism – multiple perspectives
  • Polyphony – multiple voices
  • Heteroglossia – speech genres and styles
  • the Carnivalesque – folk-humour

In his review of Mikhail Bakhtin and Biblical Scholarship: An Introduction, by Barbara Green, Alexander H. Joffe briefly looked at a Bakhtinian analysis of 1 Samuel.¹

The “Bakhtinian reading” offered “liberates us as readers into the
vast maze of connections, as everyone dialogues with everyone else” (p. 70). Substantively, she suggests that reading Saul polyphonically shows he is “fraying at the edges as he tries to reweave himself, and he is at constant cross-purposes with himself and others. . . . Frantic, driven, off-balance, unraveling, he shows us a lot” (p. 74), which is to say that Saul is a complex, conflicted anti-hero.

  1. Joffe, Alexander H. Mikhail Bakhtin and Biblical Scholarship: An Introduction. Vol. 62. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Further Reading
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Wild and Free, or Tamed and Bound? Sense and Symbolism

Man inhabits two realms: the physical natural (wild) realm, and the  ideological world of social (symbolic) conquest. Saturated in the symbolic political realm, the realm of the natural retains less and less prominence in man’s consciousness. Two distinct realms, however, reflect differing governance through different laws.

The natural realm reflects natural law, what we might call physics. The symbolic realm works according to wholly different laws, socio-ideo-political. The natural world remains under the dominion of God. The symbolic world remains under the dominion of man, and functions according to man’s law. There is some overlap between the realms in that man traditionally has taken much of his inspiration from God, crafting his ideological world based on the patterns and predilections of what he sees in the natural. But for the most part the two realms are separate. Yet both worlds influence man; man is embodied in both.

Beginning absolutely, we might define man as the typically language-using, or symbol-using, animal.²

Both worlds are replete with the (linguistic) sign, what Saussure defined as a relationship between signified or the meaning, and signifier or the sign in the world that stands for that meaning. Signs can be visual like images or even words in this text, they can be acoustic like sounds and speech, they can be gestural, etc. The signs in the symbolic world are man-made while signs of the natural word are wrought of God.

This division between natural and ideological claimed the forefront of human intellectual debate in antiquity, seen as the age-old debate between philosophy and poetry, and also in the Renaissance. For the modern man, however, not so much. Modern man remains, in the main, overwhelmed and overcome by ideology.

Modernity perhaps defines a period of man’s “evolution” (the word here used loosely) which combined increasing ability in harnessing forces natural while at the same time man growing exponentially in his symbolic domain. Man had, finally, “perfected” an entirely symbolic “parallel universe” to match the natural world and, increasingly, if not holding dominion over the natural world felt at least a certain sense of mastery over it. Moreover, modernity, and what anthropologist Marc Augre calls “supermodernity”, recalibrated man’s understanding of the natural and gave supersonic impulse to his ideological, in terms of scale: both spatial and temporal.

The spatial dimension was re-envisioned according to capacities of crafting megalithic structures while at the same time peering at proportions on the nano scale. Coincidentally, man also fashioned means of speed travel while also refracting light, and with it, distorting time (think Hadron Collider). So while the natural world seemed ever swallowed by the symbolic, man’s supercilious relating, particularly at the big city exchange, to the natural, grew unchecked: unchecked, and unbalanced.

This symbolic world did not begin with speech language, because language (communication) came to man first through gesture, dance, and rhythm before it came in the form of speech. But speech marks the point of it taking off, a point of inflection in the history of man’s ideological trajectory. And so man once again finds himself at a point of departure, or a point of reconciliation, of the natural and the symbolic; one in which the symbolic world remains surrogate marker of a Darwinian success in the natural.

Indeed man has so entwined the two worlds that for most people they remain indistinguishable. And survival requires mastery of both.

  1. Augé, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London;New York;: Verso, 1995.
  2. Burke, Kenneth. Chapter VIII: Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education. In Modern Philosophies and Education. Henry, Nelson B. and National Society for the Study of Education. Vol. 54th, pt. 1. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1955.
  3. Saussure, Ferdinand De, and Roy Harris. Course in General Linguistics. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.
  4. Voloshinov, V. N. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Hop, Skip, and a Jump: Brisbane to Sydney

Sunday 23 September 2018.

Flights between Sydney and Brisbane take just over an hour by passenger jet, here a Boeing 737-800 (twin-jet).

Brisbane airport is against Moreton Bay. Taking off facing north, a series of right turns brings the coast into clear view under the B738’s left wing.

Coastline, just off Brisbane Airport: Queensland never takes long to welcome Spring.

The east coast has the (Great) Dividing Range, a coastal ridge to break the monotony of the flat while you chew on your meal.

Half-way mark: Australia is flat and dry.

“Cabin crew cross-check and prepare for landing.”

Sydney: The capital of NSW prides itself on its harbour and bridge, a little less on its seasonal blustery segue from winter to spring.

Sydney airport, at Mascot, lies set against Botany Bay, where Lieutenant James Cook first landed on Sunday 29 April 1770.

Botany Bay

Sabbath of Return

Evidence of the creator’s handiwork is everywhere. Trees stand as salutations to divine awe and order, in orthodox obeisance.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.




I see your trees, stacked, one against the other,

manning the station; at attention guard the procession.

They even bow, shake hands with the neighbour.

Care for their little.

They take in visitors – all comers. Even a comfort stop they won’t not allow.

They take the great foundations of earth as their bedrock home.

And lie in repose, when their work is done.

And rare do they exclaim for eructation.

Today and tomorrow; the by-and-by.

But dare not demand this my.

To stutter and swing peels in coriander.

And give.


Dedicated to Lemanshots