Bakhtin: “From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse”

In his essay, “From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse,” Mikhail Bakhtin offers a study of novelistic discourse that emphasizes the history, culture, and construction of language used in modern novels.

Bakhtin structures his essay into three sections, each of which outlines a specific aspect of his argument on the study of novelistic discourse. He begins his essay by outlining the history of the novel, as well as the history of and introduction to the study of novelistic discourse. He mentions several other traditional approaches to the study, explaining the flaws associated with each. In the second section of his essay, Bakhtin analyzes several different works of ancient Greece and argues that these works should not be “contained within the narrow perimeters of a history confined to mere literary styles” (135). Bakhtin concludes his essay by reviewing the major points of his argument, and stating that novelistic discourse should not be narrowed by the study of linguistic tendencies, style, and abstract languages but it should be viewed, rather, as “a complex and centuries-long struggle of cultures and languages” (135). In addition, Bakhtin states, novelistic discourse should be closely related to language and especially the changes that take place within language.

In his essay Bakhtin argues that instead of analyzing the style of a novel, one should instead analyze the intricacies of the language employed within the novel. He argues that in analyzing particular stylistic aspects of a novel, one emerges with a much limited view of a work. “…We wish only to emphasize that the novelistic word arose and developed not as the result of a narrowly literary struggle among tendencies, styles, abstract world views – but rather in a complex and centuries-long struggle of cultures and languages” (135). In stating this, Bakhtin seems to be saying that the history of different languages and cultures and the works they created contribute to the current form of the novel today. In addition, Bakhtin concludes his essay by stating, “The prehistory of the novelistic word is not to be contained within the narrow perimeters of a history confined to mere literary styles” (135).

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