Soviet critic and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin did not write 'essays' in the way the English-speaking world understands the term-as a formally structured and streamlined presentation of a particular theme or idea. To quote Caryl Emerson in the preface, 'He thought, read, wrote down what he thought, and moved on; he was not in the habit of reworking his prose, because the important ideas always came around again in new contexts.' Bakhtin delights in a sort of 'permanent dialogue' (using Emerson's term) that depends upon the preservation of a gap in understanding between parties so that apprehension is never quite reached, the conversation never quite finished. It follows that Bakhtin would approach Dostoevsky in the same, open-ended way. Dostoevsky's brilliance, according to Bakhtin, lies not in the moral and ideological problems raised by his novels or in the lives of his characters, but in his creation of a fundamentally new genre-the polyphonic novel. In Bakhtin's words, Dostoevsky 'creates no voiceless slaves, but free
people, capable of standing alongside
their creator, capable of not agreeing with him and even of rebelling against him (italics, Bakhtin).' Dostoevsky does not offer us a single authorial consciousness. Instead, he presents 'a plurality of consciousnesses, with equal rights and each with its own world
,' combining but not merging these voices in the unity of the plot. What some critics see as a failure of narrative structure, Bakhtin sees as Dostoevsky's greatest strength-a 'novelistic counterpoint' organized by spiritual diversity rather than the canned evolution of a single voice through a variety of characters. Bakhtin's study is not only a major contribution to Dostoevsky criticism but also (to quote one reviewer) 'one of the most important theories of the novel in this century.'
An Eighth Day View:
This book is not only a major twentieth-century contribution to Dostoevsky's studies, but also one o...