A few words from our ad hoc editor of Bakhtinian 11 (1)

Maria Helena Cruz Pistori, executive editor of Bakhtinian, Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo (PUC-SP), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Clive Thomson

Clive Thomson

Prof. Clive Thomson, from the Canadian University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) was the ad hoc editor of the journal’s first issue of 2016. After he completed a PhD in French studies (French language and literature) at the University of Toronto in 1977, Thomson taught at Queen’s University in Kingston and from 1994 to 2008 at the University of Western Ontario. In 2008, he was appointed Professor and Director of the School of Languages and Literatures at the University of Guelph. However, his interest in psychoanalysis, which started in 1994, motivated him to complete his psychoanalytic training at the Toronto Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis in 2005. At the present time, he experiences his clinical work (mostly with his students) and his teaching as two closely interconnected activities in which one benefits the other.

As we can see, he is a well-known scholar in the fields of language, literature and psychoanalysis and an expert in the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and the Circle, whom we really had the pleasure to be working with. For publishing this issue, Thomson gathered a valuable team of contributors, most of whom have direct access to the Russian archives. The outcome was an outstanding issue, which will surely become a reference for discourse studies in Brazil and abroad.

Prof. Clive, we would like, first of all, to thank you again for your special contribution to Bakhtiniana 11 (1). Besides, we would like to ask you to answer a few questions related to what you have written in the Editorial so that our readers may better know you and your thinking. In the Editorial, you state that the authors [in this issue] “are infused with a depth of experience that can only come from many years spent in the archives. They do not adhere to the position that there is a conceptual inside and a contextual or historical outside to Bakhtin’s ideas. Such either-or thinking is foreign to their approaches” (p. 2).

1. Could you give details and/or an example of this position, the one that understands an inside and/or an outside historical approach to ideas?

My reference to an “inside” and an “outside” to Bakhtin’s thinking is just another version of the old “theory”/”practice” opposition that characterizes the terminology still often used in humanities scholarship. This opposition can be seen, if we look back at the programs of the international Bakhtin conferences that have taken place over the past thirty-three years (I am referring to the conference series that started in 1983 at Queen’s University, Canada). Panels or papers at those conferences were sometimes entitled “Bakhtin’s theory of Genre” or “Practical applications of Bakhtin’s Notion of Carnival”. These titles are examples of this binary/opposition. Another example could be seen at the early conferences when we heard tense debates between, on one side, some of our “Russianist” colleagues from the field of Slavic Studies and those colleagues, on the other side, from disciplines who didn’t read Russian. The Slavic Studies colleagues, who claimed to have inside knowledge of the context in which the Bakhtin Circle members worked, could be dismissive of the non-Slavic Studies colleagues’ research which was viewed as too theoretical, too simplistic or a way of “playing loose” with Bakhtin’s concepts. Those debates took place primarily in the 1980s and early 1990s when it was thought (erroneously) that most of the archives relating to Bakhtin’s life had been destroyed and that we therefore had as much knowledge about Bakhtin and his times as we were ever going to get. I haven’t heard this kind of debate at recent conferences. In my introduction to our special issue of Bakhtiniana, I explain in some detail how the approach used by the organizers and many participants at the Stockholm conference (2014) was effective in enabling participants to think about the Bakhtin Circle’s work in ways that leave the theory/practice binary behind.

In the Editorial, you highlight Ken Hirschkop’s statement that  summarizes the issue on authorship: “The truth of Bakhtin’s works is bound to their painful history” (2001, p. 10). You add that “[o]ur contributors are at ease with the idea of a ‘fragmentary’ Bakhtin and with the notion that the ‘mysteries’ surrounding the disputed texts may never be cleared up completely. They concur with the idea that there are themes or topics in Mikhaïl Bakhtin’s thinking that remain more or less constant over the course of his career; at the same time, they situate him as a thinker who contradicted himself and made abrupt shifts, even reversals, in his interests and methods.”

2. Could you please clarify the concept of authorship implied in this statement?

The best way to clarify this particular concept of authorship that has emerged in Bakhtinian scholarship is to refer to the work of colleagues like Anthony Wall, Peter Hitchcock, and Galin Tihanov, among others (for example, in South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 97, 3/4, 1998). Anthony Wall refers to Bakhtin as a “broken thinker” and demonstrates convincingly that most of Bakhtin’s writings are unfinished fragments. Each fragment represents an effort to think through an urgent problem that was preoccupying philosophers and critics of the time, with seemingly little concern for making connections across the fragments or for eventual publication. In the research that I have carried out since the 1990s, I have made good use of the idea of the “broken thinker”, primarily as a means of resistance. Commentators who are interested in the work of Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan focus primarily on how their ideas emerged, evolved and developed into a kind of mature state. In the case of Foucault, we have seen convoluted arguments (tinged with disappointment or even irritation) that suggest The History of Sexuality (vol. 1, 1976) is the beginning of a phase characterized by less substantial and original thinking. It is only in the last few years that (mostly French) psychoanalysts have paid serious attention to Lacan’s writings and seminars from the 1970s, noting that this late work seems at times inconsistent/contradictory, when compared with the earlier work. My point is that there is perhaps a general lesson to be learned from our understanding of Bakhtin as a “broken thinker”. Perhaps it would be more productive to think of all philosophers in this way, rather than to project onto their writings artificial ideas of unity, cohesion and consistency?

Further on, you state that “the ideas of the Bakhtin Circle continue, at present, to be cited and appropriated by literary scholars, cultural critics, and linguists just as frequently as those of most other major theoreticians of the 20th century. Suffice it to say that following the ‘boom’ of the 1990s, when Bakhtin’s earliest writings finally appeared in translation, there appears to have been a gradual decrease in published references to his work” (our emphasis). However, in footnote 3, we read that there has been “a declining trend in references to Bakhtin’s works over the past 25 years.”

3. Do you find this latter statement incoherent? To what would you attribute it?

Your question makes me realize that it was imprudent of me to imply that these quantitative statistics are an accurate way to measure a trend in Bakhtin Studies. As we all well know, quantitative statistics can be used/misused to “prove” almost any argument. What I should have added and emphasized is that, although the statistics I quoted appear to indicate a decline in the number of references to works by Bakhtin (according to the website of the Modern Language Association bibliography), the statistics say nothing about the evolution of the quality or substance of the scholarship in this area. And I did make the point (further on in my introduction) that the quality of scholarship on Bakhtin, at the present time, appeared healthy to me, because of what I witnessed at the conference in Sweden. It’s just my very subjective impression, but I am tempted to say that the quality of Bakhtin scholarship is just as good as ever. Ultimately, quantitative statistics about this field should probably be of little interest to us.

As you present the second group of articles (Bakhtin and our time), you declare that “[i]f we read carefully between the lines, we might also be tempted to place this set of articles under the double heading ‘annoyance and dissatisfaction.’”

4. In what sense is the annoyance and dissatisfaction general and not only related to these articles? Could you give examples or further details?

I remember, when I wrote my sentence about “annoyance and dissatisfaction”, I was making a link with Bakhtin’s Toward a Philosophy of the Act, and the book reviews by Pavel Medvedev that are included in the article by Iurii and Dar’ia Medvedev. Both Bakhtin and Pavel Medvedev engage passionately with the ideas of their time and underline the urgency of their intellectual projects. When I read the scholarship of Ken Hirschkop, Caryl Emerson, Galin Tihanov, and of the other contributors to the issue of Bakhtiniana that I edited, I sense the same passion and conviction. Perhaps it’s less “irritation” that I sense, in the work of the scholars of my generation, and more a matter of “conviction”. And I must say I admire this kind of writing.

5. Could you say a few words on how you see Brazilian research in our area nowadays or on how it was editing and publishing papers in a Brazilian journal, since Brazil is a country that is not so expressive or recognized in the international scientific scenery?

Your question triggers some ancient memories. About thirty-five years ago, Boris Schaiderman, who is the principal founder of Bakhtin Studies in Brazil, sent me a signed copy his 1982 book on Dostoevsky, which I very much appreciated. In the 1990s, as editor of the Bakhtin Newsletter, I contacted Carlos Alberto Faraco and asked him to write an article on Bakhtin Studies in Brazil. Carlos reported that translations of work by the members of the Bakhtin Circle were only starting to appear and that at least one research group had been constituted. With the Tenth International Bakhtin Conference, held at the University of Gdansk in 2001, news of Bakhtin-inspired research in Brazil became much more well known, thanks to the participation of Carlos who drew our attention to the ground-breaking work being done there, specifically in the field of discourse analysis. The Eleventh International Conference, organized by Carlos at the University of Curitiba in 2003, was attended by a large contingent of Brazilian researchers whose scholarship demonstrated enormous vitality, variety and originality. This trend has continued at subsequent conferences (in Italy, Canada and Sweden). Since 2008, when Bakhtiniana: Journal of Discourse Studies was created by Beth Brait and her colleagues at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, I think it is fair to say that there are now just two active centres in the field of Bakhtin Studies – Sao Paulo and Sheffield (where the Bakhtin Centre, directed by Craig Brandist, is located). Bakhtiniana, the only remaining journal in this field, has achieved an outstanding international reputation, because it adheres to the most exacting of scholarly standards. Among the many outstanding qualities of the journal are: its efficiently organized and very user-friendly website; articles are impeccably edited and issues appear on time (or even ahead of schedule, which was the case with the issue I edited); articles are published simultaneously in Portuguese and English; the editors conceive of Discourse Studies in the broadest and most inclusive possible way. In working with the editors of Bakhtiniana, I was very impressed with their high level of professionalism. Since 2003, I have made three trips to Brazil. I had the pleasure of meeting faculty members, graduate students and postgraduate students, either at conferences or during courses that I taught. In Canada, since 2013, I have supervised two Brazilian colleagues who came to my university, each for one year, to carry out their research projects. All of this is to say that Bakhtin Studies in Brazil, in my view, are currently enjoying a period of exceptional growth and prosperity.

To read the article, visit

THOMSON, C. Mikhail Bakhtin: seu tempo e o nosso. Bakhtiniana, Rev. Estud. Discurso [online]. 2016, vol.11, n.1, pp.4-17. [viewed 31th March 2016]. ISSN 2176-4573. DOI: 10.1590/2176-457325560. Available from: http://ref.scielo.org/mspf9d

External link

Bakhtiniana – BAK: www.scielo.br/bak

About Maria Helena Cruz Pistori

Maria Helena Cruz Pistori

Maria Helena Cruz Pistori

Maria Helena Cruz Pistori holds a PhD in Languages from University of Sao Paulo (USP) and a Master’s degree in Education from Sao Francisco University (USF). She did postdoctoral training in the Program of Applied Linguistics and Language Studies (LAEL) from Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo (PUC-SP). Her recent publications have been based on studies in legal discourse and its relation to the media and have linked theoretical concepts inspired by the work of Bakhtin and the Circle with studies in rhetoric and argumentation (and verbal-visual argumentation). As a researcher, she is a member of the Research Group Language, Identity, and Memory/CNPq/PUC-SP and is currently an Executive Editor of Bakhtinian. Journal of Discourse Studies.


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

PISTORI, M. H. C A few words from our ad hoc editor of Bakhtinian 11 (1) [online]. SciELO em Perspectiva: Humanas, 2016 [viewed ]. Available from: http://humanas.blog.scielo.org/blog/2016/04/25/a-few-words-about-our-editor-ad-hoc-of-bakhtinian-11-1/


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