13 August 2012


"Both the authority of discourse and its internal persuasiveness may be united in a single word—but such unity is rarely a given—it happens more frequently that an individual's becoming, an ideological process, is characterized precisely by a sharp gap between these two categories: in one, the authoritative word (religious, political, moral, the word of a father, of adults and of teachers, etc.) that does not know internal persuasiveness, in the other internally persuasive word that is denied all privilege, backed up by no authority at all, and is frequently not even acknowledged in society (not by public opinion, nor by scholarly norms, nor by criticism), not even in the legal code."

We confront these authorities every day—consciously or not. Sifting between these words and worlds is not difficult. The authoritative word is familiar, it grows everywhere, rusting the substance of people, and the substance of conversation. Authoritative words and worlds don't go down easy—they choke, they stretch the esophagus, stripping the sides, and making it difficult to pull in the oxygen required of thought. If you do not agree—you cannot go forward. When you agree, you go only where your movement is required. Is that motion or relocation?

"The struggle and dialogic interrelationship of these categories of ideological discourse are what usually determined the history of an individual ideological consciousness."

Struggle, dialogue, and history, each of these words open and close of their own account. Considering Bakhtin's point here, "are what usually determine the history of an individual ideological consciousness," the use of the word determine whispers a declaration, you are shaped in ways you can be significantly unaware of and still feel you've come to some conclusion.

But, "It is not a free appropriation and assimilation of the word itself that authoritative discourse seeks to elicit from us, rather, it demands our unconditional allegiance."

I return to the process of sifting. Sorting through language in this way is not difficult, but few take the smallest amount of time to do it. Instead we speak, we think, we pledge allegiance to the flow of words, the exchange of ideas, the pattern of interaction the authoritative discourse demands of us. But we think we are speaking, thinking, exchanging. Why?

"It enters our verbal consciousness as a compact and indivisible mass; one must either totally affirm it, or totally reject it. It is indissolubly fused with its authority—with political power, an institution, a person—and it stands and falls together with that authority. One cannot divide it up—agree with one part, accept but not completely another part, reject utterly a third part."

Political power determines citizenship, mobility, economies and to a large degree basic safety. Political power defines necessity and then applies those definitions to our bodies (earth, human, plant and animal). Political power requires a licence. Institutions and people serve the same functions, standing and falling by the authority of these words (business hours, days of the week, languages, and ceremonies). There are innumerable worlds outside of these, but this world of words refuses to recognize their existence.

"The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally; we encounter it with its authority already fused to it."

To some extent, when we are not sifting and sorting, we are agreeing. That agreement is coerced, but it is agreement nonetheless. Disagreements are punished, severely—but disagreement allows for dignity.

"All this renders the artistic representation of authoritative discourse impossible."

We must moan, scream or cry. We must cough, and spit. We must retain something capable of bearing life.

"An independent, responsible and active discourse is the fundamental indicator of an ethical, legal and political human being."

all quotes are from: M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, Edited by Michael Holquist, Translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. (pages 342-4)

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