Journal Article

Penultimate Words: The Life of the ‘Loophole’ in Mikhail Bakhtin

Graham Pechey

in Literature and Theology

Volume 20, issue 3, pages 269-285
Published in print September 2006 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online June 2006 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI:
Penultimate Words: The Life of the ‘Loophole’ in Mikhail Bakhtin

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The ‘life’ of Bakhtin's ‘loophole word’ is here examined in two senses simultaneously: (a) its own fortunes as a category in the development of his thought; (b) the spiritual breathing-space that this endlessly deferrable last word of the other on the self affords mortals in their lives. Bakhtin's discourse on the ‘dialogism’ associated with the Dostoevskian proto-modernist novel frames a phenomenon of interiority in terms of exteriorizing tropes, and mixes tropes of modern natural-scientific provenance with others derived from pre-modern visual and theatrical representation (icons, mystery plays). The loophole thus helps us to ‘see’ speech; and, in the ‘internal’ dialogue that takes place even on the insides of single words, an alternative novelistic action to that of ‘plot’ is proposed. In so doing, it also forms the linchpin between Bakhtin's aesthetics of ‘outsideness’ and his ethics of the ‘answerable’ deed, and it is one of the means by which Bakhtin (helped by the Orthodox emphasis on Incarnation) at once escapes Western philosophical interiority and reconciles Revelation with enlightenment. In conclusion, Osip Mandelstam is invoked to show that all poems presuppose a ‘loophole addressee’ who is each one of us in his or her singularity. In David Jones' writing this loopholed structure of the poetic word implies a belief that poems are sacramental acts by which the airways of the profane world are ventilated.

Journal Article.  7871 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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