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One of the most fascinating thinkers and literary theorists within the last century is the late Russian form critic Mikhail Bakhtin, whose theory of dialogism seeks to account for several levels of dialectical tension and interplay in great literature. On one level, Bakhtin observes the “heteroglossic” character of language. Between its centrifugal uses in popularistic culture and the centripetal actions of philologists and grammarians attempting to standardize meanings and associations, living language is always in a state of flux. On another level, Bakhtin suggests that discourse is always “polyphonic.” Because meanings reverberate against each other upon their utterance, transmission, and reception, the making of meaning is itself a dialogical reality. On a third level, when ironic misunderstanding is used in novelistic prose, Bakhtin asserts this feature is always rhetorical.


Originally published in Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies; Semeia Studies 63. Edited by Roland Boer (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2007) 133-59.

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