Bakhtin’s essay From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse focuses primarily on how a variety of texts from the past come together to create the modern novel. In his essay, “From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse,” Mikhail Bakhtin offers a study of novelistic discourse that emphasizes the history. Mikhail Bakhtin: From âThe Prehistory Of Novelistic Discourse’ Mikhail Bakhtin: from âThe Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse’Â I [.

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Published on Dec View 62 Download All these types of stylistic analysis to a greater or lesser degree are remote from those peculiarities that define the novel as a genre, and they are also remote from the specifis conditions under which the word lives in the novel.

They all take a novelist’s language and style not as the language and style of a novel but merely as the expression of a specific individual artistic personality, or as the style of a particular literary school or finally as a phenomenon common to off language in general. The individual artistic personality of the author, the literary school, the general characteristics of poetic language or of the literary language of a particular era all serve to conceal from us the genre itself, with the specific demands it prehustory upon language and the specific possibilities it opens up for it.

As a result, in bakhin majority of these works on the novel, relatively minor stylistic variations – whether individual or characteristic of a particular school – have the effect of completely covering up the major stylistic lines determined by the development of the novel as a unique genre. And all the while discourse in the novel has been living a life prehistorj is distinctly its own, frpm life that is impossible to understand from the point of view of stylistic categories formed on the basis of poetic genres in the narrow sense of that term.

The differences between the novel and certain forms close to it and all other genres – poetic genres in the narrow sense – are so fundamental, so categorical, that all attempts to impose on the novel the concepts and norms of poetic imagery are doomed to fail.

Although the novel does contain poetic imagery in the narrow sense primarily in the author’s direct discourseit is of secondary importance for the novel. What is more, this direct imagery often acquires in the novel quite prehisstory functions that are not direct. Here, for example, is frpm Pushkin characterizes Lensky’s poetry [Evgenij Onegin, 2. He sang love, he was obedient to love,And his song was as clearAs the thoughts of a simple maid,As an infant’s dream, as the prehistoryy The poetic images specifically the metaphoric comparisons representing Lensky’s song’ do not here have any direct poetic significance at all.

They cannot be understood as the direct poetic images of Pushkin himself although formally, of course, the characterization is that of the author. Here Lensky’s song’ is characterizing itself, in its own prehistort, in its own poetic manner.

Pushkin’s direct characterization of Lensky’s song’ – which we find as well in the novel – sounds completely different [6. Thus he wrote gloomily and languidly [ In the four lines cited by us above it is Lensky’s song itself, his voice, his poetic style that sounds, but it is permeated with the parodic and ironic accents of the author; that is the reason why it need not be distinguished from authorial speech by compositional or grammatical means.

What we have before us is in fact an image of Lensky’s song, but not an image novelistlc the narrow sense; it is rather a novelistic image: The poetic metaphors in these lines as an infant’s dream’, as the moon’ and others no way function here as the primary means of representation as they would function in a direct, serious’ song written by Lensky himself ; rather they themselves have here become the object of representation, or more precisely of a representation that is parodied and stylized.

This novelistic image of another’s style with the direct metaphors that it incorporates must be prehistry in intonational quotation marks within the system of direct authorial speech postulated by us herethat is, taken as if the image were parodic and ironic. Were we to discard intonational question marks and take the use of metaphors here as the direct means by which the author represents himself, we would in so discouse destroy the novelistic image [obraz] of another’s style, that is, destroy precisely that image that Pushkin, as novelist, constructs here.

Lensky’s represented poetic speech is very distant from the direct word of the author himself as we have postulated it: Lensky’s language functions merely as an object of representation almost as a material thing ; the author himself is almost completely outside Lensky’s language it is only his parodic and ironic accents that penetrate this language of another’. These descriptive and expressive means that are direct and poetic in the narrow sense retain their direct significance when they are incorporated into such a figure, but at the same time they are qualified’ and externalized’, shown as something historically relative, delimited and incomplete – in the novel they, so to speak, criticize themselves.

Bakhtin – The Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse

And all essential novelistic images share this quality: The reigning theories of poetic imagery are completely powerless to analyze these complex internally dialogized images of whole languages. To a greater or lesser extent, every novel is a dialogized system made up of the images of langauges’, styles and consciousnesses that are concrete and inseparable from language. Language in the novel not only represents, but itself serves as the object of representation.


Novelistic discourse is always criticizing itself. In this consists the categorical distinction between the novel and all straight-forward genres – the epic poem, the lyric and the drama strictly conceived.

E Pathshala – The power to learn more: “From the prehistory of Novelistic Discourses”

All directly descriptive and expressive means at the disposal of these genres, as well as the genres themselves, become upon entering the novel an object of representation within it.

Under conditions of the novel every direct word – epic, lyric, strictly dramatic – is to a greater or lesser degree made into an object, the word itself becomes a bounded [ogranicennij] image, one that quite often appears ridiculous in this framed condition. The basic tasks for a stylistics in the novel are, therefore: The stylistics of direct genres, of the direct poetic word, offer us almost no help in resolving these problems.

We speak of a special novelistic discourse because it is only in the novel that discourse can reveal all its specific potential and achieve its true depth. But the novel is comparatively recent genre. Indirect discourse, however, the representation of another’s word, another’s language in intonational quotation marks, was known in the most ancient times; we encounter it in the earliest stages of verbal culture.

What is more, long before the appearance of the novel we find a rich world of diverse forms that transmit, mimic and represent from various vantage points another’s word, another’s speech and language, including also the languages of the direct genres. These diverse forms prepared the ground for the novel long before its actual appearance. Novelistic discourse has a lengthy prehistory, going back centuries, even thousands of years.

It was formed and matured in the genres of familiar speech found in conversational folk language genres that are as yet little studied and also in certain folkloric and low literary genres. During its germination and early development, the novelistic word reflected a primordial struggle between tribes, peoples, cultures and languages – it is still full of echoes of this ancient struggle.

In essence this discourse always developed on the boundary line between cultures and languages. The prehistory of novelistic discourse is of great interest and not without its own special drama. In the prehistory of novelistic discourse one may observe many extremely heterogeneous facts at work.

From our point of view, however, two of these factors prove to be of decisive importance: The most ancient forms for representing language were organized by laughter – these were originally nothing more than the ridiculing of another’s language and another’s direct discourse.

nove,istic Polyglossia and the interanimation of languages associated with it elevated these forms to a new artistic and ideological level, which made possible the genre of the novel.

These two factors in the prehistory of novelistic discourse are the subject of the present article. IIOne of the most ancient and widespread forms for representing the direct word of another is parody. What is distinctive about parody as a form? Take, for example, the parodic sonnets with which Don Quixote begins.

Although they are impeccably structured as sonnets, we could never possibly assign them to the sonnet genre. In Don Quixote they appear as part of a novel nivelistic but even the isolated parodic sonnet outside doscourse novel could not be classified generically as a sonnet.

In a parodied sonnet, the sonnet form is not a genre at all; that is, it is not the bahtin of a whole but is rather the object of representation: In a parody on the sonnet, we must first of all recognize a sonnet, recognize its form, its specific style, its manner of seeing, its manner of selecting from and evaluating the world – the world view of the sonnet, as it were.

A parody may represent and ridicule these distinctive features of the sonnet well or badly, profoundly or superficially. But in any case, what results is not a sonnet, but rather the image of a sonnet. For the same reasons one could not under any circumstances assign to the genres of epic poem’ the parodic epic War between the Mice and the Frogs’. This is an image of the Homeric style. It is precisely style that is the true hero of the work.

We would have nogelistic say the same of Scarron’s Virgil travesti. One could likewise not include the fifteenth-century sermons joyeuxin the disckurse of the sermon, or parodic Pater nosters’ or Ave Marias’ in the genre of the prayer and so forth.

All these parodies on genres and generic styles languages’ enter the great and diverse world of verbal forms that ridicule the straightforward, serious word in all its fhe guises. This world is very rich, considerably richer than we are accustomed to believe. The nature and methods available for ridiculing something are highly varied, and not exhausted by parodying and travestying in a strict sense.

These methods for making fun of the straightforward word have as yet received little scholarly attention. Our general conceptions of parody and travesty in literature were formed as a scholarly discipline solely by studying very late forms of literary parody, forms of the type represented by Scarron’s Enide travestie, or Platen’s Verhngnisvolle Gabel’that is, the impoverished and limited conceptions of the nature of the parodying prehistorry travestying word were then retroactively applied to the supremely rich and varied world of parody and travesty in previous prehistody.

The importance of parodic-travestying forms in world literature is enormous. Several examples form that bear witness to their wealth and special significance. Let us first take up the ancient period. The literature of erudition’ of late antiquity – Aulus GelliusPlutarch in his MoraliaMacrobius and, in particular, Athenaeus – provide sufficiently rich data for judging the scope and special character of the parodying and travestying literature of ancient times.


The commentaries, citations, references and allusions made by these erudites’ add substantially to the fragmented and random material on the ancient world’s literature of laughter that has survived. The works of such literary scholars as Dietrich th, Reich ba,htin, Cornford and others have prepared us for more correct assessment baohtin the role and significance of parodic-travestying forms in the verbal culture of ancient times.

It is our conviction that there never was a single discoursd straightforward genre, no single type of direct discourse – artistic, rhetorical, philosophical, religious, ordinary everyday – that did not have its own parodying and travestying double, its own comic-ironic contre-partie. What is more, these parodic doubles and laughing reflections of the direct word were, in some cases, just as sanctioned by tradition and just as canonized as their elevated models. I will deal only very briefly with the problem of the so-called fourth drama’, that is, the satyr novelistci.

In most instances this drama, which follows upon the tragic trilogy, developed the same narrative and mythological motifs as had the trilogy that preceded it. It was, therefore, a peculiar type of parodic-travestying contre-partie to the myth that had just received a tragic treatment on the stage; it showed the myth in a different aspect.

These parodic-travestying counter-presentations of lofty national myths were just as sanctioned and canonical as their straightforward tragic manifestations.

Mikhail Bakhtin – from the prehistory of novelistic discourse | Makiabrooks’s Blog

All the tragedians – PhrynicousSophocles, Euripides – were writers of satyr plays as well, and Aeschylus, the most serious and pious of them all, an initiate into the highest Eleusinian Mysteries, was considered by the Greeks to be the greatest master of the satyr play. From fragments of Aeschylus’ satyr play The Bone-Gatherers’ we see that this drama gave a parodic, travestying picture of the events and heroes of the Trojan War, and particularly the episode involving Odysseus’ quarrel with Achilles and Diomedes, where a stinking chamber pot is thrown at Odysseus’ head.

It discouurse be added that the figure of comic Odysseus’, a parodic travesty of his high epic and tragic image, was one of the most popular figures of satyr plays, of ancient Doric farce and pre-Aristophanic comedy, as well as of a whole series of minor comic epics, parodic speeches and disputes in which the comedy of ancient times was so rich especially in southern Italy and Sicily.

Characteristic here is that special role that the motif of madness played in the figure of comic Odysseus’: Odysseus, as is well known, donned a clown’s fool’s cap pileus and harnessed his horse and ox to a plow, pretending to be mad in order to avoid participation in the war.

It was the motif of madness that switched the figure of Odysseus from bakhton high and straightforward plane to the comic plane of parody and travesty. But the most popular figure of the satyr play and other forms of the parodic travestying word was the figure of the comic Hercules’. Hercules, the powerful and simple servant to the cowardly, weak and false king Euristheus; Hercules, who had conquered death in battle and had descended into the nether world; Hercules the monstrous glutton, the playboy, the drunk and scrapper, but especially Hercules prehistoryy madman – such were the motifs that lent a comic aspect to his image.

In this comic aspect, heroism and strength are retained, but they are combined with laughter and with images from the material life of the body. The figure of the comic Hercules was extremely popular, not only in Greece but also in Rome, and later in Byzantium where disfourse became one of the central figures in the marionette theatre. Until quite recently form figure lived on in the Turkish game of shadow puppets’.

The comic Hercules is one of the most profound folk images for a cheerful and simple heroism, and had an enormous influence on all of world literature. When taken together with such figures as the comic Odysseus’ and the comic Hercules’, the fourth drama’, which was an indispensable conclusion to the tragic dscourse, indicates that the literary consciousness of the Greeks did not view the parodic-travestying reworkings of national myth as any particular profanation or blasphemy.

Bqkhtin is characteristic that the Greeks were not at all embarrassed to attribute the authorship of the parodic work War between the Mice and the Frogs’ to Homer himself. Homer is also credited with a comic work a long poem about the fool Margit. For any and every straightforward genre, any and every direct discourse – epic, tragic, lyric, philosophical – may and indeed must itself become the object of representation, the object of a parodic travestying mimicry’.

It is as if such mimicry rips the word away from its object, disunifies the two, shows that a given straightforward generic word – epic or tragic – is one-sided, bounded, incapable of exhausting the object; the process of parodying forces us to experience those sides of the object that are not otherwise included in a given genre or a given style.

Parodic-travestying literature introduces the permanent corrective of laughter, of a critique on the one-sided seriousness of the lofty direct word, the corrective of reality that is always richer, more fundamental and most importantly too contradictory and heteroglot to be fitted into a high and straightforward genre. The high genres are monotonic, while the fourth drama’ and genres akin to it retain the ancient binary tone of the word.