Mikhail Bakhtin and Walter Benjamin : experience and form
This thesis is a study of the thought of two philosophers and literary and cultural critics: Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) and Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). Despite the elements of incommensurability that exist between them, I argue that the thought of the one may be brought to revitalize and reilluminate the thought of the other. Bakhtin's and Benjamin's thought centres on the problems that arise from a dislocation of the nature of experience from the forms which enable human beings to make sense of that experience. Setting their work in the context of their times and of the philosophical tradition that they inherit, I examine their response to this dislocation through a discussion of their conceptions of habit, tradition, language and art. Closed forms (epic and monologue, for example, in the case of Bakhtin the traditional auratic work of art or the Romantic symbol, for example, in the case of Benjamin) provide a completion of experience that fixes experience within the flux of life. Nevertheless, forms such as these, both thinkers conclude, are implicated in social and political hierarchies and result in an objectification of human beings and the world that they inhabit. The thesis examines Bakhtin's and Benjamin's development of theories of open forms which challenge completion: dialogue and the novel, in the case of Bakhtin allegory and montage, in the case of Benjamin. I argue that the two thinkers' conceptions of such forms promote the preservation of (inter)subjectivity, the dismantling of authoritarian hierarchies and a responsible relationship between the conferring of form and the integrity of experience. Finally, I suggest that Bakhtin's and Benjamin's promotions of openness might be provisional positions which are predicated on a future completion that will come on either the eschatological or the revolutionary plane.