Monday, April 14, 2008

Speaking of anti-johanneses...

Over at Silliman's:

"Books that are terrific and really deserve a prize

"Books I need to reread to make sure I shouldn’t be giving them the prize instead

"Books that seem mostly competent, but don’t do anything of great import one way or another.

"Books that are not competent at all."

Deserve a prize? Poetry as competence?

This reminds me that I need to put aside some time and show Jasper (and whoever else might be interested)in why I use Bakhtin's concept of "monoglossia" not - as it is commonly used - as merely multiple voices conversing, but as a kind of view of literature as a way of upholding a hierarchical, centripedal notion of language/culture - a view in which poems are competent/incompetent and /deserving/undeserving of prizes. Or "formally rigorous"/lazy, "introspective"/shallow, "good ear"/foreign.

I'll try to set down a few minutes to look through the old books (and also how this corresponds to D+G's "major" vs "minor"). But recently I've just been too damned exhausted. I have the happening-performance-thing over in Chicago in the beginning of May and the avant-garde conference in Belgium at the end of May, and then of course grading and crap, but then I'm going to take all June to just relax and read poems. I'm not even going to a poetry festival in China I was invited to - even though going to China would be some kind of dream come true - because I'm just too damned exhausted. I'm also working on "the ritual" and a comic book.


Blogger François said...

a comic book? do tell!

5:25 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I too am intrigued by the comic book and monoglossia.

Teach, oh wise one, teach!

5:49 PM  
Blogger Ryan Downey said...


You spoke of monoglossia saying people use it to mean "multiple voices conversing". Is this not more accurately the definition of polyglossia or even heteroglossia? I am under the impression (though my knowledge of Bakhtin is minimal at best) that monglossia refers to a system in which language is hierarchal as you suggest. That is, a monoglossic system proposes that there is a chief language (in america I would suggest the language of capitalist or materialist interests) that holds sway over all others. This view of language necessarily implies either implicitly or explicitly that there is a "best" or a "worthy" and so on. This is the definition you have adopted for monoglossia. So I suppose my question is: is monoglossia actually commonly used to mean multiple voices conversing?

I thought polyglossia referred to a system in which many languages mingle/collide/coalesce/etc. to create a patchwork (pardon the cliche) of languages/language.

I though heteroglossia referred to a system in which many variations of a language were used. In the "American English" language this could include colloquial language from the South/the language of coca-cola commercials/Imperialist influenced propaganda/the language of academics/etc. I don't know if my understanding of heteroglossia is too broad, but I think all of those "dialects" or subsets of "American English" fit into my understanding of a heteroglossic language.

So I guess the way I see monoglossia is as a technique employed or propagated to reinforce imperialist notions in every possible way. That is, not only on "traditional" (the word itself reinforces monoglossic-reductive tendencies) "colonies" but also on all people who are exploited and colonized in one way or another. I would suggest that the language of the mass media/government/church/ etc. reinforces imperialist aims and that a language of resistance must necessarily work against this. And then I would go off on a tangent about the conflict between a.) using an exploitative language/institution against itself in revolution or b.) completely reworking the language-based intricacies of an institution to revolt. I am unsure about the "merits" of each way of revolting.

I digress.

I have not read D+G and I cannot comment on "major" vs. "minor" within that framework.

I recently read _The World Republic of Letters_ by Pascale Casanova and I imagine the views she posited about "small literatures" and "assimilated literatures" and "rebels" and forms of literary domination and so on have some comparable points to the notion of "major" vs. "minor".

I think that as a comparative literature major I should feel more sure of the things I write. Maybe I am realizing the aims of a comparative literature program by feeling less settled in my modes of comprehension though.

At any rate, I enjoyed this post. Thank you.

Oh, don't feel compelled to respond to this. I am sorry for commenting extensively when you are exhausted.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Yes, I pretty much use "monoglossia" the way you do. But frequently i see around the blogworld Bakhtin's notion of monoglossia vs heteroglossia is used merely to mean one voice vs many voices. So I've been meaning to throw up some quotes from B - I couldn't really care less if there are many "voices" in the story/poem. What interests me is centrifugal vs centripedal notions of language and culture.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Ah, yes, I was sloppy in my post. Clearly nobody things of monoglossia as multiple voices, that would indeed by heteroglossia.

7:52 PM  

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