Bakhtin, chronotope, epic, genre, literary theory, novel, Zizek

Notes to Bakhtin: Between the Epic and the Novel


M.M. Bakhtin. “Epic and Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: UTP, 1981. 3-40.

Bakhtin writes “the novel is the sole genre that continues to develop, that is as yet uncompleted” (3). The epic, on the other hand, is a completed and antiquated genre. Bakhtin notes that “Of all the major genres only the novel is younger than writing and the book: it alone is organically receptive to new forms of mute perception, that is, to reading” (3). Bakhtin believes that “This ability of the novel to criticize itself is a remarkable feature of this ever-developing genre” (6).

The novelization of other genres is important to Bakhtin:

They become more free and flexible, their language renews itself by incorporating extraliterary heteroglossia and the ‘novelistic’ layers of literary language, they become dialogized, permeated with laughter, irony, humor, elements of self-parody and finally—this is the most important thing—the novel inserts into these other genres an indeterminacy, a certain semantic openendedness, a living contact with unfinished, still-evolving contemporary reality (the openended present) (7).

Furthermore, “In the process of becoming the dominant genre, the novel sparks the renovation of all other genres, it infects them with its spirit of process and inconclusiveness” (7).

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