Philosophical Rambling

** Every so often I will post some philosophical ramblings for those that like such topics. They are intended to be open dialogue, as they are mere working-theories, and not fully solidified beliefs. So, as long as we maintain respect and love for one another, please, feel free to join the discussion in these posts. **

Separating the Individual From the Subjective.

Bakhtin and Uniqueness

I was reading Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan's new book Between Philosophy and Literature: Bakhtin and the Question of the Subject when I began recalling my own studies of Bakhtin - I am always being reminded by just how useful he is for us today. In short, it seems as if his largest concern rests in the fearful reality of how people can too easily forsake a given truth, and be taken away by the shifting tides of the next philosophical movement.

At the onset of her work, Erdinast-Vulcan points to one of Bakhtin's specific assessments regarding the "legacy of Rationalism". (Kindle Location 487). She quotes Bakhtin:

It is an unfortunate misunderstanding (a legacy of rationalism) to think that truth [pravda, (or basic truth)] can only be the truth [istina, (or fundamental truth)] that is composed of universal moments; that the truth of a situation is precisely that which is repeatable and constant in it. Moreover, that what is universal and identical (logically identical) is fundamental and essential, whereas individual truth (pravda) is artistic and irresponsible, i.e., it isolates the given individuality. (The Philosophy of the Act, 37).

She then proceeds with a follow-up quote:

"It is this legacy, Bakhtin says, 'that leads philosophical thinking, which seeks to be on principle purely theoretical, to (the) peculiar state of sterility, in which it, undoubtedly, finds itself at the present time" (18-19).

Now, again, I understand that this might not be your cup of tea - that is, if you're even still reading - but bear with me...

Really, Bakhtin's frustration revolves around just one specific fight: an objective only belief (OB) arguing that truth cannot rest anywhere but in the abstract and intangible place of "thought", and that OB will always be at odds with another belief, that is the individual's perspective (IP). I know what you might be thinking, "without OB, IP would then just float aimlessly into subjectivity and moral relativism" - and to that I would say "yes, it would... or at least in some extremes of it it would." For Bakhtin, though, IP is not simply opinionated relativism, but instead, can be a vehicle that allows truth to rest in both the abstract setting of "nothingness", as well as in the personal experience of "thisness" (to use Plantinga's term).

Erdinast-Vulcan carries on to address the motive behind Bakhtin's view. You can infer that it wasn't that he simply wanted to proclaim man's "immutable individuality", above the "supremacy of thought". No, he wanted more to warn his reader of what might happen if he or she let OB reign alone. Specifically for his time, it was a disapproval of Kantian epistemology. This is huge. In most of Bakhtin's works he pleads with the reader to recognize the schismatic nature of contemporary philosophy - specifically with how it further fragments the thinker, making their identity one thing, their body another, their passions another, their mind another, and so on. Another way to look at this is that the Kantian shift argues as man is one thing, his thought is another, and never the twain shall meet.

Bakhtin rightly views this as potentially ostracizing, and urges that the two islands (man and thought) - if not all of the islands - be bridged. His solution: the action. Now, as an Existentialist, this is where he typically camps. However, you don't have to be an Existentialist, nor even know what that term means, to appreciate what Bakhtin is arguing for.

If the world has a working, fundamental truth (istina) matrix, which rests in the theoretical - like the knowledge of Abraham Lincoln having given the "Gettysburg Address" - Bakhtin's question simply asks "how would that matrix be established if it weren't for Lincoln's actions: to compose the address, walk to and stand at the podium, as well as use the tone and tempo he did?" Now, these things are still debatable, in that yo might believe that people are replaceable for communicate external irrefutable truth. However, he carries his idea's potential further, specifically by applying Christ to this system.

In his book Toward a Philosophy of the Act, Bakhtin calls Christ the "great symbol" of the uniqueness that the OB paradigm can negate (16). To him, Christ cannot be replaced by any other person, or variable, but instead, was the only unique individual that could actively fulfill all that He did in order for us to have the objective beliefs we now do. His existence and actions solidified truth.

Now, I am only wanting to reiterate Bakhtin, here, for the same purpose that he originally wrote for: to rearrange priorities. Regarding how to quantify what's important, some of us have given the seat of primacy to truths like "1+1=2"... when in actuality the truth in things like the love of another, an engulfing loneliness, the joy of our pleasures, and the fear of uncertainty trump that sterile math equation all day everyday. So, the moral of the story is that OB is not the end-all-be-all of life; but, the life lived within the OB is.

If an objective only belief is truly that potent, why did God choose to personify Himself as He did, and personably act from out that self for 33 years? Actions are not as easily divorced from "truth" as this other camp would have us to believe, as we are all a part of the meta-narrative that we gather objective truth from. Though neither you nor I should ever take the seat of primacy, and elevate our uniqueness to some idolized status that is only fit for God, know that you are more relevant to the framework than some contemporary philosophies would have you believe.

I am nowhere near finished with Erdinast-Vulcan's book, but if the portion I've read is any indication of what's to come, I highly recommend it!