Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others. (Bakhtin,1981,p294)
I’m enjoying this part of my studies so much. I first encountered the work of Mikhail Bakhtin as part of my studies for my degree English Language, way back in 1999. I loved it then and I love it now. It makes so much sense to me. Everything we read,hear or write is influenced by those around us and by previous experience. The response I have had to my previous post illustrates this beautifully. I had so many supportive messages (thank you), and each one featured a personal account, either through direct or indirect experience. As we read anything, whether it’s a novel or a half-witted twitter rant, we bring our own values and judgement to bear. I’m sure there will be some who read and sigh and roll their eyes. I cannot control that and accepting the negative response is part of putting work into the public domain. Being mindful that negativity reflects personal experience and prejudice helps me to distance myself. A little.
This concept of dialogism seems obvious, but what makes it so interesting is that it is such a subconscious act and that it is an act that influences our understanding and behaviour in almost every sphere of our interaction with others. Every word retains its social history even when used in a new context. It’s like having ghosts sitting on our shoulders as we read, listen or write.
How does this affect me as a writer ? It makes me think more. It makes me worry less. If a piece of writing means something to someone, how much does it matter if their understanding does not correlate with my intent ? Not a great deal . The only situation that would concern me would be a gross misappropriation of my values and beliefs although I think with my tiny (and lovely) readership I’m fairly safe.
Bakhtin’s work is also helping me with an area I’ve struggled with; developing the voices of my characters. One of the best things someone said to me recently was that they could really hear the characters’ voice as they read, instead of hearing me . That is what I am striving for, because that is when I will know I have created an authentic character. Everything we write has an element of our self, but my aim for this next part of my course is to create strong, vivid voices that help my reader to feel and know my character. If I can write something that resonates with others then that will be the icing on the cliche.
“If a piece of writing means something to someone, how much does it matter if their understanding does not correlate with my intent ? Not a great deal .”
I really like this, applies to any creative work, I think. With visual art, I think it’s far more interesting to hear people talking about what it means to them, than to have people arguing about what meaning is the correct one.
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Absolutely. The notion that there is a ‘correct’ way to experience something is bonkers to me. At its worst it means people are too frightened to enjoy a piece, because they are afraid of feeling wrong, or silly.