Bakhtin and Hypertext


As an abstract concept, Bakhtinian dialogue is the dialectical relationship between self and other where "self" occupies a relative center, and thus requires the other for existence. Dialogue as I refer to it in this essay is the use of language which allows voices of the "other" to emerge in dialogue with the voice of the individual, as opposed to "monologic" speech, or the use of language which seeks to suppress the voice of the "other."

Bakhtin uses the term heteroglossia to describe the inscription of multiple voices engaging in dialogue within the text; Paul Taylor (1992) points out that heteroglossia focuses on the production of meaning through dialogue and is in this sense much like Berlin's "social- epistemic rhetoric,"--"except that heteroglossia avoids the emphasis on (narrowly defined) consensus and explicitly celebrates diversity" (p. 138). Hypertext as heteroglossia, then, is the collaborative mode which I seek to facilitate in my writing classes because it avoids a totalizing movement toward consensus; heteroglossia instead validates the diversity of values and voices that are produced by the variety of individual students in each class I teach.


The primary element of heteroglossic dialogue Bakhtin terms "utterance," which he defines as a thought which is given voice (either in speech or in writing). His description of the environment in which a given utterance is produced can be appropriated and used as a description of the function of lexia in a hypertext: "The authentic environment of an utterance, the environment in which it lives and takes shape, is dialogized heteroglossia, anonymous and social as language, but simultaneously concrete, filled with specific content and accented as an individual utterance" (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 272).


Appropriation, for Bakhtin, is an integral component of dialogue: in order to engage in dialogue, one must be able to apprehend, internalize, and recreate the utterances of others (which is the same "intertextual" activity that Kristeva argues occurs in the context of reading). I do not use the term appropriation to be indicative of an absorption and subsequent conformity to the dominant discourse in a given discourse community; rather, appropriation is the theft of language (either that of the dominant discourse or of the "other) which is then reinterpreted and used to further the discourse of the self.

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