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  Philologica 2 (1995)  
   
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ALEKSANDR ROMM’S UNWRITTEN REVIEW
OF MIXAIL BAXTIN AND VALENTIN VOLOSHINOV’S
“MARXISM AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE”

Edited, preparation of the text, introduction and notes
by A. L. Beglov and N. L. Vasil’ev

 
 
 


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Summary

The year 1995 marks the centenary of both Mixail Mixajlovich Baxtin (1895—1975) and Valentin Nikolaevich Voloshinov (1895—1936). The most significant product of their unusual and mysterious collaboration, which had a great influence on the ideology of the humanities in the second half of the twentieth century, was the monograph signed by Voloshinov and later attributed to Baxtin: Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Despite all the attention paid to this book by contemporaries (it is not pure chance that it was republished within a year), very few reviews of it (only three) appeared in print. Therefore any lively response of its first readers is of the utmost interest; this seems to be especially the case with Aleksandr Il’ich Romm’s notes: of all extensive written reviews dating from that time, his unfinished article is the most profound and original.

Romm thought that the way out of the methodological crisis in linguistics “can consist only” in “the dialectical resolution of the antinomy” which was discovered and “demonstrated <...> in full” by Voloshinov. As Humboldt argued, “language is not a work or product (Ergon), but an activity (Energeia)”. “Language is not an activity (fonction) of the speaker”, Saussure retorted, “it is a product that is passively assimilated by the individual”. Like Grigorij Osipovich Vinokur before him, Romm attempted to reconcile Humboldt with Saussure. However, Vinokur identified the opposition of ergon/energeia with the dichotomy “langue vs parole”, while Romm supposed both language itself (langue) and any enunciation or utterance — “slovo” (“the word” or parole) — to be product and activity at the same time: “It is pointless disputing whether language is ergon or energeia. It is both <...> The same can be found in the area of the word which should be set apart as a separate concept”.

While agreeing with Voloshinov that the speech act is structured not only by the speaker but also by the listener, Romm found the ergon of language in the fact that the interlocutor, “the other” in reality turns out to be “the others”: di(a)logue becomes a polylogue in which the entire nation takes part and whose form of expression is the language as a complete whole. The ergon of the enunciation, according to Romm, is clearly visible in the texts of enheightened importance which are more or less sacralized: history itself pulls them out of the situation which engendered them; their dialogic context has been lost, and in order to understand them, one is forced to interpret them as complete monologic enunciations. Romm is alien to Voloshinov and Baxtin’s “antiphilologism” with its argumentum ad atheos: “The first philologists and the first linguists were always and everywhere priests”. If we want to understand the classics of Marxism-Leninism, our method, Romm explains, will be no different from the hermeneutics of the holy Fathers. But the point is that Marxism (as well as other cognate ideologies) does not want to understand: it wants to use the material, to adapt it to itself, or, as the authors of the book under review would say, “to enter the dialogue”. In this sense they were more sagacious than Romm: having subtly caught the social order, they tried to substantiate philosophically “the self-affirming reader’s revolt against the authorities which were foisted on him” (M. L. Gasparov). Their antiphilological hatred for “dead, written, alien language” and “isolated, finished, monologic utterance” really does make them the closest forerunners of contemporary postmodernism.

 


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