On the problem of historical research in humanities: Michel Foucault and Mikhail Bakhtin Sep05




On the problem of historical research in humanities: Michel Foucault and Mikhail Bakhtin

Aleš Vaupotič


The text examines the questions of contemporary methodology of humanities, particularly the shifts connected with the New Historicism. It is a methodological movement that emerged in the United States in the eighties within the English Renaissance Literature Studies, of course, through important European influences, of which the most interesting ones are the theories of historiography of Michel Foucault. Our text also considers the works of Mikhail Bakhtin that were very influential within the context of the New Historicism, too – if not as notorious as Foucault’s. What we are interested in are the essential paradigmatic shifts determining the new methodology differing from, for instance, Derrida’s deconstruction or Lacanian psychoanalysis. In the first part of the text we emphasise the major shift behind the new historicist methodology, whereas the two following chapters deal with the relation between Foucault’s and Bakhtin’s theories. We examine similarities and, more importantly, the differences. We see that these are two extremely heterogeneous authors as far as the philosophical and cultural backgrounds are concerned – Foucault’s works are a part of western criticism of metaphisics whereas Bakhtin’s works are a part of eastern-Christian spiritual and religious heritage. Nevertheless they come together on a higher level, which is the level of the new historicist methodology that is founded in the so called theory of discourse (Foucault and also Bakhtin are among the most prominent authors). In our text we have shown the main focus of contemporary humanities, the study of relations among different socially and historically singular discursive territories. One can see that the ethical questions are at the very core of the new historicist methodology.


After the poststructuralist crisis of historicisms how is it possible for historical research to be once again predominant in humanities? This paper will point at the methodological novelties that enable new approaches to the research in historical data. We will focus on the most important theoretical work of Michel Foucault The Archaeology of Knowledge which systematically explicates the method. Besides analysing Foucault’s archaeology – this being a model for the analysis of historical data – we will focus also on pointing out the similarities between the “metalinguistics” i.e. “Marxist philosophy of language” by Mikhail Bakhtin and the theory of Foucault. Nevertheless we must mention also the context of New Historicism, a methodological movement that emerged in the United States in late seventies especially in literary criticism and reached its highest point in late eighties and in nineties. Although this being a highly heterogeneous theoretical conglomerate, its core is still dominated by the theories of Michel Foucault and also, even if not that explicitly, by theories of Mikhail Bakhtin.

The specificity of the method (space and time)

What makes the method we are constructing different from other methods? Let’s get in medias res! Foucault in one of his interviews said:
The double investment of space, politically-technological and scientifically-practical, has reduced philosophy to the field of questions about time. What according to Kant the philosopher must question is time. Hegel, Bergson, Heidegger. This coincides with correlative devaluation of space, which is inscribed to the side of reason, analytical, dead, fixed, inert. /…/ when I was arguing on problems of space, they said that it is reactionary to speak so much about space and that time and “project” are what matters in life and progress.[i]
Time is the dominant theme of philosophy, whereas space is only its non-active appendix. In his criticism of established convictions Foucault relates mainly to the importance of space (and architecture) in Bentham’s Panopticon, where space is not a mere mathematical model that is filled in time with emanations of Geistesgeschichte, but it alone differentiates the reality. Foucault is interested in power relations immanent to the space. He appeals to the “historical-political”[ii] questioning of the problems of space, but for our concern it is essential that the space itself implicates its meaningfulness and functions as an ideological (in Bakhtin’s words, i.e. discursive) attitude in the world context. For instance, Foucault’s reference to the “kind” enrichment of the working class house by division of rooms into separate rooms for girls and boys would be of course ironic, since here what is at stake is mainly the subjectivation (subjugation, determination) of individuals into boys and girls in the context of “cités ouvrières”.
The space implicates a discursive charge, but however for comparison with the theories of Bakhtin the ideological impact of space in a literary case, e.g. the castle in the so called gothic novel, is even more significant.[iii] The chronotope – the castle in the gothic novel – is a discursive unit of space, time and ideology. Thus, Foucault’s insisting on the priority of space over time comes even closer to Bakhtin’s studies of chronotope (this being probably the most important concept in his works). The word is used by Bakhtin in two different meanings: neutrally chronotope means the same as speech genre, i.e. the basic generic unit of his theory, a group of similar utterances. From this we can conclude that every specific chronotope is actually an utterance that overcomes its mere linguistic character as its formal (i.e. non-essential) feature. However, we will make more out of the second use of the word chronotope, meaning the quality of chronotopicality that represents a special quality or value of condensation of time in space. In the main study on this theme Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel Bakhtin mentions chronotope as a materialisation of time, whereas chronotopicality occupies an important place also in the monograph on Dostoevsky (especially in the rewritten version) Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics where the central chronotopes, which are very “chronotopical”, are the carnival marketplace and the door-step. In both cases what Bakhtin is trying to emphasise is the co-existence of different voices (we could say discourses) in a single moment and therefore outside of time.
It is apparent that Bakhtin eliminates the time, which is in the teleological linearity, annihilating itself in its monological finality, of no interest to him. Important are the synchronous relations between different voices as speech genres or ideologies (i.e. groups of similar utterances). Let’s look back at Foucault who is proposing something similar in the horizon of the archaeological method. In the book The Archaeology of Knowledge the method with the same name “freezes the history”. From the chronological point of view the archaeology is interested only in the starting point, when the so called discursive formation comes to existence, and the end point, when it disappears. Time exists only in the raptures, in a sequence of multiplicity of eternities, which is largely in disagreement with the traditional homogenous linearity of history.[iv] The archaeological description is developed on the level of general history, which means that discourse is not independent and ideal, enclosed in a homogenous and absolute history, but it is rather developed on the level “in which history can give place to definite types of discourse, which have their own type of historicity, and which are related to a whole set of various historicities”.[v]
Foucauldian archaeological approach to the historical a priori constructs a different type of historicity then is, for instance, the linear successivity of language or the stream of conciseness; the discourse (from the point of view of the archaeology) has a different model of historicity. There are two main issues involved. First, (IV/5/I):[vi] the apparent synchrony of discursive formations is actually a temporary suspension of temporal successivity, in order for the relations that define the temporality of the discoursive formation itself to appear. This is manifested in such cases when, for example, something that is archaeologically before is not necessarily before also from the chronological point of view. Thereby, archaeology (a) releases “the level of ‘evential’ engagement”, i.e. it releases specific singular events from the destructive linearity. On the other hand, (b) the rules of formation of discoursive practice appear on different levels of generality: they may be in a synchronous hierarchic relationship or they may implicate the “temporal vector”. From this point of view, archaeology cartographically “maps the temporal vectors of derivation”. Second (IV/5/II): the aim Foucault approaches by means of archaeology is to differentiate the differences and therefore he declines the homogenous term of “change” and instead he proposes a multiplicity of types of “transformation” that appear on different levels of events.
After this excursion into the theory of archaeology we must return to Bakhtin in order to maintain the parallels. Bakhtin is known to be a very non-systematic author (which is regarding the terminological and academic rigour quite obvious), but this is certainly not true about the central lines that bind together the whole of his works regardless of occasional variations. Although we can’t find in Bakhtin the kind of large systematic schemes Foucault has developed in his The Archeaology of Knowledge, it is still possible to point out where this view of historical analysis becomes manifest also in Bakhtin’s work.
In this regard we find significant Bakhtin’s remark from his treaty Epic and Novel:[vii] he is not interested in literary movements or periods, instead as protagonists of literary history he considers the literary genres. It is important that he places at the core of literature as a process the relations between genres. On one hand, these are literary genres like epos, tragedy or novel, but on the other hand, they are understood in terms of metalinguistic context of the theory of speech genres that are similar to Foulcault’s discursive formations. Bakhtin’s interest in the raptures and similarities on the level of archaeology can be recognised in his research of the tradition of carnival, which is not limited to the external similarities or common ideas, but it is rather trying to find what Foucault would call “archaeological isomorphisms”[viii] between different discoursive formations. For example, let us just mention, that according to Bakhtin the closest to the novel in the late Antiquity are the “serious-funny” genres and not the ancient romances. Or the case when the carnival tradition is kept in literature and to a much lesser extent in circus although the latter is in its external features very similar to the original carnivalesque manifestations. Foucault would call that an “archaeological shift” (same structure but from the archaeological point of view different elements, with Bakhtin’s words we could say, that carnival and circus belong to different socio-historical voices).
Bakhtin’s and Foucault’s methods likewise approach the historical a priori without succumbing to the unifying logic of historical development. What remains in focus are the specificities of different discursive practices (Foucault) or voices, languages (Bakhtin). Both authors insist on declining what Bakhtin would call monologism and Foucault the principle of continuity that washes away the specific features from the surfaces of events. In order not to lose our emphasis, let us summarise the central line of this paper. We have shown that both authors emphasise the meaning of space – and not of time – in contemporary philosophy (Foucault rather explicitly), which in turn takes us back to the possibilities of this method that are different from for example deconstruction that seemingly by concentrating on the problems of time arrives to the raptures and more or less authentic temporality, but still can’t establish a differentiated perspective into the actual rapture of time. While that’s exactly what Bakhtin’s and Foucault’s theories enable us to do.
At this point let us rethink the term “to historicize” so commonly used in literary treaties of American New Historicists and most of the time perceived as a problematic term. We will try to give it a more concrete content. By the term “historicizing” we can denote what Bakhtin calls chronotopicality as a special quality. It means the disposition of complex temporal, spacious and semiotic relations “just like” in space, whereby the specificity of singular events that relate to each other, likewise within the same chronological moment and in the always different transformations on the time line, comes to light. The time is no more an uninterrupted gliding towards an end that is assured in advance (or at least in a known direction), instead it breaks up into a field of intertwining temporalities that move quasi-ahead as long as they interfere with other series. Instead of a line what we have now is an infinite net of sequences of describable unique elements, or, instead of the authentic temporal rapture we have the carnival marketplace.
Let us stress once more, that for chronotopicality in this sense of the term the time on itself is not considered to be important for the triple relation of time-space-meaning. The neutral conception of chronotope is something totally different and in its neutrality omnipresent. About the chronotopicality of the carnival marketplace that is to enable the concrete content of the notion to historicize, the dialogical confrontation of a multiplicity of socio-historically specific views of the world is essential. The historicizing view is directed to the variety of different voices that surrounds us and at the same time creates us.

Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge and Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism

Briefly, we will show the similarities between Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism and the philosophy of Michel Foucault. Outstandingly obvious is the resemblance of not accepting the interpretation and formalisation in Foucault’s archaeology with Bakhtin’s non-acceptance of “individualistic subjectivism” and “abstract objectivism”, for example in the book Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. On one hand we have the non-acceptance of the psychologism of expression[ix] (Dilthey’s hermeneutics), on the other hand there is non-acceptance of de Saussure’s structuralism with a homogenous structure that enables us only to explore dead linguistic systems – langue. In accordance with this are both Foucault’s and Bakhtin’s furious denials of structural (linguistic and logical) approaches throughout their work. At the same time we must take into account that both authors, although they deny the structuralist approach, explore above all the relations between elements, though outside the methodological paradigm of a unifying logical structure. They both search for describable socio-historic voices, languages or ideologies (Bakhtin) or positivities that are submerged into the whole of the discursive and non-discursive field (Foucault).
On the other side we find connections with Marxism. Both authors stress the interaction between the institutions and the discursive, but of course outside the homogenous linearity of base and superstructure and the homogenous history of class struggle. Also with Bakhtin it is impossible to talk about extra-linguistic that would one-sidedly define the domain of expressions, instead, reality is a network of socially specific languages or ideologies. Language for Bakhtin is a view of the world, the world as a whole as it is perceived by a human being. Utterance is at large an act in the never- ending great dialogue of speech communication.
We find it appealing that some researchers understand both authors in the context of materialism, which is true, although the details of this problem are very important. Bakhtin’s thought is materialistically monistic,[x] which means that the only substance is the materiality of the discursive. In the book Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, being explicitly Marxist, the existence that is before the ideological is frequently taken into account, although it is at the same time being diminished by the radical understanding of the ideological-semiotic. “Language, a word, that is almost everything in human life.”[xi] The ideological steps in the foreground. The sign is material – a single material thing – but it carries also meaning (thereby the sign overcomes its singularity) which is inseparable from the material. Outside the material there is no meaning. The meaning is not of the order of psychological or ideal. We have three things: the sign, the thing and the meaning (značenie). The meaning is the function of the sign, the relation between the reality of the sign and the represented reality.[xii] Alongside, it is important that Bakhtin’s method explores the level of relations of heteroglossia, the brakes between and within ideologies.
Regarding Foucault it is also possible to talk about the material dimension of a statement, whereas the dilemmas of this materiality is solved by the author with the formulation: “institutional materiality”.
A statement cannot be identified with a fragment of matter; but its identity varies with a complex set of material institutions.[xiii]
In a similar direction points the lecture The Order of Discourse, where Foucault speaks of “disembodied materialism”, whereby stressing that an event is nor something of the order of body neither something immaterial.[xiv] In both cases, Bakhtin’s and Foucault’s, we can talk about materialism only from the view point of, we could say, discursive materialism – the only substance being the substance of materiality of signs as long as they are utterances.
Both authors are connected also through a similar anthropological view. In Bakhtin’s Marxism and the Philosophy of Language the human consciousness is an internal dialogue and the human identity can be found in the specificity of individual diffraction of ideologies in the field of which he or she lives. The consciousness for Bakhtin is of the order of discourse. Foucault’s standpoint can be seen in the quotation regarding the limits in the research of an archive where it is impossible for the scholar to analyse his own archive:
In this sense, the diagnosis does not establish the fact of our identity by the play of distinctions. It establishes that we are difference, that our reason is the difference of discourses, our history the difference of times, ourselves the difference of masks.[xv]
We are a series in the network of multiplicity of discourses and institutions. The human as consciousness is an entity of the same order as the dispositive. As subject one is dispersed in the totality of the archive as the surface of the dispersion. In both authors, thus, we find the rejection of the model of modern subject, especially in its psychologistic version.
Likewise, the terminology in the works of both authors corresponds to a large extent. The basic element of Bakhtin’s metalinguistics is the utterance (vyskazyvanie) that is determined by the exchange of speakers – see especially the treatise The Problem of Speech Genres.[xvi] In Foucault the statement is determined by its enunciative function on four levels. At first sight rather different systems turn out to be remarkably similar. The location of the utterance between the starting and the ending point of one speaker’s locution in Bakhtin means, that it is defined in relation to the whole of speech communication and thus it relates to previous, present and anticipated future utterances. On the other hand, the utterance is being determined also internally by dialogism – this meaning its existential incorporation into a dialog – and thus we can see the relations between speech genres as groups of utterances also inside a single utterance. For Bakhtin this implies problems about how to think the borders between primary speech genres inside composite secondary genres (e.g. a novel), whereas in our case this proves that the metalinguistic analysis corresponds to the archaeological description of the relations between discursive units inside a singular statement and between different statements. Bakhtin’s utterance is an intervention into the whole of speech communication this including also the whole of the socio-historical context. This intervention is heterogeneous, it is a diffraction of some utterances, that have been appropriated, in other utterances that have also been appropriated by the individual. Let us add that neither for Foucault nor for Bakhtin semiotic on itself is a sufficient basis for the utterance – crucial is its functioning in the enunciative field; whereas if we reverse this rationale every sign can exist only through its enunciative function.
Foucault and Bakhtin in contrast to the Lacanian psychoanalysis enable the research of the units smaller than an individual. Regarding this we find interesting the answers of Foucault to the objections of Jacques-Allain Miller.

J.-A. M.: Finally, for you who are these subjects that confront each other?
M. F.: This is a hypothesis, I would say: everyone to everybody. /…/ We all fight against everybody. And there is always something inside us that fights against something else inside us.
J.-A. M.: /…/ but at the end, the individuals are the first and last element?
M. F.: Yes, individuals, and even less than individuals.
J.-A. M.: Less than individuals?
M. F.: Why not?[xvii]

We have to stress two things: that Foucault insists on the subject to be the position that is attributed to a certain standpoint only subsequently and is not its origin, and secondly, this furthermore makes it possible to speak about a unit smaller than an individual. What is less than the individual, i.e. a human, are – if we borrow a similar situation in Bakhtin – the intertwining discourses (ideologies) that build one’s consciousness as internal dialogue. We have to bear in mind the heteroglossia that intervenes with the heteronomous consciousness of an individual and stratifies it.[xviii] The consciousness is a multiplicity of refractions of discourses with other discourses. In Bakhtin the heteroglotic character of one utterance becomes most explicit in polyphonic novel – a similar situation we find also in Foucault – when one oeuvre is governed by one or many positivities.[xix] The borders between the positivities coincide in this case with the problems of the internal borders between speech genres inside one (composite) utterance in Bakhtin.
Let us only mention the theme of carnival, the central theme in Bakhtin’s works, that is also very important in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.
Bakhtin’s dialogue partially corresponds with Foucault’s struggle – the military strategic confrontation. We will consider this distinction more closely later on, but however it can not be determined on the level of terminology. Bakhtin’s dialogue is a field of furious combat and confrontations.
We can compare Foucault’s discourse, or more precisely positivities, with Bakhtin’s voices, languages, ideologies and, the theoretically most elaborate concept of speech genres, i.e. groups of utterances. The whole of all utterances is for Bakhtin the speech communication in the form of a dialogue, whereas in Foucault we speak of the archive. Even the terminological trespasses across the (theoretically less important) borderline between the discursive and the (quasi)non-discursive are in both authors marked with the terminological change: Bakhtin uses the term “chronotope” for the not only discoursive speech genre, whereas Foucault uses the word “dispositive” meaning a heterogeneous unity of discourses and institutions.
However, the most important resemblance, the one that provoked our comparison, is the fact that the theories of both authors enable the description of the field of discursive relations without reducing it to a homogenous systematic of a system (langue) or to the creative subject. Foucault and Bakhtin are exceptional authors because they trespass the limitations of the deconstruction and they inaugurate the domain of heteroglossia, where it is possible to describe literally an infinite number of specific and unique discursive formations. The two philosophical aspects by insisting on the surface or the exteriority of discourse enable the view into the specificity of singular discursive practices that were till now theoretically unnoticed. Where the deconstruction sees two exclusive possibilities that are through their opposition translatable to each other, there the so called New Historicist view sees a multiplicity of non-reducible discursive practices, the variety of existence that obstinately declines the totalizing formalisation, although it can not be understood outside the horizon of semiotic anymore. We could say that in both authors the systematic of their theories alone (especially from the point of view of taxonomy, that is more elaborate in Foucault) does not reach the importance of their opening of completely new horizons in humanities.
Both methodologies, Bakhtin’s and Foucault’s, are of course universal. In Bakhtin this can be seen in the application of the dialogic approach to the problem of historical grammar (in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Third Part). It is evident also from Bakhtin’s last treaties, e.g. Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences[xx] where he develops his own hermeneutics. Understanding is actually the integration of the understood into the contexts of the one that understands and who is open for the future. The theme of the integration into one’s own context could also represent one of the legitimate understandings of Foucault’s problematic of the relation between the critical and the descriptive moment of the archaeology, let us remember how the book Discipline and Punish in its conclusion reaches beyond the level of knowledge and transgresses the border of political recruiting. The approach we are proposing is beyond the scientific objectivity of a closed system of truth. The truth is just a strategic weapon on the carnival marketplace of history.

The differences – Bakhtin and mysticism

Even more significant than to show the similarities is to point at the differences between Bakhtin’s and Foucault’s thought. In the book The New Historicism, a collection of treatises on the most recent methodological movement in contemporary humanities, edited by Harold Aram Veeser, we find an interesting paper by John D. Schaeffer The Use and Misuse of Gianbattista Vico: Rhetoric, Orality and Theories of Discourse,[xxi] which establishes that Foucault’s treatises are following the spirit of the Enlightenment in being limited to the profane dimension of discourse, in contrast to Vico’s thought that recognises also religious components. Foucault does not consider the religious type of relations.
Foucault’s works do indeed possess the Enlightenment’s spirit of Freedom, like the author himself accurately states in his paper What is Enlightenment? (Was ist Aufklärung?) This circumstance has important consequences. For him the statement is an event (in contrast to Bakhtin’s personalistic act). Foucault is interested in relations between events, for model of which he takes the war, combat, strategies (in contrast to Bakhtin’s dialogue).[xxii] What are the drives behind the struggle in the field of power-knowledge, we shouldn’t ask, says Foucault. However, because of the lack of the origin, the subject or the basis of all the regular differentiations, there arises a problem. The whole of the archive can not be described especially from the viewpoint of methodological coherence, that is, it must not be totally described because in the opposite case, if the archive description would be unlimited, we would return to the structural level of history of ideas, says Foucault.[xxiii] Of course it is obvious that the archive can not be described in its totality, but we have to add that the categorical restrain in doing so moves the emphasis from the upper parts (universal laws) of the scientific pyramid to its lower parts (variety of events). However, such straightforward prohibition appears as a rather arbitrary act and, as we will see, it is in accordance with Foucault’s ludistic attitude. Most certainly we don’t want to deny the importance of the turn of negative criticism into a positive one[xxiv] (that specifies the singularity of events), even though it seams that we can find the playfulness of freedom behind the whole project and therefore it can hardly be understood outside the usual scheme of the subject and the structure.
Bakhtin’s thought is, in contrast to Foucault’s, a personalistic one. An utterance is an act (and not an event that is a given), an individual intervention into the reality of speech communication, although this does not mean the return to the subject. Instead, Bakhtin proceeds from the phenomenological analysis of the relation of the self and the other; see Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity.[xxv] Bakhtin describes two independent and mutually irreducible modes of existence – I and Other. Between them there is the so-called relation of “extra-location” (vnenahodimost). Let’s look at one example: an “I” can not perceive its own external appearance, which of course does not mean that we can not discursively think ourselves as a part of the outside world, it is only that we can not experience ourselves in our external appearance. We can not approach ourselves through an “emotional-volitional reaction”, we can not decide on our beauty or ugliness. All my emotional reactions to myself are taken from the reactions of others to myself. This phenomenological analysis of two existential modes is the foundation of heteronomous human consciousness as a series of internalised foreign utterances, other people’s ideologies. It is also the theoretical basis for the concept of dialogism, since in its core there is extra-location as the constitutive relation.
In Bakhtin’s fragment Towards the Philosophical Bases of the Human Sciences (1940-43) that was later developed into his last text Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences we find a dichotomy between the reification process in the practical interest and the other extreme: “[…] thought of God in the presence of God, a dialogue, petition, prayer. Necessity of free self-exposure of the personality.” Here we find the concept of dialogue that implicates two consciousnesses that are radically non-fused. Their relationship tends to affirm the other as the absolute other. The dialogue is founded in the extra-location if the I toward the other, and is an ethical and hermeneutic feature. Bakhtin’s thought is through the absoluteness of the other therefore close to the mystical tradition. In the core of mysticism there is a thought that opens up to the transcendental which could never be adequately described or named. All what is left are cognitive attempts to grasp the transcendental, which not being accessible to logic opens up through play, imagery, symbols, and particularly in Bakhtin’s case through dialogue as an ethical and hermeneutic task driven to the pitch of religious experience. (See Vaupotič The Philosophy of Mikhail Bakhtin.)
Foucault’s relation to hermeneutics is problematic, particularly because he rejects it – having in mind especially the Dilthean type. Nevertheless, he inaugurates the limited character of the archaeological analysis – which opens, as we have shown, the spatial development of the field of problems (which has been in the horizon of traditional history squeezed into a line) -, with an arbitrary hypothesis about an interdiscursive configuration or group, and continues with the hermeneutical circle of verifications and revisions of the premises thus bringing us closer to greater certainty. The hermeneutical attitude is evident in the opening of possible understandings and in systematically revising them.
Michel Foucault somewhere mentions his direct predecessor at the Collège de France Jean Hyppolit. In Foucault’s works we can, considering Jean Hyppolit’s project, talk about the opening of the Hegelian metaphysical structure through the rejecting of totality and through the shift of interest towards the particular,[xxvi] however Bakhtin’s solution seams more appropriate, since it explicitly deals with the relationship of the researcher to the transcendent reality of discourse, which is afterwards being described. This reality can not be constructed through loosening and destroying the Hegelian metaphysical structure because everything there is is always already caught in the development of the Idea. In the case of Bakhtin’s – and also of Foucault’s – opening of the non-regularity of the experience, the relation to the transcendent according to the mystical scheme appears to be more relevant, although the transcendent is only attainable through the crevices in the homogenous patches of positivities.
The differences between Bakhtin’s and Foucault’s theory can be gathered in the religious and ethical obligation of the dialogical model of hermeneutics on one hand and the aggressive ludistic image of Nietzscheian struggle on the other. Interesting are some examples from the discussion between Jacques-Allain Miller and Foucault about the problem of the subject:

J.-A. M.: You are once again looking for the source, this time the quilty one is Tertulian …
M. F.: I do this for fun.
J.-A. M.: Of course, you will say: this is more complex, there are many heterogeneous levels, movements upwards and downwards. I am being serious, this quest for the point of beginning, this sickness of speech, do you …
M. F.: I say this fictionally, for fun, stories.[xxvii]

On one side we have Bakhtin the mystic, on the other Foucault, the modern joker who blasphemically combines philosophy with the vulgarity of the anarchistic struggle for domination.


The New Historicism that is to a large extent founded in theories of Michel Foucault and also, though less explicitly, in works of Mikhail Bakhtin, was born from a double tension – the crisis of deconstruction and the tendency to research the data from the point of view of their historical singularity. However, traditional history that was refused by formalisms and different forms of structuralism, can not defy the insights of deconstruction, which would be necessary if we want to have a method that succeeds deconstruction. For New Historicism the most important is the finding of the theoretical apparatus that reveals specific socio-historically singular discursive fields. Thereby, the monologism of the unifying structuralist approach, that is looking for the more or less non-problematic unity of langue behind the surface of discourse, is overcome. New Historicism, methodologically a so called philosophical aspect,[xxviii] opens the specificity of events, but only as far as they constitute archaeological territories – the actually existent, always limited social discourses. This limitation is not so much a theoretical condition as it is an existential mode of the human being that opens to the outside, be that a text, the world, other people or whatever. New Historicism reveals the reality of phenomena as they open to our intuition, that is, as we communicate with them. A theoretically informed examination of particular events (Foucault) or actions (Bakhtin) is thus once again possible.
The fil rouge of our paper could be the expression “to historicize”, which is a kind of slogan of American New Historicists. Like most of expressions today this one appears to be pretty awkward since the call: “Always historicize!” has been written down by Frederick Jameson in the Marxist context. The demand for unification and totalization is nowhere as strong as it is in science with mathematics on its top. Historicizing can be considered a counter-practice. Every use of a statement activates the whole of the discursive formation and also the whole of an archive, it changes the whole reality. New Historicism tends to notice these displacements. Bakhtin for example historicizes Rabelais’s relation to women: through the contradictions in Rabelais’s favourable disposition towards women and his approval of a folklore tradition where women represent the utterly base, Bakhtin points at discursive raptures, that condition these discontinuities. Taking into account the discourse of carnival resolves the apparent paradox. This example at the same time shows, how world may not be transparent at first sight. Historicizing means to be cautious and responsible in understanding and in action. Historicizing is a value that is attained progressively, however this does not mean a pragmatistic piling of findings, but rather a disclosure of raptures in homogenities. Last but not least, it means also the methodological unveiling of the singular, because in the opposite case we would only be deconstructing the derived regularities.


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[i] Foucault: Vednost – oblast – subjekt, 44.

[ii] Same, 43.

[iii] Same, 47.

[iv] Foucault: The Archaeology of Knowledge, 166.

[v] Same, 165.

[vi] (Chapters and subchapters in The Archaeology of Knowledge.)

[vii] In Bakhtin: The Dialogical Imagination.

[viii] The Archaeology of Knowledge, IV/4/2/(a), see also (b)-(e).

[ix] See same, 24.

[x] Bakhtin: Marksizam i filozofija jezika, 45.

[xi] Bakhtin: The Problem of the Text in Linguistics, Philology, and the Human Sciences in Bakhtin: Speech Genres and Other Late Essays.

[xii] Marksizam i filozofija jezika, 30.

[xiii] The Archaeology of Knowledge, 103.

[xiv] Vednost – oblast – subjekt, 19.

[xv] The Archaeology of Knowledge, 131.

[xvi] In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays.

[xvii] Vednost – oblast – subjekt, 86-7.

[xviii] Marksizam i filozofija jezika.

[xix] The Archaeology of Knowledge, 139.

[xx] Speech Genres and Other Late Essays.

[xxi] In The New Historicism, 89-101.

[xxii] Foucault: Predavanja, 1975/76.

[xxiii] The Archaeology of Knowledge, IV/4/1.

[xxiv] See Foucault: What is Enlightenment? in Vednost – oblast – subjekt.

[xxv] Bakhtin: Art and Answerability.

[xxvi] Vednost – oblast – subjekt, 25.

[xxvii] Same, 91.

[xxviii] See Kos: Uvod v metodologijo literarne vede.