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In working with a precise semiotic language to deal with a concrete ideological problem it is difficult to be a doctrinaire materialist or idealist. Here we can see the full extent of the concept of ideology advanced by Voloshinov, and which is in fact quite different from Marx's.

Marx's ideological constructs were ethical or political systems, religions, the arts. Those are superstructures or rather, the superstructure. But Marx does not mention language; and a consideration of language completely disrupts any simple conception of ideology as a superstructure governed by the economical basis; it is plain that language is rooted in society in a different way than a set of laws on property.

Stalin himself acknowledged that language was not a superstructure, after the official ideology had tried to fit it into the model. But for Volosinov language is something of a superstructure the language of everyday activity is given form by the social messages and the relations it is used to convey and reinforce and something of a base for it is the primary ground where the rest of the ideological constructs are elaborated. That is, the "superstructures" but the word is no longer what it used to be are also dialectically generative.

Saussure: Voloshinov's analysis of the two currents of philosophy of language, "individual subjectivism" and "abstract objectivism" is very helpful; the section on Saussurean linguistics in particular is outtasight, if I may use this critical term. I would like to point out, however, that the kind of abstract objectivism you find in Saussure is "rationalist" or "conservative" only if it is presented as a world-view, a perverse attempt to see closed systems everywhere.

The Saussurean abstractions are necessary for certain immediately practical tasks for instance, writing a grammar or a dictionary just as Voloshinov's specificities are necessary for other aims writing literary criticism, for instance. Voloshinov's system presupposes Saussure's just as the sign presupposes the signal; it does not abolish it. Once we understand the place of each approach within an overall semiotic project, and the heuristic nature of the study of structures in this project, it is only fair to recognize this.

Verbal interaction: I found particularly challenging the idea that a sign is not a sign until it is actually used in an act of "ideological or behavioral impletion" Voloshinov 70 , and that a multiplicity of meanings is what makes a word a word The idea as a whole is enormously productive, and it has an immediate utility for literature; it is in line with the current emphasis on reception theory, but I think it is more radical than Iser's or Jauss's ideas on this point. All the reality of a word is dissolved in its semiotic function. On one end it is connected to the economic base and on the other to fully developed ideologies.

Next: a word is semiotic material of the consciousness, the inner life. And for the fifth time: all ideological production is surrounded with words, every ideological diffraction of a being in the process of becoming — in any material — is accompanied with the diffraction in words. One of the main themes of the monograph is the account of the human consciousness as an ideology. Bakhtin is critical towards idealists and claims that every experience is given — also to the one experiencing — in the materiality of the semiotic.

The ideological sign is the common field of psyche and ideology; it is a field of materiality, sociality and meaning. A consciousness exists only while being fulfilled with the semiotic-ideologic content, which is determined by the process of social interaction, the great dialogue. The semiotic-ideologic is a social feature and so it is also the individuality of psyche as a diffraction of the external signs in the internal ones.

If we consider the same question from the other end and in terms of other texts one would ask, how does Bakhtin understand the language? An utterance is an act, a social event of discursive relations in its broadest sense. Bakhtin borrowed the concept of language as Weltanschauung with important changes, of course from Wilhelm von Humboldt.

For Bakhtin the language is the totality of world, the culture, … and could not in any case be construed as something that is added to the alleged actual reality. On one hand we have the world of signs and the sign itself as the arena of the class struggle and on the other the quiet diffraction of the socially accomplished ideologies in the inner discourse, the consciousness. A living ideological sign has many accents, which originate in social multiplicity of accents, where the sign finds itself on the battlefield of the class ideologies.

In its core there is a division between two ways, how to analyse language and also more or less everything else. In different periods Bakhtin used different terms. We could easily add more and more binary oppositions to this table, but this method probably would not gain us any usable results.

Bakhtin criticises the first column linguistics in line with Ferdinand de Saussure and structuralism in general in favour of the second one. The linguistic-structuralistic approach is acceptable only heuristically as a scientific abstraction that has to be detached from the metalinguistic approach to the reality of the language as actual discourse in the living communication. Structuralism with its search for the logical structures might be useful methodological model for the natural sciences, but it cannot be applied to the study of language as an interpersonal event — which could not be reduced to human tool — or for humanities in general.

An utterance is a unit of the speech communication. It is always concrete, undetectable from its context of culture science, arts, politics etc. There are no neutral utterances. Next, a larger whole is speech communication as never ending exchange of utterances structured as dialogue. The name Mikhail Bakhtin is famous due to the concepts of dialogue and dialogism. Dialogue is primarily the basic model of language as discursive communication.

A sequence of utterances is a dialogue of speaking subjects or voices that respond to former utterances and anticipate the future ones. There are three factors determining an utterance. First, there is the content with its objects and meaning a theme being objective factor and an authorial concept a subjective factor. The second factor — constitutive for an utterance — is the expressiveness, the emotional-axiological relation of the speaker towards the content that could never be neutral — while, of course, always being appropriated form other socially specific utterances.

Bakhtin speaks mainly of the intonation and accent. On one hand, there is the expressiveness of an utterance as a function of an individual author that struggles with alien expressions on the same subject; therefore we could speak of a micro-dialogue within a single word as an utterance. But on the other hand, we have to consider the typical expressions and intonations connected to particular types or groups of utterances speech genres , which make them social, not individual. It is apparent that the utterance is dialogic, i.

It is not important whether an utterance is monologic or polyphonic — it is fundamentally dialogic. The third factor determining an utterance concerns the relationship of the speaker with the other and his utterances, the existing and the anticipated ones. An utterance transgresses its borders into past linguistic semiotic, ideologic formulations as their understanding, but also into the future ones by speaking to them; it tries to anticipate them — in a particular form and considering a particular addressee who is not just an empty form of the structuralist ideal reader.

An utterance always attempts to reject the objections already while still anticipating them. To understand an utterance, being itself an understanding answer, it requires at least two speaking subjects. But the Bakhtinian concept of dialogue requires three of them. We find more then one formulation. A word is a drama that features three persons it is not a duet but trio.

It happens outside the author […][24]. In this case we have the voices of the past speakers, the present author and future voices that will form contexts for understanding. But there is another trio — a more interesting one — concerning the dialogical nature of understanding. The understanding and also the existence of language and consciousness in general always requires two subjects.

They exist only among whole utterances — really or at least potentially whole ones — behind which one can find or within which are represented real or potential speaking subjects. These utterances may be strictly monologic discursive products. Let us look at the key sentences. The understanding itself as dialogic element enters the dialogic system and somehow changes its total sense.

Every utterance has always its addressee of different characters, different levels of proximity, specificity, awareness etc. Because it is impossible to think of the relationships between the utterances from a point external to the field of utterances, i. Despite apparent finality of the word there is always a way out that prevents its dogmatisation. The word wants to be heard, understood, it wants to be an answer and again to reply a question and so on ad infinitum.


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There is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context it extends into boundless past and boundless future. Even past meanings, that is, those born in the dialogue of past centuries, can never be stabile finalized, ended once and for all — they will always change be renewed in the process of subsequent, future development of the dialogue. From what has been said, we can conclude that every utterance — or a word, which can be compared to an utterance as a whole[33] — is an active element in an endless dialogue and, as such, a complex web of voices.

The dialogism determines words intrinsically and their relationships to other words. Linguistic concepts, such as grammar, could never reach real relationships in a language. These are only heuristic tools useful for the analysis of dead Classical languages where they were also developed and for synchronic aspects of language. The diachronic aspect of language as dialogue of personalities for example heroes as ideologists in the polyphonic novel is from the linguistical point of view nonexistent. Thus we stumble upon a new problem, how to study language in its generic aspect. Bakhtin supplies his own answer — metalinguistics and the speech genres.

The term metalinguistics existed before Bakhtin and meant the study of relations between language and society or culture. The foundational scheme of a metalinguistic relation is dialogism. It is expected for a theory to try to find different types of its basic elements, in this case the basic element being an utterance it is not surprising that Bakhtin attempts to discover more or less stabile types of utterances.

He names them speech genres; also ideological or life- genres.

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They are first mentioned in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. They are closely linked with particular areas of communication. It is important to mention constant expressions being typical relationships of speakers towards the content of an utterance. Bakhtin speaks of typical addressees e. Utterances and their types are transmitting belts that connect the history of society with history of language.

It is impossible for a new phenomenon phonetic, lexical, grammatical to enter the system of language without passing a long and complex way of generic and stylistic testing and transformation. Remaining also is a Marxism which does not subscribe to any philosophy of history and which certainly does not maintain that capitalism will inevitably lead to communism. This Marxism has no system of interrelated concepts that guarantee a scientific analysis. Further, it possesses no worked out theory of the relations between economic structures and cultural structures but for that limited knowledge which scientific practice provides.

Finally, this Marxism has given up the dream of analyzing the whole of culture and its movement from the outside; it realizes that one thinks inside and about the culture one inhabits in order to possibly effect and change that culture. Freed by his ignoble status from the task of influencing the direction of the Communist movement, the texts associated with this project and gathered together in the book Philosophy of the Encounter differ tremendously in subject matter, style, and method from his other writings.

Whether these texts represent a continuation of, or even the key to his philosophy or whether they are an aberration is presently being debated in the secondary literature. However, as there is strong textural and archival evidence that many of the ideas explicitly expressed in these works had been gestating for a long time, the contention that these writings are of a piece with his earlier work seems to be gaining ground. In addition to Marx, the philosophers that he cites as being part of this underground tradition include Democritus, Epicurus, Lucretius, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein.

From these readings in the history of philosophy, Althusser aims to suggest that this tradition exists and that it is both philosophically fecund and viable. He also wishes to return to and bolster the thesis he first ventured in the late s that there are really only two positions in philosophy: materialism and idealism. As he understood it, the two tendencies are always in a war of opposition with the one functioning to reinforce the status quo and the other to possibly overcome it.

Perhaps because it functions in opposition to the idealist tendency in philosophy, aleatory materialism is marked almost as much by its rejections as it is by the positive claims it contains about the world and about history. With this prohibition, Althusser means to exclude from this tradition not only the usual suspects in the rationalist tradition, but also mechanical and dialectical materialisms with their logics of determination. Also dismissed, he maintains, is the myth that somehow philosophy and philosophers are autonomous, that they see the world from outside and objectively.

Though there is an objective world, philosophy does not have knowledge of this world as its object for there is no way for it to ground itself and the material it thinks with and through arises historically. Philosophy is therefore not a science or the Science of sciences and it produces no universal Truth. Rather, the truths it produces are contingent and are offered in opposition to other competing truths. If philosophy does have an object, it is the void, or that which is not yet but which could be.

That the philosophy of the encounter lacks an object does not mean that it lacks positive propositions. First among them, following Democritus, is the thesis that matter is all that exists. Second is the thesis that chance or the aleatory is at the origin of all worlds. That the patterns which constitute and define these worlds can be known, described, and predicted according to certain laws or reasons is also true.

However, the fact that these worlds ever came to be organized in these patterns is aleatory and the patterns themselves can only ever be known immanently. Third, new worlds and new orders themselves arise out of chance encounters between pre-existing material elements. Whether or not such orders emerge is contingent: they do not have to occur. To Althusser, the propositions which have explanatory value at the level of ontology and cosmology also have value at the level of political philosophy.

After first citing Rousseau and Hobbes as example of philosophers who recognized that the origin and continued existence of political orders is contingent, Althusser turns to Machiavelli and Marx for his principle examples of how aleatory materialism functions in the political realm. The anti-teleological, scientistic, and anti-humanist, Marxist philosophy developed by Althusser over the course of his career works well with the materialist metaphysics recounted above.

In this understanding of Marxist philosophy, societies and subjects are seen as patterns of activity that behave in predictable ways. Though scientists may study and describe these orders in their specificity, it does not at first appear that philosophy can do much except to categorize these interactions at the most general level.

Marxism and the Philosophy of Language by Valentin Voloshinov

This is because, by examining a political order not from the perspective of its necessity but with an awareness of its contingency, this philosopher may be able think the possibility of its transformation. If chance smiles on her, if someone listens and if effects occur, then elements might recombine and a new political might take hold. This is, to be sure, a very limited and unpredictable power attributed to the philosopher.

However, it is also the only one that Althusser in his late works argues is adequate for political practice and that does not, like idealism, merely serve to reproduce existing relations. Life 2.

Valentin Voloshinov

Early Work —60 2. Classic Work — 3.

Revisions —78 4. There, on the 22 nd of October, , he died of a heart attack 2. Classic Work — With the perspective afforded by the mass of posthumous writings published since the s, it has become clear that Althusser was perennially concerned with important issues in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, historiography, hermeneutics, and political philosophy. Smith trans.

Goshgarian trans. Lewis in Gregory Elliott ed.

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Goshgarian ed. Kavanaugh in Gregory Elliott ed. Secondary Literature Althusser, L. Atkinson, D. Badiou, Alain, Baltas, Aristide, Bargu, B. Benton, Ted, Bidet, Jacques, Raymond ed. Boer, Roland, Bourdin, Jean-Claude, Bourgeois, Bernard, Breton, Stanislas, Callinicos, Alex, Cavazzini, A.

Crezegut, A. Ekici, E. Nowak, and F. Wolf eds. Elliot, Gregory, []. Althusser: A critical Reader , Oxford: Blackwell. Geerlandt, Robert, Gillot, Pascale, Althusser et la psychanalyse , Paris: Presses universitaires de France. Goshgarian, G. Hardy, N. Harnecker, Marta, Kukla, Rebecca and Mark Lance, Lazarus, Sylvain ed.

Lewis, William S. Lindner, Kolja, Lindner, Urs, Maesschalck, M. Bruschi, Macherey, Pierre, Kouvelakis et al. Malabou, C. Montag, Warren, Louis Althusser , New York: Palgrave. Daniel ed. Morfino, Vitorrio, Moulier Boutang, Yann, Negri, Antonio, McDonough, Patton, Paul, Pfeifer, G.

Parkinson ed. Resch, Robert Paul, Roudinesco, Elisabeth, Smith, Steven, Sotiris, P. Sprinker, Michael, Suchtig, Wal, Thomas, Peter, Encountering Althusser: politics and materialism in contemporary radical thought , London: Continuum. Thomas, Paul, Marxism and scientific socialism: from Engels to Althusser , London: Routledge.