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Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies edited by Roland Boer (Society of Biblical Literature Semeia Studies: Brill Academic Publishers) offers a meeting between genre theory in biblical studies and the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, who continues to be immensely influential in literary criticism. Here Bakhtin comes face to face with a central area of biblical studies: the question of genre. The essays range from general discussions of genre through the reading of specific biblical texts to an engagement with Toni Morrison and the Bible. The contributors are John Anderson, Roland Boer, Martin J. Buss, Judy Fentress-Williams, Christopher Fuller, Barbara Green, Bula Maddison, Carleen Mandolfo, Christine Mitchell, Carol A. Newsom, David M. Valeta, and Michael Vines.

Excerpt: This volume seeks to bring about a rather gentle meeting between genre theory in biblical studies and the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, the great Soviet-era Russian literary critic. The collection grew initially out of a session at the Society of Biblical Literature's Annual Meeting in San Antonio (2004) enti­tled "Bakhtin and Genre." It has since grown beyond this base with a number of additional essays. As the title suggests, it brings the insights of Mikhail Bakhtin to bear on the question of genre in biblical texts.

In many respects, Bakhtin needs little introduction. His personal story is integral to his theory and practice of literary criticism. The fact that he had to write covertly beneath the hot blanket of Stalinist censorship only added to his appeal in a West hungry for dissidents in the Soviet Union. One path was of course to write under the pseudonyms of his friends, most notably Valentin Voloshinov, and the debate has gone to and fro as to how much of the more explicitly heterodox Marxist works that appeared under Voloshinov's name were in fact Bakhtin's, especially the book written in the 1920s, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (2006). By comparison, Rabelais and His World (1984a), Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics (1984b) and The Dialogic Imagi­nation (1982) seem much more tame, at least on the surface. Many critics opt for the double-headed "Bakhtin and Voloshinov" when referring to their ideas, preferring to leave what is murky murky, whereas others prefer the less overtly Marxist side, although it hovers quietly in the background.

Before I proceed, however, some definitions of key concepts from Bakhtin are in order, some of which will appear in the essays. We may dis­tinguish roughly between three groups of such terms: those that identify specific features of narrative; the ones that develop a theory of language out of literature; and the overtly political terms. As for the literary features, the first is the contrast between monologic and dialogic narrative. As the words suggest, whereas monologic narrative (and indeed truth) proceeds as though

there were one dominant voice, dialogic narrative has at least two. He refers not merely to the explicit dialogue between characters but more to the quietly insistent "voice" or indeed "voices" that pick at and undermine the dominant one in a text. This distinction between monologic and dialogic narrative has been used most thoroughly in biblical studies by Robert Polzin's three studies of the Deuteronomistic History (1989; 1990; 1993). Bakhtin, however, goes further, arguing that meaning itself is generated through dialogism.

The second literary feature that appears at a number of points in this col­lection of essays is the chronotope. The word means "time space," defined by Bakhtin as "the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature" (Bakhtin 1982: 84). The chrono­tope comes into play when an author creates new fictional worlds. Yet those worlds must relate in some way to the actual world in which the author hap­pens to live. The intersection between actual and fictional worlds happens by means of the chronotope.

The second group of terms focus on the question of language. To begin with, there is polyphony, which marks the multiplicity of voices that one finds in any one text. This multiplicity may be identified in terms of characters, but more often than not polyphony cuts across characters. The reason for such crossing over is due to the unfinalizability of any character, or indeed any human being. He or she always remains partially hidden, never fully revealed or complete—a position that he unwittingly shares with Ernst Bloch's idea of the homo absconditus. Of course, the unfinalizability of characters and persons is one factor in the polyphony of a text. Later on, in his perpetual effort to redefine and clarify his thought, Bakhtin would introduce the term heteroglossia into his theory of language and literary criticism. Heteroglossia, literally "other tongues," designates the common but extralinguistic fea­tures of all languages, features such as ideology, assessment and perspective. Always in a state of flux, language perpetually escapes the efforts of gram­marians, politicians and educationalists to define and contain language. All of these terms—unfinalizability, polyphony, dialogism, and heteroglossia—are part of an effort not merely to produce a theory and practice of the inter­pretation of texts, but also a philosophy of language. Only as words bounce, ricochet and rebound in utterance, transmission and reception does meaning begin to take place.

All these definitions begin with the individual and then move on to the problem of how they interact. Yet Bakhtin is not a theoretician of liberalism and its sacrosanct individual with her or his rights. He is also a distinctly political writer, as the third group of terms shows. It is with his category of the carnivalesque that we see an explicit collective focus that is more implicit with the terms I have discussed above. The carnivalesque comes to the fore in Rabelais and His World (1984a) and the last part of Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics (1984b). In his study of the passing medieval carnival, he points out that the crowd is not merely a gathering of individuals; rather, the carnival becomes a different entity, a whole, with a subversive political and social organization. Apart from the slippery territory of Marxism and the Philoso­phy of Language (2006), the Rabelais book is Bakhtin's most overtly political book. In the carnival we also find the grotesque, for here we find a concern with eating, pissing, shitting, sex and death; in short with bodies as pulsat­ing, heaving and living entities—the body of the carnival crowd as well as the individuals that are created out of this collective.

Bakhtin continues to be immensely influential in literary criticism. Apart from interest in his writings directly, his thought is also one of the influences on postcolonial criticism, and increasingly on biblical criticism, as this volume attests. While such influence on biblical studies thus far has taken place under the banner of "literary approaches," or indeed "postmod­ern approaches," what has not been explored are the ways in which Bakhtin's thought and critical practice intersect with longer traditions within biblical studies such as form criticism. The meeting point between Bakhtin's thought and form criticism is that of genre.

Form criticism initially sought to connect the question of genre with the settings in life (context) of those genres, but it seems as though both foci have been traveling different paths. Sitz im Leben has been released from Gunkel's original straightjacket and applied to a whole range of biblical phenomena, finding its most natural applications in studies of a text's production rather than being linked to the context of the genre in question. In contrast, the study of genre has been carried on independently, taken up by reception the­orists, narrative and reader-response critics. In New Testament studies, the work of Vernon Robbins is synonymous with the newer explorations of ques­tions of genre from a sociorhetorical perspective (1990; 1996).

Bakhtinian theory and biblical form criticism may easily be viewed as academic siblings: long lost to one another, and raised in different worlds, yet the similarities are striking. This volume then offers an opportunity for them to meet. Readers will be thankful that the volume contains none of the massive chunks of theory that they are usually—at least in collections such as this—expected to ingest before proceeding: rather, it is an exploration of the way Bakhtin's work might enliven, leaven even, contemporary work on genre in biblical studies. Thus, this collection eases into Bakhtin by means of setting the scene of contemporary debates over genre in literary criticism and bib­lical criticism before moving into Bakhtin's work more directly. Subsequent essays practically engage Bakhtin in unique readings of specific biblical texts, exploring the possibilities of Bakhtinian theory by practical example.

The opening essays focus on genre theory, setting the scene within both biblical studies and Bakhtinian theory. This task is carried out by both Martin Buss and Carol Newsom, and, while there are significant agreements between them, they carve out different paths in their discussions of genre. Buss pro­poses his own model of genre classification in the Hebrew Bible. Contra Gunkel, he discusses how an understanding of Bakhtinian speech types may enliven genre studies of the Hebrew Bible. By first identifying who speaks to whom—God to human, human to human, and so forth—Buss aims to explore each speech type, its commonalities and differences and to explore the implications for such classification across the Hebrew Bible. His classi­fication is however far from static. In proposing a dialogue between speech types Buss opens up the potential for genre classification to enliven rather than ossify the debate.

Carol Newsom offers an introductory overview of both form criticism and Bakhtinian theory. She clearly maps the history of genre studies within biblical scholarship, beginning with classic form criticism (that of Gunkel, Dibelius, and Bultmann) through to the "literary turn" of the 1970s Genres Project of the Society of Biblical Literature. In particular, she examines "apoca­lypse being interested in how a rigid classificatory system holds up in light of more recent developments and options in genology, such as poststructuralist, neopragmatist, and family-resemblance theorists, intertextuality, prototype theory, and cognitive science. More historically oriented approaches are also considered. The essay concludes with a consideration of the Bakhtin circle and their contribution to this field. The essay provides an excellent introduc­tion to the other contributions, each of which takes up her call to explore the potential of conversations between Bakhtin's ideas and biblical texts.

There follow five Hebrew Bible pieces (Mitchell, Green, Fentress-Wil­liams, Mandolfo, and Valeta), a crossover piece discussing the genre of apocalypse in the tradition of John Collins (Vines), and two New Testament essays (Fuller and Anderson). These are then rounded out by a final essay (Maddison) that explores the appropriation of biblical allusion in a contem­porary text.

Taking direction from Bakhtin's well known distrust of formalism, Chris­tine Mitchell seeks to detach the study of biblical genres from form criticism. Drawing on Bakhtin's notions of chronotope and heteroglossia, she devel­ops these concepts further to argue that all genre is dialogically constructed, becoming a site for politics constructed by the operation of power (Foucault) and eros (Deleuze). Thus the paper inevitably moves beyond Bakhtin and goes on to explore the perspectives of Foucault, Deleuze, Hegel, and Lacan. This detailed theoretical exploration is supported by exegetical examples drawn from Chronicles.

Barbara Green aims to use Bakhtin's reading strategies to examine the development of Jonathan in 1 Sam 20. Here Jonathan's attitudes to both David and Saul shift considerably by chapter's end; Green aims to explore how. Her focus here is squarely upon the utterances of the characters within the nar­rative, notably, David, Jonathan, and Saul. By tracking the course of these exchanges, she is able to clarify Jonathan's role in the story. In tracing the "educational" construction of Jonathan, Green focuses on language, genre, and readerly presuppositions.

Using Bakhtin's notions of dialogue and chronotope, Judy Fentress-Williams explores Gen 38 not as an interruption in the narrative but as an interpretive lens that provides a key for understanding the larger narrative. Because of the thematic links between the Tamar story and the surrounding material, Gen 38 functions as a "play within a play" that is in dialogue with the surrounding story in Genesis. Moreover, the dialogue in the narrative, terminology, and wordplay in Tamar's story forms a rubric that functions as a reader's guide for Joseph's story.

Carleen Mandolfo introduces Gunkel and Bakhtin to one another, drawing our attention to a fundamental difference in their respective under­standings of form (genre). For Gunkel this definition is rigid, as those of us who spent time in undergraduate theological schools will well appreciate. For example, his distinctions between complaint, thanksgiving, royal, eschatolog­ical psalms, and others still stand as benchmarks. For Bakhtin, genre is more fluid. Her reading of Lam 1-2 focuses on the oscillations and slips. She iden­tifies first the distinct voices of a "female supplicant" and another "didactic voice" that usually speaks in defense of YHWH. Mandolfo goes on to identify a point at which this "didactic" voice appears to switch sides.

David Valeta offers a study of the Aramaic text in Daniel, arguing that the language used is a deliberate tool to express the narrator's view and to offer a satirical critique of the king, court, and empire. Engaging extensively with Bakhtin, in particular his concept of polyglossia, Valeta is able to read the book of Daniel both synchronically and as a text of resistance.

In the transitional essay to the New Testament, Michael Vines revisits John Collins's famous discussion of "apocalyptic:' He finds Collins's definition too formalistic, and, given Bakhtin's resistance to formalism, Vines draws on the notion of Bakhtin's chronotope to show how we might define the genre of apocalyptic in terms of its use of narrative time and space.

Bringing a Bakhtinian flavor to traditional form-critical studies of Matthew's Gospel, Christopher Fuller shifts us into the New Testament and pursues a chronotopic reading of the genealogy, with a distinct focus on its rogue women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba). In making use of the idea of the chronotope, Fuller argues that we should read the text as "eschatological satire:' His concern is with the spatial allusions, the tempo­ral rhythm, the structure, all of which contribute, with the women, to the undermining of primogeniture.

Paul Anderson seeks to uncover the function of the Johannine misun­derstanding dialogues. He begins with Bakhtin's assertion that devices such as misunderstanding are always rhetorical and polemical. He further explores the "polyphonic" nature of the text, its utterance, transmission, and recep­tion, inferring a number of acute crises in the Johannine context. However, Anderson councils against finite readings of this text, finishing with further discussion of Bakhtin's writing, notably, that "there is neither a first word nor a last:'

The final essay, by Bula Maddison, is of a different order than those that precede it, for it seeks the intersections between the Bible and contemporary literature. In a sparkling use of language, Maddison is concerned with Toni Morrison's Beloved and its use of biblical allusion. Extending Bakhtin's theory of dialogization, she examines the intersection between biblical apocalypse and African cosmology within the cosmology of the novel. Maddison sug­gests that a number of language-worlds intersect in the novel—historical slave narrative, African spirit-world, and the Bible—and with such intersections we end up with what she calls a hybrid chronotope, specifically as the intersec­tion of biblical apocalypse and the "rememory" of African cosmology.

While this collection is the first gathering in an edited volume of essays on Bakhtin and biblical criticism, there is a genealogy, of you like, of indi­vidual studies that lies behind this volume. While there have been some theological studies, such as those by Coates (1998), Bruce (1990), Cartwright (1992), Classens (2003), Olson (1998), and Ward (1997), most have con­cerned the Bible, usually specific texts (Reed [1993] is the exception here). Robert Polzin, as I indicated earlier, blazed a trail with the three studies that move through Deuteronomy (1980) and the books of Samuel (1989; 1993). Kenneth Craig read the book of Esther in terms of the carnivalesque (1995), Barbara Green gave us two studies, one a general introduction to Bakhtin (2000) and the second a study of 1 Samuel (2003b), favored ground for liter­ary critics. The sole monograph on the New Testament comes from Barnet's study of Matthew (2003). As for the articles, the vast bulk have focused on the Hebrew Bible, covering Deuteronomy (Bergen 1999), the Psalms (Levine 1992; Mandolfo 2002b; Tull 2005), Lamentations (Miller 2001), Job (Newsom 1996; 2002; 2003b), and then a couple of the essays from the 1993 Semeia volume on characterization (Malbon 1993; McCracken 1993). Finally, there is but one solitary essay on Bakhtin and the New Testament, notably, Knowles on the "Good Samaritan" (2004). This collection, then, continues the discus­sion but also seeks to move it to a new level.


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