“In the Abstract…”, our weekly discussion among faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates in preparation for the Multilingual, 2.0? symposium, met over coffee at Paradise Café for the first time this past Thursday.
Up for debate was Michael Holquist’s abstract for his talk “What Would Bakhtin Do?”—the eminent Slavicist and Bakhtin translator’s response to the question “What is Monolingualism?” We discussed potential definitions of monolingualism from a dialogical point of view, and tackled the question of what distinguishes multilingualism from the Bakhtinian term heteroglossia. Some found the line of demarcation between these two concepts illusive and deceiving, while others thought Bakhtinian theory could benefit from a distinction between multi-voicedness, within one internally comprehensible language, and multi-languagedness across mutually incomprehensible codes.
Further discussion brought forth Bakhtin’s vision of language, its relational ontology, and its truck with mysticism, negative theology, and salvation-historical thinking, as demonstrated in early philosophical writings like “Art and Answerability.” In our attempt to come to a Bakhtinian understanding of multilingualism, we discussed the finitude of the speaking body, the role of extralingual symbolic systems in “jerryrigging the gap between individuals in dialogue with themselves or others,” and the meaning-practices that are forged in moments of so-called untranslatability. And yet, the question “What is monolingualism?” remained unresolved.
Next Thursday, at 4:30pm at Paradise Café, we will turn to Deborah Cameron’s abstract “The One, the Many, and the Other: Representing Mono/Multilingualism in post-9/11 Verbal Hygiene.” Please join us to continue the conversation!