Heteroglossia as the Uneveness of Language

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Hirschkop, Keith. Mikhail Bakhtin: an aesthetic for democracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

  • Hirschkop advances a theory on the unevenness of language that seems akin to ANT's interest in the durability of inscriptions: Langauge is unevenly structured in the sense that it is composed of not more or less equivalent utterances spoken by more or less equivalent individuals, but of a series of interacting forms of discourse and intersubjectivity, which vary according to the durability of the utterance, the size and nature of speaker and audience, the degree and kind of literacy required for participation, as well as the social context in which which such as discourse can take place. (p. 252)
  • Hirschkop includes a useful footnote to the effect that this theory bears similarities to Foucault's argument in the Order of Discourse, though its general emphasis is different. (1) Hirschkop starts with a concept of language based on intersubjectivity. This is in contrast to the self-propelling process of discourse that Foucault describes. (2) "Foucault conceives of the ordering and rarefying procedures as instruments of control: they guard against spontaneity of discourse itself; I do not assume that the uneveness of language is always a matter of control and repression" (p. 253) So the question remains: How does this mesh with ANT's interest in inscriptions as a map describing a particular situation?

  • There are various kinds of uneveness, exemplified by the difference between a TV broadcast and a shout in the street.

  • Hirschkop observes that heteroglossia isn't just a reflection of diversity; rather, it emphasizes different points of view. This leads the scholar to assert heteroglossia has a tendency to level the linguistic field. So the question becomes:
    If every language is defined according to different criteria, then extracting a full-blooded ideology from each of them is going to depend on a new concept, the formal principle of which will be the production of ideological positions as such. The public square is this new context. (p. 259)
  • This is because there's no room in the public square for anyone without an opinion. In other words: language represents in this context:
    The student, Nietzschean, Ukrainian, or Symbolist may arrive on private business, but once through the gate he or she must must speak as a student, Nietzschean, Ukrainian, or Symbolist. Within the context of the public square one's private world becomes a world view, personal passion is transmuted into public conflict, and one has not only to make make small talk, but to make history. (p. 259)
  • Here Hirschkop identifies the passage of interests from the "...local and private to the cosmopolitan and public". So there's a tension here between what might be termed "home" and "away"

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