Volume 21, Issue 2, Autumn 2016
Intersections between Paul Ricoeur’s Conception of Narrative Identity and Mikhail Bakhtin’s Notion of the Polyphony of Speech
Proposing his conception of narrative identity in Oneself as Another, Paul Ricoeur holds that human life is comprehensible, once the story of a man’s life has actually been told, and it is the narrative of one’s life which constructs one’s identity. Developing his theory of heteroglossia and the polyphony of human speech, explicated chiefly in Speech Genres and The Dialogic Imagination, Mikhail Bakhtin recognizes the intrinsically intertwining character of utterance and response. According to him, utterance is always addressed to someone and antedates an answer. Bakhtin’s “addressivity,” as well as his view of discourse as fundamentally dialogic, are convergent with Ricoeur’s elucidation both of man’s answerability to the Other and of narrative identity. The dynamic character of narrative identity, as construed by Ricoeur, converges with the dynamic nature of language as viewed by Bakhtin. The aim of this article is to study the intersections of Ricoeur’s narrative theory and Bakhtin’s recognition of the polyphonic nature of speech. I view these as inherently interrelated, and as testifying, respectively, to the philosophical and linguistic aspects of one and the same phenomenological vision. That vision accounts for selfhood, understood as vulnerable and contextualized, while also recognizing that it is conveyed by means of language with its essentially dialogic openness.