From a practical, everyday standpoint (by which I mean a context other than the novel), multivocality is useful in illustrating the fact that what we say is not necessarily what we mean; instead, words and statements can have a plurality of meanings. This is a concept with which Derrida also deals in considerable depth. For Bakhtin, context is crucial to meaning. As his translator says, "context can refract, add to, or, in some cases, even subtract from the amount and kind of meaning the utterance may be said to have when it is conceived only as a systematic manifestation independent of context" (Dialogic, xx). "All transcription systems--including the speaking voice--are inadequate to the multiplicity of the meanings they seek to convey." The voice only gives the illusion of unity (xx). Thus, there is never a totally clear channel of communication between persons. Derrida would later elaborate this idea that words have a multiplicity of meanings.
Such thinking, while brilliant, did not make Bakhtin an intellectual hero in his native Russia. Under a form of government whose very foundation is unity and monistic language, publication of Bakhtin's ideas would have had him killed. Bakhtin's writings were consequently hidden beneath an outhouse, and their restoration has resulted in serious questions as to what he actually wrote.
See the Opening Remarks
Return to Individual Theorists