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On “Secondary Aesthetics, Without Isolation”: Philosophical Origins of Bakhtin’s Theory of Form

Radunović, Dušan

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This paper discusses the philosophical origins as well as the social context of Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of aesthetic form. Bakhtin’s critique of the Russian Formalist conception of form, which reaches its most elaborate form in his 1924 article “The Methodological Questions of Literary Aesthetics” (“K voprosam metodologii estetiki slovesnogo tvorchestva”), is methodologically rooted in various strands of neo-Kantian philosophy and aesthetics, most notably, in the works of Hermann Cohen and Broder Christiansen. It was from the neo-Kantian philosophical repertoire that Bakhtin derived his foundational argument that aesthetic activity represents a “secondary creation.” Art, according to Bakhtin, stands in contrast to the “primary creative acts” of cognition and ethical judgment, hence it encounters a “reality” that had already been articulated and ordered by cognitive and moral acts. In keeping with this principle, Bakhtin postulates that the aesthetic act is the reassessment of, rather than a direct intervention into, empirical reality. In this constellation, artistic form is seen as the quintessential achievement of aesthetic activity that incorporates, but is categorically irreducible to, cognitively and ethically inarticulate material. Having traced the philosophical origins of Bakhtin’s meditation on form in turn-of-the-century German neo-Kantianism, the paper finally aims to appraise Bakhtin’s inquiry into aesthetic form, especially his emphatic rebuttal of the Russian Formalist assertion of the idea of aesthetic autonomy, against the background of more general trends in the humanities, both European and Russian, toward the separation and specialization of disciplines. Bakhtin’s neo-Kantian unitary vision of arts and humanities, the paper concludes, was fundamentally in conflict with the modernizing tendency in arts and humanities, the offshoots of which he recognized, and thus fervently denied, in a number of contemporaneous artistic and intellectual movements and practices.


Radunović, D. (2015). On “Secondary Aesthetics, Without Isolation”: Philosophical Origins of Bakhtin’s Theory of Form. Slavic and East European journal, 59(1), 1-22

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 30, 2014
Online Publication Date Jun 17, 2015
Publication Date Jun 1, 2015
Deposit Date Aug 21, 2014
Publicly Available Date Jul 27, 2015
Journal Slavic and East European Journal
Print ISSN 0037-6752
Publisher American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 59
Issue 1
Pages 1-22
Publisher URL


Published Journal Article (160 Kb)

Copyright Statement
First published in Slavic and East European journal.

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