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This article is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

from Saints and Scholars Terry Eagleton

Once installed in Cambridge, Bakhtin made the acquaintance of Wittgenstein through a mutual Russian friend. To everyone's surprise Wittgenstein found him endlessly fascinating, spending long hours in his company and listening with rapt attention to his ramblings. Perhaps the Russian's buffoonery reflected something of his own secret desires, while allowing him at the same time to feel morally superior. Along with many women he was enraptured by Bakhtin's voice, a form of physical seduction all of its own, which rumbled like a bassoon but then modified without obvious transition into the lapping, caressing motions of a clarinet. There were times when Bakhtin chose his words more for music than for meaning, producing great arpeggios of gripping nonsense. Wittgenstein would sit silently through this like a man at a concert concentrating hard on deciphering some esoteric piece of music. As an exile in Cambridge himself, Wittgenstein responded quickly to Bakhtin's flamboyant unEnglishness; but his own Tolstoyan spirit could also detect within the Russian's theatricality the shape of a peasant child. There was something appealingly infantile in the very outrageousness of Bakhtin's self-display, like a child whose showing off is tolerable because he is unaware of his own ridiculousness.

As products of two dynasties about to tumble, scions of ruling classes whose hour had come, the two philosophers both paralleled and differed from each other. Bakhtin was the son of a nation with little bourgeoisie, a benighted autocracy bereft of culture and civility. Freedom in Russia prowled underground, hungry, ...


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