04 April 2009

Bakhtin & the Unfortunate Errata of Some of His Scholars


I have two Bakhtin-related things today. First, in order to avoid any confusion I thought I would post the passage from Bakhtin that I was referring to in my comment to Christopher Orr a couple of weeks ago, the wording of which I changed to fit the discussion. This is from his late essay, ‘From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse’, which can be found in English in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: U of Texas, 1998), p. 61:

Roman literary consciousness was bilingual. The purely national Latin genres, conceived under monoglotic conditions, fell into decay and did not achieve the level of literary expression. From start to finish, the creative literary consciousness of the Romans functioned against the background of the Greek language and Greek forms. From its very first steps, the Latin literary word viewed itself in the light of the Greek word, through the eyes of the Greek word; it was from the very beginning a word ‘with a sideways glance’, a stylized word enclosing itself, as it were, in its own piously stylized quotation marks.

The other thing: I don’t know if any readers of this blog have tracked down Ruth Coates’s fascinating article, ‘Bakhtin and Hesychasm’, which has been mentioned once or twice here, but I thought in case anyone else did that I would call attention to an unfortunate error there. On p. 75, Coates refers to the English translation of some of Bakhtin’s late notes, ‘From Notes Made in 1970-71’, Speech Genres & Other Late Essays, trans. Vern W. McGee, ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: U of Texas, 1994), pp. 132-58, where, on p. 148, Bakhtin writes, ‘The primary—natura non creata quae creat; the secondary author—natura creata quae non creat.’ Coates quotes this, and then comments:

This is the formula used by the medieval theologian Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) to define the ontological status of the divine ideas from which, according to the Church Fathers, the created universe springs. However, his formulation is not Orthodox. According to Eastern theology, the divine ideas are located not in the essence of God (as Augustine and Aquinas maintained), nor in the creation (as Scotus maintains in this formula), but in the energies of God: they are dynamic, says Lossky, ‘thought-wills’ (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1998], pp. 94-5).

But then, on p. 76, she has a lengthy quote from Lossky which made me do a double-take. See if it happens to you (if it hasn’t happened already thanks to your greater knowledge of mediæval Western philosophy than mine):

It is interesting to note that John Scotus Eriugena (whose theological system is a curious amalgam of Eastern and Western elements, a transposition of the doctrines of the Greek fathers upon a basis of Augustinian thought), represents the divine ideas as creatures, the first created principles by means of which God creates the universe (natura creata creans). Together with the Easterns, he puts the ideas outside the divine essence, but at the same time he wants to maintain with St Augustine their substantial character; and so they become the first created essences. Eriugena did not grasp the distinction between the essence and the energies; on this point he remained faithful to Augustinianism, and was therefore unable to identify the ideas with God’s creative acts of will. (Lossky, p. 96)

Demonstrating once again the error that’s being made, Coates then suggests that ‘Bakhtin was in a certain sense led astray by Duns Scotus here’ (p. 76). Coates is using the name ‘Duns Scotus’, whom she correctly places in the 13th century, whereas Lossky is referring to John Scotus Eriugena, whom John Longeway dates to c. 810-77 in his article on the Irishman in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Robert Audi (Cambridge: Cambridge U, 1999), p.279!

Fortunately, while one wonders how she failed to see that the name Lossky used was different to the one she used, Coates is not solely to blame for this unfortunate error. If we turn to Emerson’s and Holquist’s footnote on the quoted passage from Bakhtin’s notes (Speech Genres, p. 157, n. 23), we read, ‘In a major essay by Duns Scotus (b. 810), De Divisione Naturae, the philosopher describes four modes of being . . . .’ Coates has actually corrected their misdating of Duns Scotus. What she has failed to correct is their misattribution of the 9th-c. text, De Divisione Naturae, or Periphyseon, to the 13th- and 14th-c. Duns Scotus, a text which Frederick Copleston tells us was condemned by Pope Honorius III in 1225, still 41 years before the latter Scotus was born (A History of Philosophy Vol. 2: Mediaeval Philosophy Part I, Augustine to Bonventure [Garden City, NY: Image, 1962], p. 148). Indeed, Duns was even a different kind of ‘Scotus’—a Scotsman rather than an Irishman. It is painful to find such a mistake in such a well written article!

6 comments:

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

As Grammy might say: "Land o' Goshen!"

aaronandbrighid said...

Sorry, Kevin, I'm a little lost! Is this just an expression of surprise, or is there some deeper hermeneutical significance to it?

Hugh said...

It is interesting to note that John Scotus Eriugena (whose theological system is a curious amalgam of Eastern and Western elements, a transposition of the doctrines of the Greek fathers upon a basis of Augustinian thought), [FOUNDED UPON HIS OWN CELTIC CHRISTIAN TRADITION WHICH WAS NON-DUALISTIC (iePANENTHEISTIC)IN RELATIONSHIP TO NATURE]represents the divine ideas as creatures,[THIS MUST BE A MISPRINT-ERIUGENA DID NOT USE "CREATURES" IN THIS CONTEXT] the first created principles by means of which God creates the universe (natura creata creans). Together with the Easterns, he puts the ideas outside the divine essence, [THIS IS NOT MY READING OF ERIUGENA] but at the same time he wants to maintain with St Augustine their substantial character; and so they become the first created essences. Eriugena did not grasp the distinction between the essence and the energies; [I BELIEVE HE GRASPED THIS VERY WELL]on this point he remained faithful to Augustinianism, and was therefore unable to identify the ideas with God’s creative acts of will. (Lossky, p. 96). REGARDING THE CONFUSION BETWEEN DUNS SCOTUS & JOHANNES SCOTUS. PRIOR TO THE 12TH CENTURY THE IRISH ON THE CONTINENT WERE KNOWN AS SCOTS SINCE THE WESTERN PART OF SCOTLAND WAS AN EXTENSION OF THE IRISH (ie SCOTS)CLAN SETTLEMENTS THAT TOOK PLACE BEGINNING IN THE 6TH CENTURY.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Yes, Aaron, it's an expression of surprise. Very old-timey midwestern. I say it, too, which puzzles the barbarian Californians.

Anonymous said...

Aaron-- "Land o' Goshen" is an expression I've heard your paternal grandmother (and her mother) use -- not often, but it rings a bell back there somewhere.
Dad

aaronandbrighid said...

Dad> Thanks for pointing that out! Maybe I'll have to start using it now too. What better company than Kevin Edgecomb and my great-grandmother?

Hugh> Thank you for your comment. It's always nice to get comments from people who have a particular interest in whatever I've posted on, as opposed to my usual blog readers. I admit I'm no expert on Eriugena, or on things Celtic generally, and I'm certainly unable to comment much on Eriugena's theology of the divine ideas. But I will mention a few things.

First, I tend to be suspicious of attempts to emphasise the uniqueness of particular Christian traditions, particularly when, for instance, the connections between the 'Celtic' tradition, early Xian Gaul, and the East seem to be so clear. Second, I also tend to find the use of the anachronistic term 'panentheism' to describe Xian writers before the 18th c., whomever they may be, unhelpful (I have, however, just seen that Fr Louth & Met. Kallistos have contributed to a book of purportedly 'panentheistic' views, & I would like to see what they say before I go further on that topic). Finally, if in fact Eriugena does espouse a full-blown essence/energies distinction, even his most sympathetic Orthodox readers seem unable to find it, from what I've seen. I believe most have concluded that while he is sort of reaching for something in that direction, it nevertheless manages to elude him, leaving his account of the uncreated vis-a-vis the created slightly deficient.

Again, as I say, I'm no expert on these things, and debating about such issues is not really the purpose of this blog. In this instance, I was only quoting from Coates's paper (to which all of your comments pertain) in order to illustrate her error regarding the identity of the person Bakhtin quotes from. That she happened to offer a critical appraisal of Eriugena on the basis of the Orthodox essence/energies distinction is interesting to me, but not a subject that I'm equipped to debate on!