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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

Professor Sergey Zenkin, RGGU, Moscow: The Ambivalence of the Sacred and Verbal Culture (Bakhtin & Durkheim)

9th March 2016, 18:00, Russkiy Mir Centre, A29, Elvet Riverside I, Durham University

On Wednesday, 9 March, the Russkiy Mir Centre is delighted to host Prof. Sergey Zenkin from Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU), Moscow, who will give a talk on the ambivalence of the sacred and verbal culture (Bakhtin & Durkheim).

The notion of ambivalence, utilized by Mikhail Bakhtin in order to explain the carnival laughter and speech, had an important corresponding term in sociology: the famous ambivalence of the sacred, discovered in Great Britain by Robertson Smith and conceptualized in France by Durkheim and Mauss. Naturally enough, sociologists were scarcely concerned about verbal aspects of the opposition sacred/profane, privileging instead its material and behavioral manifestations. Bakhtin, who might have known some of their ideas, tends to fill that lacuna by providing a metalinguistic theory of ritual (and therefore sacred) word and laughter; he considers them as bearers of an ambiguous energy, destroying and reviving at once, and he builds up his conception of carnival ambivalence on the structural model of ambivalence of the sacred. His theory, grounded upon the notion of “social evaluation” of utterances, elaborated by him and his close colleagues in the 1920s, could not help raising some problems related to the difference of nature between discourse and action. Bakhtin’s theory, mainly stated in his Rabelais, became a point of methodological conflict between philology and philosophy of language, on the one hand, and sociology and anthropology, on the other hand, i.e. between introspective and external approaches to the sacred.

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