Mikhail Bakhtin Biography

(Russian Literary Theorist and Philosopher Known for His Work ‘Toward a Philosophy of the Act’)

Birthday: November 17, 1895 (Scorpio)

Born In: Oryol, Russia

Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian philosopher, linguist and literary theorist whose works have impacted Western thinking in the fields of modern linguistics and literary criticism. He is also well-known for the fact that most of his works were never published during his lifetime due to Stalinist censorship and fear of the Soviet government. His interests were in the fields of semiotics and literary criticism, especially of Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. His notable ideas include dialogism, polyphony, heteroglossia, carnivalesque and chronotope. Born into nobility, he studied at various universities where he acquired a liking for human sciences. Throughout his life, he took up various academic jobs and was well-known for being part of the famous ‘Bakhtin Circle’. He suffered from a bone disease, and was exiled by the government for his radical views. He wrote several books on philosophy, literary criticism and linguistics. His work was forgotten until it was reintroduced to the world by Russian intellectuals after his death. His ideas and writings have had a primary influence on Western world’s views on sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, philosophy, etc.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Elena Aleksandrovna Okolovich

Born Country: Russia

Philosophers Russian Men

Died on: March 7, 1975

place of death: Moscow, Russia

Notable Alumni: Petrograd Imperial University

More Facts

education: Petrograd Imperial University

Childhood & Early Life
Mikhail Bakhtin was born on November 17, 1895, in Oryol, Russia, in a wealthy noble family. Details about his mother are not available, but his father was a bank manager. He had an elder brother, Nikolai.
Due to his father’s job, the family moved around quite a bit and as a result, his early childhood was spent in cities like Oryol, Vilinus and Odessa.
In 1913, after completing his basic education, he enrolled at the Odessa University in the philological and historical department.
Thereafter, he joined his brother at Petrograd Imperial University, where the Polish classical philologist, F. F. Zelinsky’s, works deeply influenced his thinking. In 1918, he graduated from the University of St. Petersburg.
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After graduation, Mikhail Bakhtin became a high school teacher job in Nevel, western Russia, a job he held for two years.
During his time in Nevel, a group comprising scholars who discussed political, religious and literary topics, popularly known as the first ‘Bakhtin Circle’ was formed. He started to develop and pen down his theoretical ideas during this time.
In 1919, it is believed that his first work, a small section of his writings titled ‘Art and Responsibility’, was published.
In 1920, he moved to Vitebsk, where he continued with the ‘Bakhtin Circle’.
In 1923, he was diagnosed with a debilitating bone disease, osteomyelitis, that effectively made him an invalid.
In 1924, he relocated to Leningrad, took up a role at the Historical Institute along with providing consulting services to the ‘State Publishing House’.
In 1929, his first famous work, ‘Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art’, was published. But immediately after, he and a few others were arrested by ‘OGPU’, secret police of the Soviet Union, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment at Solovki labour camps. Due to his illness, he was exiled to Kazakhstan instead.
He spent six years in Kustanai, Kazakhstan, and took up a book-keeping job whilst working on literary criticism essays.
In 1936, he relocated to Saransk in Mordovian ASSR to teach at the Mordovian Pedagogical Institute.
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In 1937, he shifted to the small town of Kimry to work on a book about an 18th-century German novel.
In 1938, his legs were amputated due to osteomyelitis, which resulted in an improvement in his health and writing too.
In 1940, Mikhail Bakhtin moved to Moscow to work on a dissertation in order to obtain a ‘Doctor of Sciences’ postgraduate degree. But due to the controversial nature of the dissertation, the ‘State Accrediting Bureau’ awarded him a lesser degree, ‘Candidate of Sciences’, similar to a research doctorate, instead.
In 1945, after the end of World War II, he went back to Saransk, on the invitation of ‘Mordovian Pedagogical Institute’ to take up the chair position of its 'General Literature Department’.
In 1957, he was appointed as the ‘Department of Russian and World Literature’s’ head when the institute was upgraded to a university from a teacher training college.
In 1961, he had to retire from his job due to his deteriorating health. In 1969, he went back to Moscow to seek further medical attention for his ailments.
Major Works
In 1929, Mikhail Bakhtin’s first influential book ‘Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art’ was published, which introduced several concepts like dialogism.
In 1965, his famous controversial dissertation for a postgraduate degree ‘Rabelais and His World: Carnival and Grotesque’, was published. It caused much disagreement among scholars at the time of its submission.
In 1975, his four-essay compilation about essays and language ‘The Dialogic Imagination’ was first published.
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In 1986, his book, ‘Toward a Philosophy of the Act’, whose manuscript was written between 1919-1921, was released in the USSR.
In 1984, his work ‘Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics’ was published.
In 1986, ‘In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays’ was published.
Awards & Achievements
In 1994, ‘The Bakhtin Centre’ was founded at the ‘University of Sheffield’, UK, to promote research on his works and in allied subjects like literary, linguistic, critical and cultural theory.
Family & Personal Life
In 1921, Mikhail Bakhtin married Elena Aleksandrovna Okolovich. Details about his children, if any, are unavailable.
He died on March 7, 1975, in Moscow, USSR.
A few years after his death, his work was rediscovered by Russian scholars and introduced to the world. His ideas gained popularity in the West in the 1980s and he is now considered a stalwart of linguistics and literary criticism.
Many of his early works were published in the names of his friends like V.N. Voloshinov and P.N. Medvedev, due to Stalinist censorship prevalent at that time.
His brother, Nikolai, and fellow circle member, Matvei Isaevich Kagan, are considered by many scholars to be his unofficial mentors.

See the events in life of Mikhail Bakhtin in Chronological Order

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