The standard critical translation of what may be Mikhail Bakhtin's earliest published work work is by former Goucher faculty member, Albert J. Wehrle, The formal method in literary scholarship : a critical introduction to sociological poetics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978) [891.7 M493fBw]. As a testimony to the intricacies of the Satlinist era and the ensuing Cold War, it may be that this book was written by P. N. Medvedev, rather than Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin. Later works which Bakhtin admitted to writing after he survived near-fatal sentencing to a prison camp because of activities involving the Russian Orthodox Church included Problems in Dostoevsky's Poetics (1929/1963), Rabelais and His World (1965), The Dialogic Imagination (four essays collected and translated into English in 1981), and a number of other works.
Bakhtin argued against the Structuralists because he said their reduction of prose works to essential deep structures missed the specific particulars of the works' surfaces, the plot details, etc., which he said were crucial to the significance of works like the modern novel. He also opposed Freudians' attempt to turn reading into another sort of surface-avoiding expedition into the plumbing of a work's imaginary symbolic depths. His work on Rabelais made popular among British and American Post-Structuralists the notion of the "carnivalesque" functions of literature, its licensed rebellion against social norms which (paradoxically) allowed the perpetuation of those norms by bleeding off the disruptive social energies in aesthetic expressions before they could be harnessed to change the culture. He also proposed that prose narratives should be considered "heteroglossia," capable of producing many conflicting interpretive results because they were constructed "dialogically," as intersections of opposing social voices who struggle for expression within the work. Medievalists often invoke Bakhtin to explain why large medieval works like the Canterbury Tales, Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or Chaucer's Dream Visions, are so hard to account for by Structuralist or New Critical strategies that search for a single organizing deep structure or unifying theme.
For a guide to the American
critics' discovery of Bakhtin in the early 1980s, see Gary Saul Morson, ed.,
Bakhtin, essays and dialogues on his work (Chicago : U Chicago P, 1986) [801.9
B168Sm]. For a student's guide to Bakhtin's ideas, try Sue Vice,
Introducing Bakhtin, (New York : Manchester UP, 1997 / N.Y.: St.. Martins, 1997)
[801.95 B168Sv]. For an interesting account of the tangled history of
Bakhtin's reception by Western critical thinkers, consult the entry
"M.M. Bakhtin," by Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, two of Bakhtin's early
translators, in the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism
(requires subscription access from Goucher College or another source).