31/1030: Response in Responsibility

Damn. I can’t seem to keep up with my work.  But I really wanted to respond to a Denkanstoss  I had in class yesterday.

In my intro to Russian kultursemiotik class, the instructor handed out a sort selection of “Kunst und Verantwortung” in German. The philosophical points about the unity and fragmentation of a person are something I’ll return to, but what struck me was the uses of the words “Schuld” and “Verantwortung.” Both terms, guilt and responsibility, are cultural and religious. We are all guilty, according to the Abrahamic religions, and we must answer for those sins somehow. To combine these concepts with our relation to art is not a new idea for me, since I’ve participated in postcolonial looks at “Paradise” stories and since reading exile literature, but the significance of the word “Verantwortung” is new to me.


Selection from “Art and Answerability” from the Liapunov translation in Early Philosophical Essays (1990) 

As may already be indicated by the choice in Liapunov’s translation versus my translation, the root of the word used in the original word in Russian is “answer. ” Consider ответ versus  ответственность. The same thing happens in all the languages I know.

Antwort – Verantwortung

response – responsiblity

réponse – responsabilité

Obviously, this makes sense, since to claim responsibility means to “answer for” something. However, this idea of the reader’s response being important comes most to light in the English. While Bakhtin and his contemporaries were more structuralists, interested in the relation between form and content, Bakhtin also seemed to be in line with the reader-response theorists of the 60s and 70s. In a way, one can interpret Bakhtin’s first published essay to argue that the reader is responsible for the success of the art.

“[…] der Mensch muss wissen, dass an der Unfruchtbarkeit der Kunst seine eigene Anspruchlosigkeit sowie die mangelnde Ernsthaftigkeit seiner Lebensprobleme Schuld sind” (93 from the class handout of the text in German).


By not being demanding of the art, we lose the right to having access to it. If we do not examine our own lives, we are unable to examine art properly. Bakhtin says “[a]rt and life are not one, but they must become united in myself– in the unity of my answerability” (2 of the English 1990 text). We can only expect to find out lives in art and art in life if we accept and response to their unity.

I haven’t decided yet how that corresponds with my PhD, but since I am looking at Bakhtin for my thesis, this can’t be totally irrelevant.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.



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