Polyphony (literature)

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Polyphony (Russian: полифония) is a concept taken up by literary theory, speech act theory and linguistics to refer to the simultaneity of points of view and voices within a particular narrative plane.[1][2] The concept was introduced by Mikhail Bakhtin, using a metaphor based on the musical term polyphony.

Bakhtin's primary example of polyphony was Fyodor Dostoevsky's prose. Bakhtin contended that Dostoevsky, unlike previous novelists, did not provide a 'single vision', or describe situations with a 'monological' authorial voice. Instead, he aimed for fully dramatic novels of ideas in which conflicting views and characters are left to develop unevenly.[3] According to Bakhtin, the chief characteristic of Dostoevsky's novels is "a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices". His major characters are, "by the very nature of his creative design, not only objects of authorial discourse but also subjects of their own directly signifying discourse." (italics in the original)[4]


  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1984), Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1968) Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
  • Townsend, Alex, Autonomous Voices: An Exploration of Polyphony in the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt/M., New York, Wien, 2003, ISBN 978-3-906769-80-6 / US-ISBN 978-0-8204-5917-2


  1. ^ Belova, King, Sliwa, Olga, Ian, Martyna (April 1, 2008). "Introduction: Polyphony and Organization Studies: Mikhail Bakhtin and Beyond". Organizational Studies. 29 (4): 493–500. doi:10.1177/0170840608088696.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Günthner, Susanne (May 1999). "Polyphony and the 'layering of voices' in reported dialogues: An analysis of the use of prosodic devices in everyday reported speech". Journal of Pragmatics. 31 (5): 685–708. doi:10.1016/s0378-2166(98)00093-9.
  3. ^ Saul Morson, Emerson, Gary, Caryl (1990). Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics. Stanford University Press.
  4. ^ Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 6–7.

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