This book consists of four essays of Bakhtin‘s “Middle Period“, two short and two longer works which have been arranged, according to complexity, with the most accessible essay first and the most difficult last. Cooincidentally, this is also the reverse order in which they were written. Some brief notes on the four Essays:
1. “Epic and Novel” dated 1941 – A rather straightforward comparison of the Novel and the Epic. Its aim is to show the distinctiveness of the Novel. This can be seen as a transitional essay between the Chronotope Essay and the Bildungsroman Fragment. It is well organized and introduces several characteristics unique to the novel such as three-dimensionality, imagery and openendedness.
2. “From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse” dated 1940 – This is in essence a brief history of the novel according to Bakhtin. It concentrates on style, theory and as the title states, discourse, beginning with Greek works and going to the Renaissance. Conceptually this is strikingly similar to Erich Auerbach’s “Mimesis”. This essay is incomplete.
3. “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel” dated 1937-38 – Another long (175 page) discussion on the distinctiveness of the novel. The concept of the Chronotope is introduced simply as “time space” and the essay seeks to show its use from the Greek Romance to the novel of the 19th Century. Bakhtin inserts here also a discussion of the “Rabelaisian Chrontope”, the role of the clown, etc. Special emphasis is also given to the Blidungsroman. This essay, it seems to me, is essentially, Bakhtin’s own favorite Reading list in which he experiments with his own concept of Chronotope, skillfully fitting it to each work. Despite its digressions it is basically a chronological presentation.
4. “Discourse in the Novel” dated 1934-35 – Another lengthy essay which is in essence Bakhtin’s discussion of his philosophy of language. This essay also seems to be unfinished. It consists of five distinct parts in which Bakhtin experiments with different approaches to discourse in the novel. As is often the case with Bakhtin, this essay is also open-ended.