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Common Knowledge 9.1 (2003) 163
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Galin Tihanov, The Master and the Slave: Lukács, Bakhtin, and the Ideas of Their Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 327 pp.
It is hard to resist the teasing suggestiveness of this book's title. That holdover tandem, master and slave, with its nineteenth-century philosophical overtones, should alert us to the fact that, along with various treasures to be found in these pages, we will be invited to examine Hegelian influences on the thinking of Georg Lukács and his contemporary, Mikhail Bakhtin, and to confirm the remarkable parallels—intellectual, historical, sometimes biographical—between the two. Ah, but that title: of Lukács and Bakhtin, who is the master and who the slave? That Bakhtin spent a good deal of his intellectual life in dialogue with (or, more precisely, responding to) the ideas of Lukács would seem to indenture the former to the latter, especially since we have no evidence that Lukács was familiar with Bakhtin's work. But in his closing pages, Tihanov reminds his readers that the framing metonymy of master and slave is meant to speak to a historical relationship—that is, to dialectical movement and therefore to some dramatic reversals of fortune. In light of their present reputations, in fact, we might be tempted to say that Bakhtin and Lukács have traded places altogether. But we would be wrong, Tihanov warns, to conclude that the shifting relationship between the two is, at any point, settled, or that either thinker can manage to escape, once and for all, his relationship with the other. To entertain these possibilities is to deny the future history they may share.
Frank Farmer, associate professor of English at the University of Kansas, is the author of Saying and Silence: Listening to Composition with Bakhtin and the editor of Landmark Essays on Bakhtin, Rhetoric, and Writing.