Scavenged Words

I ran into something interesting in my recent research. At first it seemed like a typo, but the more I dug the more I realized it was a cascading array of sloppy, mis-matched quoting amounting to a fascinating and hilarious mis-representation of words.

It began with the portion of my dissertation where I describe chronotopes. I wanted to provide a few examples of other usages of the concept in recent scholarship, and naturally I turned to a book written by Keith Basso in 1996, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. Basso–in exploring the dynamic geography of the Cibecue Apache and the ways in which it is afforded “mnemonic pegs” on which to hang oral narratives–situates Bakhtin’s idea of the chronotope as a method for accessing such narratives and the time-space in which they are created and exchanged. Pursuant to this, Basso (on p. 62 of his ’96 publication) attributes the following passage to Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, edited by Michael Holquist (1981:7):

“[Chronotopes are] points in the geography of a community where time and space intersect and fuse. Time takes on flesh and becomes visible for human contemplation; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time and history and the enduring character of a people…. Chronotopes thus stand as monuments to the community itself, as symbols of it, as forces operating to shape its members’ images of themselves.”

Of course, I wanted to read this in context, since Bakhtin’s work is something of an inspiration to my own. But when I turned to page seven of the source, these words were nowhere to be found. I found it kind of odd, since this is the first time I’ve encountered such a thing. “Perhaps it’s a typo,” I suggested to myself, after which began a dizzying search.

After Scouring Bakhtin’s 1981 Dialogic imagination, translated by Holquist, I found reference to some of the words in this blockquote at the beginning of the essay on Chronotopes, but the words as written in Basso’s 1996 book were not found as contextualized. I searched the passage itself, and found an earlier publication by Basso (1984), in which he also claims this passage to be found on p. 7 of the translation of Bakhtin’s work (though in another referenced footnote the passage is said actually to be on pp. 84-85 the first two pages of the essay, “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,” which was where I found similar wordings but not the actual quote). Try as I might, I cannot find those same words as written anywhere in the 1981 Bakhtin. I see no reference to “community,” “geography,” or “human contemplation,” anywhere in the mix.

What was more suspicious was that Basso’s 1996 book contained several pages that he had written in the 1984 chapter verbatim, with no references or self-citation. Blatant self-plagiarizing. In a nutshell, in two separate places spanning 12 years, Basso points the same words toward p. 7 of the Bakhtin book where the passage just is not written.

Several sources have since cited the above quote as Bakhtin’s, simply stating “Bakhtin 1981:7″ (including Pryce 1999:93; Jordan 2006:182, who, quoting Basso’s surrounding text and Bakhtin’s supposed definitions simultaneously seems to suggest that Apache “mnemonic pegs” are also Bakhtin’s ideas; and Thornton 2008:17; several articles also utilize these words as if, as Basso suggests, they were written in the Bakhtin source).

I am left staring at the supposed citation (the 1981 work) confounded and wondering what I am missing. Perhaps I do not have all the facts? That would actually be a relief. Is it an issue of translation? I figured it couldn’t hurt to contact the man who translated Bakhtin’s words directly in the hopes that I could find the actual source of Basso’s citation, and read it in context (or at least discover that Basso constructed it himself), so I emailed Michael Holquist himself. Still haven’t heard back.

In all, I’ve been told that this would make a good article on chronotopes and research genres, and I agree. Before that can happen I would have to interview the parties involved; I wonder what people might say when faced with the question of the passage’s origin. The quote in question is full of good ideas, I just want to read it in context, and due to what appears like a series of perpetuated, sloppy mistakes, I can’t do that.