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. 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.

  7 comments for “Scavenged Words

  1. Chris Collins
    12/26/12 at 4:03 PM

    Just a note to tell you I had all your experiences. I just read that passage of Basso’s & tried to verify it in Bakhtin–no luck. I also found that quote used by others (in Google)& wonder if it came from cribbing Basso–not Bakhtin. Years ago, planning to write a book using some of Bakhtin’s ideas, I wrote Holquist & as you found, he didn’t answer. Have you yet found reason to absolve Basso from suspicion of plagiarism? Hope he didn’t make all that Western Apache ethnography up as did Castaneda and his Shaman friend.

    Cordially yours,

    Chris Collins

  2. William Wheeler
    8/14/15 at 5:26 AM

    Same problem – having read all of Bakhtin’s essay, I then looked at Basso for uses of chronotope in anthropology (since everyone seems to refer to his adoption of the term). I then double checked with Google Books to find that the quotation appears NOWHERE in The Dialogic Imagination – indeed, the word “monuments” only occurs in the intro, and the word “community” is only used four times, in a very different sense from how Basso wants to use it. So I was very glad to find this post. Really shocking on Basso’s part – and even more shocking that so many use the quote, mostly claiming that they too found it on p7 of The Dialogic Imagination. And Basso has the nerve to write “Whether or not one is pleased with Bakhtin’s use of the word chronotope…”! Maybe I’m being unfair – if anyone can show that this quote does appear in Bakhtin, please let us know where. Otherwise we just have to hope that Basso has more integrity when it comes to citing his informants accurately…

  3. 10/23/15 at 4:44 AM


    I am currently translating Basso’s “Wisdom Sits in Places” into French for a Belgian publisher, and I found this page while researching that Bakhtin quote. This is a major editorial (and ethical) issue, for one cannot get away with propagating an erroneous quotation. What leaves me perplexed is how blatant such a manipulation is, and that it wasn’t noticed by Basso’s previous publishers.

  4. Bret Woods
    10/23/15 at 12:27 PM

    It’s an odd situation all around, for sure. Having sat with these occurrences for a few years now, I’m still kind of in the same position I was when I wrote this post: Basso’s “Bakhtin” quote is evocative and good, but I really just want to read it in its original context and it seems (perhaps sloppily) misquoted and/or manipulated. It’s certainly a major editorial oversight and error like you point out, Jef, but I’d have to hear the whole story before agreeing this is an ethical issue. It might just be a case of altered translations, or a harmless typo. It’s a shame there isn’t a more diligent chain of evidence. Until Holquist or Basso can comment it’s probably best to honor the whole of this story in our footnotes.

  5. Molly Schneider
    4/5/16 at 10:38 AM

    I am literally going through this exact dilemma right now. It would be extremely useful if the quote were real, but I just can’t find it anywhere, and I’m left wondering if it was just made up! It seems to go further than just at translation issue, as there are some concepts that are just not in the copy I have. And I’m using the exact version of the book Basso cites. Very frustrating! Any updates on this? Thanks for any insight you can provide!

  6. Bret Woods
    1/25/17 at 6:31 PM

    I have to apologize, because I never received a notification from WordPress that you had left this comment. Sorry to leave you hanging like that! I never did hear back from Holquist and I’ve since come to find a couple other discrepancies in Bakhtin quotes. But I’ve never quite come across as strange a scenario as I described in this post. My sense is that the Basso quote was best guess at the time, along with some sloppy review about the duplicate publication, and then the popularity of the second Basso quote floated around the spheres of complementary disciplines in an institutional sense.

    How did you negotiate it in your situation? And were you able to find any information that I still haven’t at this point?

  7. Molly Schneider
    1/25/17 at 8:01 PM

    Thanks for following up. I ended up just not including the material at all, unfortunately. It was just too shady. I haven’t found any other insights on the situation since, either. It’s disappointing for many reasons.

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