This book is the first comprehensive comparative study of the thought of the Russian philosopher and literary theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975), and his German counterpart, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). At its heart is the question of the extent to which our experience of the modern world is compatible with the forms that we use to make sense of that experience. Examining both thinkers' conceptions of art, habit, tradition, and language, it explores the tensions between lived experience and abstract form, openness and closedness, and fragmentation and totality, investigating parallels between Bakhtin's theories of responsibility, dialogue, and the novel, and Benjamin's theories of translation, montage, allegory, and the aura. This study results in a radical reconsideration of received views about both thinkers and their relation to politics, ethics, theology, and their European philosophical inheritance. It also reconsiders the ambivalent experience of the modernity that Bakhtin and Benjamin lived in and that we continue to inhabit now.

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