Dialogism and Other Communication Concepts from Mikhail Bakhtin as they Relate to the “Big Lebowski” – Evan Cacali (Akita University)

This presentation will discuss the 1998 classic cult film, The Big Lebowski, by the Coen Brothers, while using Russian Linguist/Philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of Dialogism and dialogic interaction. Bakhtin’s dialogic theory highlights context and struggle when trying to locate semiotic meaning. He believed ideologically imbued signs and utterances naturally create hermeneutic clashes since the speaker and interlocutor draw on unique experiences and worldviews while interpreting and sending messages. Multiplying dialogic interaction to a societal scale also leads Bakhtin to a theory of cultural perpetuation and the diachronic nature of language. A Bakhtinian analysis is particularly engrossing with The Big Lebowski because it is a character driven film that relies on dialogue and other linguistic (or semiotic) interaction rather than a particularly intriguing plot. As a bonus for the JALT audience, there are even several incidence of language acquisition in the film.

The presentation will begin by discussing Bakhtin’s theories before applying them to various levels of clashes and confusion over semiotic meaning in the film. A close reading of the opening sequences will introduce clashes between Western and noir genres as well as clashes over misunderstood utterances that pervade the dialogue and plot. Time permitting, Dialogism will be discussed on the levels of genre, character, symbolism, dream sequences, intertextuality of the film itself, the soundtrack, and the wider social context of L.A. in the early 1990s. If you are not a Big Lebowski fan, the approaches discussed can be applied to other texts, social situations, and various other works of non-static art. Numerous academics have even applied Bakhtin’s theories to SLA research. Plenty of clips will be shown to help orient those who have not seen the movie, but as is the case in all things like this, some familiarity with the film will go a long way in really tying the room together.

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