Emily Miles | Redrawing the Lines Foreclosure: The Possibilities Presented by a Bakhtinian Outlook on the Novel


What if censorship begins before we even start speaking? In “Ruled Out: Vocabularies of the Censor”, Judith Butler provides sufficient evidence of this oft-overlooked possibility, assigning this form of pre-censorship with a recycled term: foreclosure. While many other scholars limit their focus to how censorship is enacted after a text is produced, Butler uses foreclosure to outline the active life of censorship as it manifests itself while thoughts and speech are being formulated. In many ways, Butler’s notion of the formation of speech is reminiscent of Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia. Both scholars have posited that our speech is never fully our own, though their theories have grown from this base in two very different directions. For Butler, the outcome of this lack of ownership is very negative and often results in a need to redraw the lines of what is and is not considered acceptable speech. Bakhtin, however, sees heteroglossia as a positive aspect of language, especially as it is dialogized in the novel. In this essay, I will explore the ways in which Butler’s foreclosure and Bakhtin’s heteroglossia intersect in order to determine the extent to which Butler’s theory is reliant on and can benefit from Bakhtin’s original theory of heteroglossia. I will also determine whether the novel, Bakhtin’s stage for dialogizing heteroglossia, may function as a platform for undermining foreclosure. In order to do this, I will first establish a theoretical base and then examine dialogized heteroglossia and foreclosure in the case of Elif Shafak’s 2006 novel The Bastard of Istanbul. Butler insists that we must find ways to alter the factors which have resulted in the foreclosure of speech; I believe that Bakhtin has given us, in his study of the novel, some of the tools necessary for doing just that.