Public Spheres of Dissonance: Affect, Heteroglossia and the Monolingual Paradigm

— Anne Fleig, Marion Acker, Matthias Lüthjohann

Many considerations and theories on the relationship between the political and the public are based upon the notion of a public dialogue: different voices and opinions as well as their institutionalised places lie at the heart of modern democracy. Often, as in the influential theory of Habermas, this dialogue is understood to be an encounter of partners with equal rights relying on the democratic rationality of consensus-oriented discussion. In our paper we want to challenge this notion and, drawing upon Bakhtin’s theory of heteroglossia, try to re-think the role and status of the relationship of language and affect in this context. Resonating with more recent poststructuralist accounts of democratic dissent, Bakhtin’s theory allows us to take into account another important genealogy that leads back to the 18th century: The formation of the public sphere is not only linked to the literary practices of the enlightenment era, but also to the ‘monolingual paradigm’ (Yildiz) that restricts participation and authorship to the realm of the ‘mother tongue’. While we agree that public discourse and democratic struggle are both based on language and have a close relation to literature, we want to develop a perspective that goes beyond the limited notions of affect-free rationality and ‘un-accentuated’ voice. Following Bakhtin, discourse in the multi-voiced novel as well as in the public is at least two-fold: words, in their affective relational entanglement, respond to other words and become themselves part of the responses that follow their articulation. This dialogical engagement is never free of affect – and as Bakhtin stresses in his theory of the polyphonic novel: it is only rarely free of dissonance and polemic.