What does give the classic Russian novel its power over the imagination? There have been many attempts to define its unique features and to account for its rise to pre-eminence in such unpromising soil. Underlying most analyses is the perception that Russian literature achieved its stature in a dialectic (or dialogue) with Western European literary traditions. Bakhtin has provided a theoretical model for this process in a shift from regarding the Western tradition as “authoritative discourse” to regarding it as “inwardly persuasive discourse”; in other words from a mental attitude which saw Western traditions as providing unsurpassable achievements which could only be imitated or rejected, to one which assimilated them to native Russian experience as part of a process of growth-in-dialogue: a complex dance in which the partners now lightly touch, now embrace and now draw apart, at times melting into a common movement and at times loudly asserting their difference.
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