Plumb Lines

August 10, 2009

Girl Talk and the Dialogic Imagination

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 9:31 pm

There has been a lot of uncertainty at how to characterize the music of Girl Talk, the Pittsburgh DJ who has distinguished himself by creating a dizzying and insanely danceable puree from the top-40 hits of the past 3o years.

If Mikhail Bakhtin had been a Pitchfork review writer, he might have  described Girl Talk’s music as an instance of dialogic imagination. A little Googling has revealed that I am not the first to think of this connection:

Feed the Animals is an aesthetic arrangement of disparate, often contradictory elements into something resembling a coherent whole. And one way to think of this contrast is to turn to Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin and his distinction between monologic and dialogic writing. To Bakhtin, a dialogic novel was one that, instead of attempting to maintain a singular ‘monologic’ voice throughout a work, aimed to arrange a number of different perspectives and ideologies into an aesthetic whole, allowing the tension or dialogue between the differing views to remain unresolved. Bakhtin’s most common way of demonstrating this difference was to contrast Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Tolstoy, he argued, maintained one dominant voice and perspective through the use on overarching narrator and, as such, a singular perspective shone through by the time the plot resolved. Bakhtin argued that Dostoevsky, on the other the hand, arranged a number of different voices and deliberately left them unresolved, and was thus the superior, more sophisticated writer. It’s a point worth considering: what is more ‘realistic’ (and poignant) than irreconcilable differences remaining irreconcilable?

So in my little analogy, the all-samples Feed the Animals is clearly the dialogic novel – it is the aesthetic organisation of a set of contrasting sources. As in a dialogic novel, it is not simply enough to have disparate elements; instead, it is the arrangment of the different perspectives into a coherent – if not necessarily cohesive – whole that makes the work… ‘work’. There is no overarching perspective that dominates in the novel, as there is no overarching generic or lyric theme that runs through Feed the Animals. Rather, the satisfaction for me comes precisely from the ‘irreconcilable’ being put together in a way that feels right, in a manner that works both with and against the very differences that are put into play.

Matthew Schmitz


  1. As a connoisseur of Gregg’s work and a former student of the US’s Bakhtin expert, this is nonsense.


    Comment by Michael E. van Landingham — August 19, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

  2. I was trying to make only the most superficial and even intentionally misleading analogy, but do elaborate!

    Comment by Matthew Schmitz — August 31, 2009 @ 8:42 am

  3. Why do people lie?

    Comment by Hanson — April 3, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: