“Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others.”Mikhail Bahktin, Discourse in the Novel, 1935
What if I intended to get to Dialogue but only arrived at Monologue?
The Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin spoke a lot about language and truth in the early part of the 20th century. Since one of the foundational concepts of this blog is the function of truth telling, it’s important to see what Bakhtin can contribute to the discourse of truth discovery.
For Bakhtin, the discovery of truth happens in dialogue. That means that many voices all come together and as they interact with each other they discover truth. This is common knowledge. After all, who doesn’t appreciate the ability of a good debate to get to the core of an issue.
Now we get to the hard part. What if I know something is true already? What if, because of my religious affiliations, or my family traditions, or the advice of significant and influential people, I have developed an understanding if the truth that I feel is right? Does the purpose of dialogue then become trying to convince others of my truth?
I recently responded to a meme posted by a friend on Facebook. The meme pointed out that offence is not always a marker for truth. Of course me being me I had to comment and use the moment to teach something (not perhaps my best trait). I had two motives, the first being a genuine desire to enter into dialogue with my friend. The second was of course to be right :-p
I even had a Bible verse to back up my truth claims. I couched the reply in the form of a question on how to interpret the weaker brother verse from Corinthians in an age where it seems many get easily offended.
But the dialogue didn’t happen.
According to Bakhtin, if it’s not dialogue then it’s monologue, which for Bakhtin is the gravest of sins. My interaction with my FB friend was intended to start dialogue, wasn’t it? Are there forms of “dialogue” that are in effect “monologue”? What factors contribute to fostering dialogue? Is merely saying that “I want to dialogue on this” enough? Or is there more to it than that? Is it simply because it’s on social media that it becomes monologue?