THE DIALOGICAL

Rather than approaching dialogue as a technique or a method of communication, it is better understood as an ontological matter. In contrast to a concept of humans as discrete, individual entities, the dialogical subject arises from a constant negotiation with others; existence must be understood as dialogical. These ideas are drawn from the work of Mikhail Bakhtin (1984), Paulo Freire (1972) and Martin Buber (1958). According to Buber, ‘all real living is meeting’ (Buber, 1958: 11). For Bakhtin, who was directly influenced by Buber, ‘life by its very nature is dialogic” (Bakhtin, 1984: 293). It is only through dialogical relation that meaning can emerge for Bakhtin: ‘thinking human consciousness . . . in all its depth and specificity’ ( xx) cannot exist outside of a ‘dialogic sphere’ (ibid.).

For Buber, there are two modes of relation, the 'I-Thou' and the 'I-It' (1958), interpreted by Friere as dialogical and ‘antidialogical’ relations (1972: 135). In Buber’s first form of relation, ‘I-Thou’ (1958), the ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’ recognise and constitute one another; in the second, ‘I-It’ (ibid.), the Self sees the Other as an object, to be dominated (ibid.). Freire's dialectical perspective is brought to bear on this dynamic;

​The antidialogical, dominating ‘I’ transforms the dominated, conquered ‘thou’ into a mere ‘it’ in Martin Buber’s phraseology. The dialogical ‘I’, however, knows that it is precisely the ‘thou’ (‘not-‘I’) which has called forth his own existence [and] . . . that the ‘thou’ which calls forth his own existence in turn constitutes an ‘I’ which has in his ‘I’ its ‘thou’ (Freire, 1972: 135).

By interpreting Buber through a Marxist lens, Freire describes a dialectic of becoming. Posthumanist thinkers like Karen Barad (1998; 2001) have extended this idea to propose modes of becoming that are phenomenal rather than binary, which is to say that the 'self' is constituted through ‘a knot of relations’ (Flusser, XX), an inter- and intra-dependent assemblage of human and non-human material and discursive processes.

​In a paper delivered in 1999, the artist Eduardo Kac argued that ‘dialogic modalities of art’, generated ‘new aesthetic values’ (Kac, 1999) that rendered the ‘rubric’ of visual arts as outdated, ‘unable to express the gamut and complexity of the experiences developed within a truly dialogic framework’ (ibid.). In ‘the elaboration of dialogic situations’, he argued, images and objects are merely elements of a larger system of artistic meaning-making. Dialogical works of art are based on what he described as ‘contextual reciprocity’ (ibid.), meaning that the experience is open to intervention and alteration, in a truly dialogic fashion.

In his articulation of the value of ‘the dialogic principle in the visual arts (ibid.), Kac was expressing an idea that was developing in different ways in the 1990's, including Grant Kester’s idea of a Dialogical Aesthetics (1999), which was more fully developed in Conversation Pieces; Community and Communication in Modern Art (2004).

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