You say tomato, I say tomahto,
You say potato, and I say potahto.
Let’s Call the Whole Thing off!
— Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald
Dialogue as demonstrated by Plato could be viewed as a grand experiment in using discursive conventions in order to bring about a greater understanding of a concept or objective. Throughout his dialogues, Plato evidences the pedagogical and epistemological process — and results — of interaction between two persons who “freely” exchange somewhat contradictory ideas and who ultimately come to some kind of understanding, unearthing knowledge by means of oral interlocutionary discourse. Plato’s dialogues have thus formed the basis of Western epistemology and pedagogy — that is to say, dialogue as defined by Plato has not only lent to the structuring of the interpretation of Knowledge, but more importantly, dialogue has solidified the “interstructuring” between two states, providing what portends to be a common ground of interpretation between two speaking bodies, yielding a finely cultivated space of interaction, interpretation, representation, and understanding of both the self and other.
Yet, what seems to be “free exchange” between speakers within Plato’s dialogues is often regarded as a “one-sided affair” (Lee, p. 57) due to the fact that within his dialogues the conversational method of question, answer, and reformulation is usually undertaken by one of the participants in the dialogue — not both. Viewed in this way, Plato’s dialogues pretend to engage in a dialectical forum where synthesis is bred from the dialectical communication of a thesis and antithesis. This conception of dialogue as demonstrated by Plato would then lead us to a rethinking of our interpretation of dialogue as a forum of “free exchange” between two equal subjects whereby knowledge is acquired. This, in turn, would further lead us to a deconstruction of knowledge, the epistemological derivative of dialogical discourse upon which current discourse is buttressed.
Plato’s work attempts to demonstrate the Socratic notion of the nature of truth: the dialogical process of truth-finding which is born from collective interaction as opposed to a monologic truth or end. Yet, Bakhtin’s notion of dialogue affirms that behind every discourse, is, in fact, a game — a dialogical pretense which is ultimately subsumed by the factor of dominance which is predetermined by the Self/author:
Every struggle between two voices within a single discourse for possession or dominance in that discourse is decided in advance, it only appears to be a struggle; all fully signifying authorial interpretations are sooner or later gathered together in a single speech center and a single consciousness; all accents are gathered together in a single voice (1984, p. 204).
This statement, then, poses a problem in understanding Plato’s dialogues since Bakhtin challenges the very possibility of dialogism within discourse. Even though the concept of “dialogue” is a “given” within discourse, that both empiricism and epistemology lend legitimation to our so-called concrete understanding of dialogue, we must question the “authorial interpretation” or the authorial voice of Plato necessarily embedded within his dialogues. In other words, we must examine the epistemological foundation upon which Plato’s dialogues are, in fact, based, labelled, and understood to be dialogues.
In this way, we are forced not only to examine Plato’s notion of “dialogue”, but also to reassess the subsequent or resulting Knowledge which today encompasses and fashions Western epistemology. As dialogue is the conceptualization of discourse, the mode of understanding and interpreting discourse, we need to re-examine the nature of discourse. Using primarily Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism, I shall examine Plato’s notion of dialogue and further examine the epistemological construct upon which Power and Knowledge symbiotically and synchronously both lend and attain legitimation from the dialogical process. Therefore, if there is a monolithic nature of discipline and discourse, then all speech, originating from and returning to this center, is thus nothing but a mirror of a detail of human conformity; if , on the other hand, there is communication, or free exchange, between the different segments of the monolith, then the composition, or the very design of the structure, is in permanent risk of decomposition and shift. What, then, is the nature of discourse and dialogue within the vast construct of Power and Knowledge?
According to Bakhtin, dialogue is the relation of the self and other whereby the self and other are in a perpetual process of definition, fragmentation, decomposition, redefintion, and so on…. Born during the era of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism interprets the physic-al relativity of space and time and applies this to the dualistic relationship of self/other. For Bakhtin, the self cannot be understood monologically — all interpretation of the self hinges upon a dialogical role it maintains with the other: “There is no knowledge of the subject but dialogical” (Bakhtin 1974, p. 363). Thus, all meaning — understanding of the self and the other — is achieved through struggle, a dialogical process, whereby the subject or self maintains its ontological status only in as much as the other is simultaneously given space to “exist” and interact dialogically.
Bakhtin contends that monologism “denies the existence outside itself of another consciousness….another I with equal rights (thou)” (1984, p. 292). Within monologism then the other remains an object of consciousness instead of the subject of consciousness. Monologism cements the structures of power, solidifying and making static the relationship between the self and other, thereby fixing the monologic voice, the I, in the position of dominance and authority while the other is imprisoned with the narrative structure imposed by the self. Therefore, the notion of dialogue embodied within current thinking, yet based on an ancient paradigm, seems somewhat problematic: for Bakhtin asserts that knowledge can only result from a dialogical process and yet, he also contends that within dialogical confrontation, the factor of domination is “decided in advance” — that dialogical exchange is a sham, a fraud based on monologic author-ity. How can we untangle what seems to be a tautological problem embedded within the interdictive relationship, or even synapse, existing between dialogism and monologism?
Bakhtin attempts to address this problem within his theory of architectronics: “the science of relations” (Holquist, p. 29) whereby the self and other can engage in endless confrontation, transition, and repositioning in their relationship to each other. Within the architectronics of dialogism, the relation between the self and other is never static — it remains fluid as the self and other are constantly being remolded, redefined, setting new boundaries and destroying the old. However, the architectronics of monologism reveals a panoptical relationship between the self and other — the other is the object of subjective power, oppression, and control: “The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately… Each individual, in his place, is securely confined to a cell from which he is seen from the front by the supervisor” (Foucault, p.200). The architectronics of monologism would then subordinate and object-ify the other — the self is in the position of the guard, watching all the prisoners, collecting information, maintaining the guard/prisoner relationship, while the other is simply being watched, implicated within the structures of power as the “object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault, p. 200).
Architectronics presupposes authorship; thus, implicit within the construct of architectronics is the notion of authorial responsibility which would ensure either the fluidity or the solidification of relations between the self and other. As Bentham states, the author has the “Supreme Power” of making laws (p. 86). The author then, has the ability to ascribe equal status to the other or to dominate, to suppress the other. In order for architectronics to be effectively engaged creating a polyphonic sphere, there must exist an “architectronics of responsibility” whereby the self and other maintain their fluidity — not their bondage. Thus, within the “architectronics of responsibility”, the self (author) can view the other from a distance, allowing the other its own space, autonomy, and voice, thereby creating a polyphonic narrative. On the other hand, the author can just as easily suppress the other, monologically suffocating any individuality, lending to its “object-ification” whereby no communication really takes place. In this way, the other is inscribed as the “principle of his own subjection” (Foucault, p. 203) — the other maintains its role within the panoptical dialogue legitimating both its own status and also the status of the self.
Transgredience, the tool through which architectronics is manifested, is the way of seeing the other from “outside”. Transgredience presupposes power which, when in the hands of the self (author) and depending on how it is used, can lead to either “art” or “totalitarianism”:
The author of a novel, for instance, can manipulate the other not only as an other, but as a self. This is, in fact, what the very greatest writers have always done, but the paradigmatic example is provided by Dostoevsky, who so successfully permits his characters to have the status of an “I” standing over against the claims of his own authorial other that Bakhtin felt compelled to coin the special term “polyphony” to describe it… And then there are those authors who treat their characters not only as others, but as having the otherness of mere things, lacking any subjectivity. They exploit their transgredience of their characters much as scientists exploit theirs toward laboratory rats. (Holquist, p. 34).
As authorship for Bakhtin is a political construct tightly woven within the fabric of power, the self (author) and other (the subject or object — depending on the manifestation of transgredience) are implicated within both the dialogical framework and the structures of power. Thus, we see how transgredience depends entirely on the “architectronics of responsibility” since the author has the power to give the other and self equal status (polyphony), as well as the power to subordinate, repress, and “exploit” the other (monologism) whereby the other becomes “a pure object, a spectacle, a clown” (Barthes, p. 152).
Linguistically, Bakhtin furthers his argument regarding the “exploitation” of the other since the oppression of the other necessarily destroys the very dialogic domain “where the word lives”. In order to maintain the dialogical matrix of the word, Bakhtin advocates that the dialogic sphere be penetrated by a “third party” where an “impersonal objective truth” can be found (1986, p. 150). This is not to say, however, that this “third party” would in any way be “neutral” — everyone is implicated in the dialogical structures of discourse:
[T]here are no “neutral” words and forms — words and forms that can belong to “no one”; language has been completely taken over, shot through with intentions and accents. For any individual consciousness living in it, language is not an abstract system of normative forms but rather a concrete heteroglot conception of the world (Bakhtin 1981, p. 293).
Thus, like language, speech is not relegated to one person, one voice, one conscience. Discourse can never be “neutral” — in as much as it may try to monologically or dialogically reveal a truth, it must ultimately be responsible for the relationship and representation of both the self and the other. Depending on the political praxis revealed through the author’s “architectronics of responsibility”, discourse yields either a monologic “truth” (totalitarianism) or a dialogical “truth”, a perpetual process of attempting to reveal a possible truth.
The author, therefore, is the “Supreme Power” who must answer for the “truth” embedded within the text:
The identity between signifier and signified which is established in realist writing is the precondition of its ability to represent a vraisemblable, an accepted natural view of the world. It does not mean that all writing is absolutely transparent, but rather that the narration, the dominant discourse, is able to establish itself as Truth. The narration does not appear to be the voice of an author; its source appears to be a true reality which speaks (Coward and Ellis, p. 49).
The Truth revealed through narration would then be assumed to be an “innocent” Truth — a Truth which is not the result of authorial intent, not the result of monologic control. As the architectronic edifice of monologism is directly opposed to the architectronic structure of polyphony, the truths reaped from either discourse would necessarily rival each other: “The dialogic means of seeking truth is counterposed to official monologism, which pretends to possess a ready-made truth …” (Bakhtin 1981, p. 110). Within society then, there is no difference between the individual and the structures of power since, through the mediation of monologism, “everyone is in step” (Holquist, p. 53) and the space for resistance, for oppositional discourse, would then seem minimal, dismal. Thus, dialogism easily succumbs to monologism due to the fact there is a pre-existing framework to the text, a “formulaic pseudo-art, in which all possible initiative within the text is sacrificed to a formula pre-existing the text” (Holquist, p. 34). Within the architectronic battle between monologism and dialogism, the monologic prescription, the “ready made truth” is implicitly and explicitly pre-written, pre-legitimated, and often, already accepted.
In discussing Dostoevsky’s polyphonic novel, Bakhtin argues that the hero is the “subject of a deeply serious, real dialogic mode of address, not the subject of a rhetorically performed or conventionally literary one” (1981, p. 63). Thus, the monologic structure can seemingly be broken, monologism can be “escaped” by sacrificing or compromising the structure (tradition) whereby the characters are allowed their own I . In exercising polyphony, the monologic pyramid would then be challenged, threatened, and perhaps negated. The act of resistance then, would necessarily turn the tables of discourse — dialogism would, when inscribed within the “official” discourse, be in danger of subsuming monologism, of marginalizing monologism, of positing monologism as the “untruth” and dialogism as the new “official truth”. On the other hand, the very attempt to undermine or negate the counter-discourse would ontologically end up legitimizing, confirming, the counter-discourse (Jameson, p. 68). Thus, there would exist a perpetual attack/counter-attack taking place between the two opposed discourses. Now I shall return to the problem I originally posed: if monologism subtitles, underwrites, dialogic discourse and yet knowledge, “truth”, can only be acquired through dialogical communication, how can “truth” be revealed, excavated from the museum built on epistemological terrain?
I posit the answer to this paradigmatic displacement of “truth” not within the either/or selection that Bakhtin poses between “good” and “bad” art, between dialogism and monologism, between polyphony and totalitarianism, but within the “/”, the barrier dividing the dichotomies of self/other, good/bad, and dialogism/monologism. Using the model of narrative, Reading contends that “narration is not the tool that enforces a subjective perspective, since the subject that narrates is itself constituted by being narrated. Narrativity is thus both constitutive and disruptive of representational discourse…” (p. 80). Viewed in this way, discourse — be it monologic or dialogic — neither creates nor upholds a “subjective perspective”. Truth, therefore, cannot be excavated from the realm of the purely monological nor within the arena of the dialogical (since this presupposes a monologic “conspiracy”). Instead, “truth” can only be communicated between the nerve endings of monologism and “dialogism”, within the synapse, the space where the dendrites of monologism and “dialogism” cannot (or do not) touch each other, the zone where monologism and “dialogism” perpetually bombard the counter-discourse with their “signals” of resistance.
Therefore, “dialogism” that seemingly perpetuates a communal exchange of ideas but where the “struggle between two voices… is decided in advance” (Bakhtin 1984, p. 204), must be viewed as a monologic discourse cloaked in what appears to be a dialogical “good” intention. “True” dialogism, therefore, is to be found between oppositional, monologic discourses where the self and other are inscribed within the structures of power and hence, are necessarily included within the architectronic structure of relativity. In this way, the architectronic rule, still relegated to the presupposed power of the author (the self), must maintain a dialogic relationship between that which is deemed to be a monologic truth and that which pretends to be a “dialogic” truth. This is where the author’s use of architectronics must truly be responsible — for architectronic responsibility lies not in supporting one utterance in favor of the other, not in architecturally designing the prison cells within the tower’s visibility, but in maintaining the battlefield where discourses can challenge, oppose, and redefine each other, and — if necessary — “fight until the death”.
Ultimately, the only “true” form of dialogism is that which allows for the interaction and questioning of ideas, the communicative query of both the self and the other, and thus, the interpretation and representation of the self and the other through their interaction, not their isolation. For not only must we come to understand dialogism as a process in truth-finding, we must also realize that both the self and the other cannot be understood separately, one in isolation of the other — we must recognize that the existence, and hence, the perception of one necessarily includes the other. The symbiotic status of the self and other is ever-present and all-pervasive: to interpret and represent only the self or the other is to pretend to interpret and represent, to use the “/” to allochronically divide the self and the other is to pretend to understand the self and the other, and to base Knowledge upon the division of the self and other is to pretend to know. We must break down the barrier between the self and the other, the “/”, the epistemological barrier which is more often than not monologic, monolithic, which safely protects us from acknowledging the faults embedded within discourse, and which, ultimately, prevents us from holding up a mirror to all forms of dialogue — be they dialogues of Plato or dialogues between a Super Power and a “Third World” nation.
As Holquist contends that authorship is an exercise of “governance” (p. 34), we must then re-examine authorial intent, or rather the “architectronics of responsibility” within literature. Plato’s dialogues give us the supreme model for such an examination since these dialogues have formed the epistemological basis for discourse in the West and are the models on which we today base current notions of dialogue, intellectual discourse, and pedagogy. Using the principles outlined above, I shall analyze Book III of Plato’s The Republic examining the architectronic structure embedded within the dialogic exchange and investigating Plato’s notions of mimesis and diegesis, the representational discourse which ultimately forms the dialogue as a whole. Keeping in mind that the self is usually manifested through the voice of the teacher and the other is inscribed within the role of the student, Plato presents the self/other relationship as a pedagogical approach to dialectically unearthing “truth”: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. We must question the architectronics which Plato inscribes within the roles, the voices, of teacher and student as within his dialogues lays the assumption that dialogical discourse is pervasive, that the “truth” is indeed a communal artifact, and that both the teacher and student are inscribed through the what Bakhtin would call polyphonic discourse. Ultimately, we are posed with interrogating Plato, the author, the provocateur of truth, and his representations of dialogic exchange.
Throughout Plato’s dialogues we are usually presented with a teacher/student relationship in which the dialogical approach to a problem would allegedly reveal a hidden truth produced by the interaction of the participants. Yet, we know this not to be completely true — that is to say that the authorial intent of Plato is usually quite clear as the students engage in a dialogue which has already been predetermined by the author, the outcome is already known. Similarly, the teacher who begins with a certain argument ends the discussion with the very same premise on which he began, while the students who engage in the dialogue repeatedly confer the teacher’s concepts — usually without contention. I contend that although it could be said that Plato’s dialogues have both monologic and dialogic qualities embodied within them, that the voices of the students serve to mask, to obfuscate, the monologic quality of the “dialogue” — that the students play the same role as canned laughter plays within television sitcoms: whenever a joke is made, the canned laughter, a simulacrum of “real” laughter, is sounded, thus reaffirming the humor which the “home viewers” may or may not understand while ultimately giving them the signal that the man who, moments before, slipped on the banana is indeed funny. In this way, I maintain that Plato’s dialogues manifest the appearance of dialogue: the “positioning” of the students within the dialogues lend to the vraisemblable, the appearance of a “real dialogue”. However, the students ultimately play the role of “yes men”, lending legitimation to not only to what Plato says, but to us, the reader, lending further legitimation to the fact that we are, in fact, reading a dialogue.
In Book III of Plato’s Republic, Socrates and Adeimantus discuss the values and construct of education:
SOCRATES: What kind of education shall we give [the guardian] then? We shall find it difficult to improve on the time-honored distinction between the physical training we give to the body and the education [mousice ] we give to the mind and character.
SOCRATES: And we shall begin by educating mind and character, shall we not?
ADEIMANTUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: In this education you would include stories, would you not?
ADEIMANTUS: Of course… (p. 130).
Plato, as is typical in his dialogues, posits the teacher, Socrates, as the instigator of action. Every question or statement that Socrates makes usually contains the answer and, if an answer is not required, the constant affirmation of veracity is usually elicited by Socrates to Adeimantus. The phrasing of statements, followed by the questions “shall we not?” and “would you not?” implicitly calls for the affirmation of the preceding statement made by Socrates. To further prove my point, I shall now open The Republic randomly… Now, I shall quote the student’s (Adeimantus’) portion of the dialogue:
That follows too..
Yes, I see…
That is certainly true..
Very much so…
My own vote would go to the unmixed style which represents the good man…
Yes, it gives most pleasure…
It certainly is unsuitable…
That undoubtedly is what we should do if we had the choice…
I agree… (pp. 156-157).
Taken out of context, these responses to Socrates’ statements and queries nonetheless demonstrate how the role of the student is actually re-inscribed as the “affirmer” of the (prior) statement made by the teacher, Socrates. Even when the student answers with his “opinion” (“My own vote would go to the unmixed style which represents the good man”), this answer had already been posited by Socrates on page 155. Adeimantus is thus given the choice between “good” and “bad”, and hence his answer is not only obvious, but already answered before Adeimantus actually “answers”. Thus, within this construct of “dialogue”, the student’s “equal” relationship or status that he allegedly shares with Socrates is really undermined by the authorial discourse, the authorial intent of Plato who seems to utilize the student’s voice not to contest or challenge the tenets his teacher proposes, but to underscore the narrative of the great teacher and master, Socrates. This in turn, legitimates the dialogue as a whole, relegating the Supreme (authorial) Power to Plato via the character of Socrates.
In this way, Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism would prove that the construct of the other is manipulated through the voice of Socrates by the self-author, Plato. Thus, we see how within a presumed “dialogue”, the monologic intention of the author subsumes, consumes, any dialogic integrity that could ontologically be present. Polyphony (as defined by Bakhtin) seems to be nonexistent within the dialogue, for Adeimantus’ role is encompassed within the monologic intention of the author, Plato. From a post-structuralist perspective, Plato’s dialogues can be viewed as a panoptical construct whereby power is “visible and unverifiable” (Foucault, p. 201) — that the forged dialogue “disindividualizes” power, implicating the student who stands in the prison cell and the teacher who is positioned within the observation tower. In this way, Plato, through the authorial voice of the teacher, maintains Supreme Control of the discourse, the dialogue, and the students are used as tools or instruments of study (and sometimes objects of ridicule, ie. Ion), sounding boards for the teacher’s ideas, bodies who, through their physical presence, reassure the teacher (and hence, the reader) that the teacher is indeed engaging in a dialogue.
Within Book III of The Republic, Plato addresses the possibility of representation through the poet’s own voice, diegesis, and through the imitated voices of the character or characters, mimesis. The character of Socrates questions the possibility of “allowing” or condoning the poets use of mimesis since the poets, according to Socrates, are best at speaking in their “own person”, diegesis (p. 152):
SOCRATES: Do you think, then, Adeimantus, that we want our guardians to be capable of playing many parts, or not? Does it not follow, from the principles we adopted earlier, that one man does only one job well, and that if he tries to take on a number of jobs, the division of effort will mean that he will fail to make his mark at any of them?
ADEIMANTUS: The conclusion follows.
SOCRATES: And it will also apply to representation; a man cannot play many parts as well as he can one.
ADEIMANTUS: He cannot.
SOCRATES: It is unlikely therefore that anyone engaged on any worthwhile occupation will be able to give a variety of representations… And human nature seems to be more finely subdivided than this, which makes it impossible to play many roles well, whether in real life or in representations of it on stage (pp. 152-153).
Here, Plato questions the possibility of representation through more than one voice — he questions whether one person can both mimetically represent others’ voices and still diegetically represent the self’s. Socrates ultimately says “no” — he states that it is impossible for one person to successfully engage in both mimetic and diegetic representation. What then, does this mean for Plato’s dialogues, an alleged dialogic process in which the self and other interact, in which the diegetic voice is inscribed through the teacher’s role and the mimetic voice within the student’s?
Plato might answer this question by stating that dialogue is neither drama nor poetry, nor epic — he would argue that the form of dialogue is philosophy — not art. What then is the difference between philosophy and art? Plato defines philosophy as the representation of life and art he defines as the representation of the representation. Therefore, Plato’s dialogues would demonstrate what he claims is impossible to do: Plato diegetically and mimetically represents dialogue (which could be viewed as a representation of a representation of a dialogue) — Plato’s voice is diegetically manifested through the voice of the teacher, Socrates, and the voice of the other is mimetically represented through Adeimantus. Thus, within Plato’s Republic lies the contradiction of the so-called impossibility for one person to exemplify both mimesis and diegesis and furthermore, the impossibility of separating philosophy from literature since both necessarily invoke mimetic and diegetic representation. For the moment in which the character of Socrates utters the statement where he argues that mimesis and diegesis cannot be exercised by the same author or poet, followed by Adeimantus’ concurrence of this motion, Plato, the author, thereby executes the very tenets which he claims cannot be implemented by one person: diegesis and mimesis. Plato’s authorial control is inscribed within both players as he synchronously represents authorial speech through the teacher and the character’s speech through the student — Plato registers the diegetic utterance of Socrates and the mimetic discourse of Adeimantus. Both utterances fall within the authorial control, the Supreme Power, of Plato, both pretend to be voices outside of Plato’s authorial guise, but, in reality both play an integral, calculated, and controlled part in this “dialogic” discourse.
Since I have gone through the motion of proving the monologic strain running throughout Plato’s dialogues, can we now safely call them “monologues”? Can monologic and dialogic discourse be separated? Can they exist independently of the other? Volosinov views the utterance as part of an integral whole where everything is contextualized within history, science, art, literature, and even politics:
But the monologic utterance is, after all, already an abstraction, though, to be sure, an abstraction of a “natural” kind. Any monologic utterance, the written monument included, is an inseverable element of verbal communication. Any utterance — the finished, written utterance not excepted — makes response to something and is calculated to be responded to in turn. It is but one link in a continuous chain of speech performances. Each monument carries on the work of its predecessors, polemicizing with them, expecting active, responsive understanding, and anticipating such understanding in return. Each monument in actuality is an integral part of science, literature, or political life. The monument, as any other monologic utterance, is set toward being perceived in the context of current scientific life or literary affairs, i.e., it is perceived in the generative process of that particular ideological domain of which it is an integral part (p. 72)
Viewed in this way, Plato’s dialogues set up the teacher/student dichotomy where every problem posed is, in fact, “calculated” and every question asked awaits the answer which is not only “calculated”, but is also already answered. Not only does the very act of asking a question thus precipitate the answer, but neither the question nor the answer are atemporal — every discursive moment is necessarily embedded within a historical framework which essentially provokes dialogical confrontation through historical, political, etc. interpretation and representation. In this way, within every dialogic moment synchronously exists a monologic moment, or as Mukarovsky states: “monologic and dialogic qualities are simultaneously and inseparably present in the psychic event from which the utterance originates” (p. 85). Hence, Plato’s dialogues manifest both the monologic and dialogic moment within every utterance — the separation of the monologic from the dialogic would be an empirical, if not also, an epistemological impossibility.
Analogous to this, Plato’s notions of mimesis and diegesis cannot be separated, by simply stating that one is the voice of the self, the author, (diegesis) and the other is the voice of the other (mimesis) — this would be naive and reductionist. In order to think responsibly about discourse, we must investigate the grounds upon which we base notions, perceptions, interpretations, and representations of the self and the other that ultimately form discourse itself. In short, we must realize that the voices and representations of the self and the other cannot be thought of independently: the self and other cannot be separated empirically or epistemologically since the utterance — its interpretation and manifestation — incorporates both the body of knowledge, the history, from which it is born and discourse of the other to which the self addresses its monologic imperative.
Toward the end of his life, Bakhtin breaks the distinction between dialogue and monologue as he contends that one cannot exist without the other:
To what extent is a discourse purely single-voiced and without any objectal character, possible in literature? Can a discourse in which the author does not hear the other’s voice, in which there is no one but the author and all of the author, can such a discourse become the raw material of a literary work? Isn’t a certain degree of objectal character of necessary condition for any style? Doesn’t the author always find himself outside of language in its capacity as the material of the literary work? Isn’t every writer (even the purest lyric poet) always a “playwright” insofar as he distributes all the discourses among alien voices, including that of the “image of the author” (as well as the author’s other personae)? It may be that every single-voiced and nonobjectal discourse is naive and inappropriate to authentic creation. The authentically creative voice can only be a second voice in the discourse. Only the second voice — pure relation, can remain nonobjectal to the end and cast no substantial and phenomenal shadow (pp. 288-289).
Plato’s dialogues represent the the synthesis of monologic and dialogic discourse in that the “second voice”, the student’s voice, embodies the dialogic relation to the teachers, yet, its “nonobjectal” nature contributes to the monologic quality which ultimately reaffirms the author’s persona, Socrates the teacher. Plato’s dialogues demonstrate the impossibility of dividing the self and the other, the monologic from the dialogic, and, hence, they reveal the a monologic truth hidden and embedded within a dialogical process of truth-seeking. His dialogues attempt to evidence the necessity of discursive opposition and interaction and moreso, they demonstrate the necessary co-existant status of the self and the other which, through their interlocutionary discourse, can unearth “truths”.
Inasmuch as Plato pretends to remain outside of his dialogues, outside of discourse, he nonetheless is implicated with the architectronics of Power, within the construct of authorship, and within the discourse of philosophy (for Plato states that philosophy is a human activity). In examining Plato’s notion of dialogue, we see how his diegetic voice (Socrates’) dominates the mimetic discourse of Adeimantus — thus, we see how the dialogic premise is underwritten with monologic intent. Ultimately, Plato evidences the necessary synthesis or co-existence of the monologic moment within the dialogic moment and the interpolation of two contradictory discourses which through their communication ultimately allow for interaction of utterances, the exchanges of ideas, the unweaving of myths, and the exposure of epistemological flaws.
Thus, through his dialogues Plato gives us the model for “truth-seeking”, a new way of exercising true dialogic discourse — “truth” is a process of acknowledging the epistemological failures and inadequacies within discourse, failures which lead us to label something “Dialogue” in indelible ink, weaknesses which lead us to “truth” through a monologic end, not a dialogic process of auto-criticism and self-reflection within discourse. Dialogism is that which we do not know to be “true”, that which we further investigate, and that which we perpetually question. Dialogism is what allows us to examine what we “know” about the self and what we claim to know about the other through the necessary interaction, interpretation, and communication between the self and the other — it is what shatters the “/”, the barrier dividing the self/other dichotomy, allowing for knowledge to breed in the sphere between the self and the other instead of being uprooted from the allochronic gaze of the self. Dialogism is the process of questioning both our own monologism and the bodies of knowledge that are yielded from our own discourse that we so freely, so often, and so scientifically call “dialogic”. Dialogism, then, is the perpetual decomposition, shifting, and restructuring of discourse — dialogism is the danger, the very threat of epistemological deterioration, embodied within the act of questioning knowledge — it is the risk that we are not always willing to take.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Concerning Methodology in the Human Sciences”. The Aesthetics of Verbal Creation. Moscow: S. G. Bocharov, 1974.
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