A Dream of Reason II. Part 4 Entering from the Act of Writing and the Notion of Dialogue

Entering from the Act of Writing and the Notion of Dialogue (2000) 
1. Opening

Dialogue, with its openness and equality, is a species of human connection. It is not limited to persons and literary texts. Personal-interpersonal patterns in all realms (e.g., intrapsychic, intergroup) can participate in dialogue.

Dialogue recognizes, accepts, and struggles to mediate, the tension between unity and diversity.



Dialogue operates in these essays as a “pure communicative form,” a ground of foundational reconstruction, an organizing metaphor, a generically human determinate processing potentiality, a strategy of inquiry, an explanatory principle, a disciplinary model, an ethical imperative, and a principle of institutional organization.

Dialogue can be relevantly contrasted to, among other patterns, monologial discourse, “context bound existence,” lowest common denominator simplifications, “the machine principle,” neopositivism, and assertions of absolute human actualization.


As a principle of institutional organization, dialogue can be contrasted to mass patterns, tyranny and bureaucracy. Dialogue and bureaucracy avoid the direct explicit rule of violence. They resist unexamined tradition and lowest common denominator simplifications. Bureaucracy would identify “rank” with knowledge. Dialogue would “bracket” differences in class, status and power.


As I am in the act of writing, I focus on communicative form. I agree with Alan Blum and Peter McHugh that if the decision “to renounce monologial form for dialogue…is to be something other than an abstracted critique of the failures of the others, it must occur and show itself within the work” (91).

Everything depends upon the question of what constitutes excellent discourse as a question that cannot be settled without raising (it)… in the discourse itself…renunciation is only exegetical and abstract when it is not embodied in the narrative practice. (Idem.)

The primary “literary form” of these essays is dialogue.

2.Recognizing Dialogue

2.1. Dialogue qua Dialogue


X is dialogical in so far as:

  1. “Participants” are not entirely shaped by their contextual (e.g., “system”) requirements.
  2. Participants unique existence, autonomy and “existential/historical resonance” are respected.
  3. Influence is reciprocal.
  4. Order is not dominated by hierarchies of abstraction and inclusion (e.g., class and subclass, theme and subtheme, plot and subplot).
  5. “Earned incompleteness” (i.e., incompleteness that survives an authentic attempt at resolution) is welcome as potentially fruitful “openness.”
  6. Action is invited to develop new contexts for itself.
  7. Relevant tensions (e.g., between unity and diversity, between uniqueness and universality) are engaged.


William Desmond:

The metaxological relation has to do with a discourse concerning the middle, of the middle and in the middle. Thus it has a close affinity with the dialectical relation in as much as this may involve dialogue…. For, like the dialectical relation, the metaxological relation affirms that the self and the other are neither absolutely the same nor absolutely different. But, unlike the dialectical, it does not confine the mediation of external difference on the side of the self. The other, as much as the self, may be internally differentiated…. hence it to can enter the middle space between itself and the self and from there mediate, after its own manner, their external difference. The intermediation of the metaxological relation grounds an open community of self and other…. Beyond mere unity, beyond sheer many ness, beyond many ness within a single unity, it entails a community of full unities, each of which is inexhaustibly manifold within itself. (p.7)

We posit for purposes of inquiry that our life together and apart is “naturally” dialogical and that dialogue is, whatever else it also is, borderline discourse and multicentered co creation.

In our life together and apart the borderline (i.e., the place of interplay and ambiguity) is central.

2.2. Dialogue as a Pure Communicative Form


Writing on Plato, Rosemary Desjardans:

Given the problem of the ambiguity of language, and the need to move from surface to deep-level meaning, it is hardly surprising that the first step in a dialogue’s development usually requires that one be shaken from a complacent kind of satisfaction with the surface of language and forced to recognize that language does not transparently and unequivocally mean. (116)

The easy flow of unexamined traditional connection is challenged in struggle for the necessary word.

Dialogue is open to spontaneous gestures, to surprises and to the full resources of language (e.g., to image, narrative and explicit fiction as well as direct exposition).


Platonic patterns relevant to dialogue as a pure communicative form include:

  1. Themes are not only presented. They are also textually “enacted.”
  2. Fruitful digression with its interplay of “hidden harmony [and] unresolved discord and deviation” (Brombough, p.85) is welcome.
  3. The whole person is addressed.
  4. Discourse is reflexive…. “Awareness-in-the-act” is crucial.
  5. Unique existence, personal and historical, asserts itself in “the pale skeletal kingdom of the universal.”
  6. Every incorporated shaping pattern (e.g., “voice,” “perspective,” “position,” “identity”) is open to examination and critique. (They are at risk.)


Dialogue struggles to recognize and deal justly with all relevant claims and voices. It struggles to recognize, articulate and respect unity in diversity. It struggles for non-repressive order.

Dialogues are complex ecologies.… Openness and balance are crucial. Dancing, swimming and the flight of birds are relevant metaphors.

3.On the Suppression in Sociology of Dialogue as a Pure Communicative Form

Sociology and psychology, unlike art, attack creativity at its roots by enforcing unexamined lowest common denominator, hierarchically ordered, directly expository, prosaic, writing. This rules out dialogue…. George Axelrod explores the effect of this bias on the reception of Georg Simmel’s sociology.

All the topics that Simmel concerns himself with are related in some manner to the dialogical tension between the individual and the group…it should not surprise us then that his writing becomes the medium through which he experiences the tension between himself and his community, and the medium through which he struggles for his individuality. (p.46)

Simmel’s critics feel no obligation to formulate the standard by which they criticize his work. They experience fragmentation or disunity as such negative characteristics…that no further explanation is required. (p.37)

Neither sociology-psychology nor politics should be limited to an either/or choice between rigid subordination of “the part” to “the whole” or chaos.

4.Towards a Generative problematic (2001)


The struggle for intimate knowledge of self and other (i.e., in Buber’s terms, “I-Thou” communication) is a generative problematic of dialogue: one would understand participants for their own sake and “in their own terms” not only as means towards external goals (e.g. not only as material to embody a social order and/or actualize an absolute).[1]


Dialogue shapes and is shaped by co-constitutive problems of reason including:

  1. Mediation between opposed positions through persuasion, without recourse to violence and without ceding ultimate authority to tradition.
  2. Struggle for self- knowledge (e.g., for transparency).
  3. Discovery -invention and actualization of disciplinary potentialities.
  4. Recognition and preservation of unity in and through diversity.


In “sociability,” as interpreted by Simmel, interaction is for its own sake and themes appear in play form. All interests and passions are present yet distanced: in this enchanted realm one does not flirt in order to seduce.

Dialogue is sociability at its closest conjunction with “disciplinary” life.

4.4. (1998)

As positions and situations differentiate, the order of life that contains them no longer operates as the unquestioningly taken for granted ground of existence. An abstracted ideal of totality competes with other ideals. Totality becomes a partial vision and “a special interest.”

Dialogue is within the tension between unique existence and the passion for totality.

The struggle to regain the personal-interpersonal balance of tribal communal existence on level after level of increasing complexity is a crucial historical dynamic.

Dialogue is an “exile home” in which the dream of a community adequate to human potentiality is nourished and lives on.

5.The Dialogue of Harmonious Discontinuity (1996)


The Socratic dialogue with its coherent characters, narrative fluency and dramatically appropriate historically accurate settings is the literary form through which our life together and apart first explicitly sought to comprehend itself through the mediation of theoretical reason.

The Socratic dialogue is not available to me as a useable literary form. (Perhaps it is only at its first emergence from immediate lived existence and “all mothering myth” that theory can exist so gracefully within the spoken language of everyday life.) [2]


The Socratic dialogue emerged within the Greek discovery-invention of dramatic form. Is there now a relevant communicative form? I suggest “the modern poetic sequence” as formulated by M.L. Rosenthal and Sally Gall. Modern poetic sequences are “fragmented, self-analytic, open” (16). There is “intimate reciprocity” (95) within and between units.

We designate our proposed extended form “the modern dialogue of harmonious discontinuity.”


Many disciplines contribute to the modern dialogue of harmonious discontinuity.

Poets cited by Rosenthal and Gall include Poe, Dickinson, Whitman, Yeats, Pound, Elliot, Stevens, and Williams.

Prose fiction, with its interplay of “characters,” is naturally dialogical… Exploration of streams of consciousness in flow (e.g., Joyce) and stagnation (e.g., Beckett) deepens dialogical potentialities.

Because anthropology focuses on “the other” its texture is naturally discontinuous. Yet this potentiality is opposed by “scientism.”[3]

Relevant non-anthropological explicitly theoretical authors include Nietzsche and Kierkegard. – The only professional sociologist who comes to mind is Simmel…. In psychology, perhaps William James and Freud.

Relevant projects in the art of painting include:

  1. Construction of alternative anatomies and spatial orders (e.g., Picasso, Braque, Gris, Severini, Matta).
  2. Cross-cultural intertranslation (e.g., the influence of Japanese prints on Manet, Vuillard, Bonnard, Lautrec and Van Gogh).
  3. Multi-level interplay between personal creativity and the mass-produced “ready made” (e.g., Marcel Duchamp, – collage in Max Ernst, Picasso, Bearden).
  4. Liberation of traditionally silenced voices (e.g., Morisot, Kollowitz, O’Keefe, Kahlo, Neel – Tanner, Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, – Orozco, Rivera, Tamayo, – Gauguin, Picasso, Jimmy Ernst).
  5. Insertion of dreams and of madness into “the common world” (e.g., Redon, Carrington, Dubuffet, Ensor, Max Ernst, Picasso,).


The modern dialogue of complementary discontinuity welcomes interreflecting fragments and personas. It invites diverse styles. (A dialogical sociology-psychology would end the repression of personal voice in contemporary sociology and psychology.) – It is “multicultural”: relevant voices, male and female, past and present, from “east” and “west,” from post-industrial and industrial orders of life, from agriculturally based kingdoms, from farming and from hunting and gathering tribes are invited to appear.

As the dialogue of complementary discontinuity engages reason it “works through” new requirements, processes, procedures, and self-understandings (e.g., it strives for the formal intimacy of “transparency”).

We designate the modern dialogue of complementary discontinuity in its direct relevance to theoretical reason “the dialogue of integrated fragments.”

We interpret the modern poetic sequence with its “radiant centers” (Rosenthal, p.11) of “emotionally and sensually charged awareness” (Ibid, 8), and the dialogue of integrated fragments as autonomous forms and as two species of the dialogue of complementary discontinuity.

This manuscript is a dialogue of integrated fragments.
Continue Reading Avron Soyer’s A Dream of Reason III. Wild Flowers, Opening, and The Unnatural Bird Song of My Kind


[1] In direct inquiry, tension between the instrumental use of other authors and the I-Thou openness of dialogue can be fruitfully mediated but not entirely eliminated.

[2] In the sociological tradition the distinction between “cultural patterns” available and unavailable for use is made by, among others, Pitirim Sorokin, Talcott Parsons and Alfred Schutz.

[3] We borrow the term “scientism” from F.A. Hayek. He remarks:

It need scarcely be emphasized that nothing we shall have to say is aimed against the methods of science in their proper sphere or is intended to throw the slightest doubt on their value. But to preclude any misunderstanding on this point we shall, wherever we are concerned not with the general spirit of disinterested inquiry but with slavish imitation of the method and language of science, speak of “scientism” or the “scientisic” prejudice. (15)


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