The Metadialogistic Dimensions of Dialogue

Intra and interpersonal communication occurs in and through language and other semiotic resources.  Unfortunately, mainstream linguistics has been monological and belongs to rationalism, with a tinge of empiricism and hallowed objectivism going all the way from Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Frege to Chomsky. This has affected our understanding of the self and the other relation and often dialogue is construed on a false ideal of a uniform starting point.  These approaches to dialogue have their merits but we need dialogical linguistics to bring about an authentic dialogue. Such a dialogical dialogue has to consider both langue and parole that forms the basic structure of language. This means we need to stay open to the semiotic dimensions of dialogue.  This will assist us to accept asymmetries, fuzziness and entanglements in the process of dialogical dialogue.   Hence, we strive to open the linguistic and semiotic resources and open us to the aesthetic, psychic and political dimensions of dialogue. This takes us into a field that might be called metadialogistic in character.  This study attempts to delve into the metadialogistic domains of dialogue and try to open us the asymentries involved and attempt to trace responses to the same.

Linguistic and Semiotic Resources of Dialogue

All dialogue occurs in and through language. It is profoundly a semiotic process.  Often, the linguistic theory that underpins dialogue may enhance or inhibit it. It is in the dynamic process of languaging that dialogue occurs. We can discern the linguistic process that operates as a force to unify and centralise the verbal-ideological world for us.

Languaging and the monolingual

Unitary language is not given but is an effect of languaging. It is dynamically political and at every moment of its social life operates as a homogenising force opposed to realities of heteroglossia.  It strives to tame the heterologot within us.  The centrifugal force of unitary language assists in process of socio-cultural and political centralisation.  It seems to become the victory of one true Word, the logos which civilizes the barbarian tongues of the lower strata in a society.  This movement to one proto-language becomes a politics of silencing of other voices. Thus, the unitary language operates in the midst of heteroglossia. Fortunately, the centri-petal force cannot fully be subdued by the centri-fugal force. But the unitary language being reductive remains blind to this inherent failure and forgets that the centri-petal forces inherent to languaging continuously interrupt and disrupt the linguistic process.[1] This means unitary language remains ideologically enslaved to a monologue. This approach looks upon polyphony as abnormal and focuses on monarchical singular meaning which is stable. It can be also viewed as linguistic monism. [2]  From this point of view, dialogue would be mere exchange of stable verbal meanings in search of understanding always conditioned by the fear of the tower of Babel.



Dynamic view and language worlds

The atomist-adamic view of language is chiefly based on the nominal view of language. We do have non-atomist view of language. These theories model language on the basis of   other parts of speech and move towards the centri-fugal force in the sociolinguistic and  ideological life.  Some take verbs as their basis while others base themselves on prepositions to construct their theories of language.  The verbally based theories think the words not as static and fixed but view them as opening dynamic processes. A theory that is based on the preposition clearly lays its emphasis on the relational dimension of language.  In this context, we can trace the relational differential identities in the work of Ferdinand Saussure. [3]Besides the above two, we find a fusion of words and entities in the theory of Ernest Cassier who teaches that language performs a mediating function between us and the entities in the world. The view taken to its extremes leads to the denial of the referent of the words and denies all extra-linguistic excess to the world.  Thus, language performs the function of mediating the world to us. Indeed, these kind of theories teach that language constructs our world. Dialogue, therefore brings two language worlds together and becomes dependent on the complex permeability of the two.  Hence, dialogue becomes deeply political, disruptive and diversal.

Dialogic utterance

Every concrete utterance brings together both the centri-petal (unitary) and centri-fugal forces. They stay side by side. Alongside verbal ideological centralization and unification, the dynamic and uninterrupted processes of decentralization and disunification move ahead.  These forces intersect in every utterance. It is only in this active participation in the heteroglossia that we can trace   the semantic profile of any utterance. This means the environment in which the utterance lives and takes shape is a dialogised heteroglossia.  This attention to the dialogised heteroglossia thus, teaches us that in the act of utterance, the word with its virginal and unuttered nature plunges into the inexhaustible wealth of heteroglossia.  This means the virginal fullness of the utterance confronts the inexhaustibly of heteroglossia.[4] It  is within this heteroglossia that the utterance weaves its background to let its virgin voice be heard. That is why we have said that specific utterance emerges through the dialogised heteroglossia[5]. Hence, dialogue is always a duologue and never closes into a monologue and begins even before the first virgin utterance is made. This means dialogue remains a duologue or even becomes a polylogue all through its expressive and semantic levels. Thus, the word is born within a dialogue and never lives in a non-unitary environment. Hence, asymmetries always stay alive in any process of dialogue.

Intertextual dynamism of Meaning

Most theorists admit that texts do not have any independent meaning. The act of extracting meaning plunges us into a network of textual relations. Thus, meaning is drawn through a reading that is moving between texts.  That is why dialogue also has a profound intertextual relation.

Anagrammatized text

Ferdinand Saussure happened to discover how one text entered another text.  He claimed that he had unearthed an ancient Indo-European poetic tradition that produced a verse by anagram.  He pointed out that several texts in this tradition like the verse of Rig-Veda appear to have been constructed in accordance with the acoustic (phonological) composition of the key word generally the name (of the divinity) which is usually never mentioned. The remaining words were carefully chosen so that the sounds (phonemes) of the key word were repeated with certain regularity.[6] Though Saussure could not establish that sheer chance may have not played a role in  anagrammatizing the text, his  discovery  becomes a graphic  model that indicates how one text enters another text.   It becomes a point that opens us to the manner in which another outside (often hidden) text can organize, structure and modify the order of elements in a text.  This means the poetic signified refers back to other discursive signified in such a manner that several other discourses become legible with a poetic article.  That is, around the poetic signified a multiple textual space is created whose elements can be inserted in the concrete poetic text.  This textual space is called intertextual.  It is at this intertextual space that several alien discourses can intersect and explode in a text. That is why no dialogue is a monologue and ever remains intertextual.

Texturing the text

Every text has psychological, social and stylistic overtones.  Understanding of the linguistic utterances require the role of memory.  This brings us to the texture of the text.  Texture discloses the meaning of the text as a comprehensive scenario whose signification is always richer in details than   the sum total of the parts. This means texture of an utterance includes along with the scenario of the situation itself and comprehensive of its ‘speech situation’.[7]  The ‘speech situation’ includes the speech genre, the profiles of the speakers and their addressees and a peculiar social and psychological atmosphere that gives rise to and sustains specific utterances.[8]  This means the notion of texture of the text keeps the meaning of the text undecided and open.  The meaning is constructed in the manner it is presented and always remains embedded in a discourse or set of discourses. Besides, meaning is generated in part by the implicit understanding of who has uttered the utterance and to whom it is addressed, under what mode and under what circumstances and with what effect.  Therefore, the texture   of a text opens us to its intertextual potentials.  The texture of the text assists us to understand how a text is impregnated by other texts and discourses. Thus, the texture indicates that text is a practice and is productive. Therefore, the texture of the text, which shapes the utterances in all dialogical contexts, remains dynamic and productive.

Encrypting the text

There remains the unsaid in everything said.  Pain, trauma and fear impede us and we cannot fully express ourselves.  Jean Francois Lyotard draws this inability to our attention in the context of the holocaust. He conceptualizes the atrocity of the holocaust as discursive deadlock where language and narrative representation can no longer express the horror.[9] This brings us to the psychic dimension of the text.  It points out to the presence of an absence which defies representation and which highlights the inability to narrate it in one’s own words. In some way, there is a castration of the text and both the writer and the reader fail to arrive at the full mastery of the text. Thus, we have an encrypted extra communicative but non-articulatable dimension in the text. This makes it possible for us to listen to the unsaid hovering over what is said.    The unsaid in the said makes room for the story of the muted and the ignored.  Thus, there is a presence of an absence in a text, particularly one that deals with pain and trauma. This means that the presence of an absence in a text becomes a way of mourning for the writer who encrypts his/her trauma into the text and traps the reader into an intense involvement. Hence, there is an ethical appeal to read differently and read whole. Within this train of thought, we have to pay attention to the unsaid and the unsayable in the context of dialogue.

Aesthetics and Reconfiguration of Meaning

There is a distribution of the sensible in our society.  It is a system of division and boundaries that define what is visible and audible within the specific aesthetico-political regime. This means who speaks and with what consequence and who listens with what impact in a context of the dialogue is both enabled and constrained by the aesthetico-political regime at play.

Mimesis and the Aesthetic-political Regime

Humans are aesthetically driven and naturally accept the aesthetic-political regime reining in the society. An aesthetico-political regime distributes sensible in a specific society. The distribution of the sensible is profoundly political and as such also distributes power and constructs and maintains power equations and relations in our society. Although, the aesthetico-political field may have several possibilities, we occupy the space allotted by the reigning aesthetic-political regime.  Thus, we often submit to the distribution of the sensible that delimits the sayable and determines the relation between the seeing, hearing, doing and thinking. The distribution of  the sensible is mimicked and reproduced in our society often without interrogating it.  The aesthetic-political regime lends itself for participation and we align with it by taking a position assigned to us.  As a space assigned to us, it is profoundly political and determines how we are  to participate in the common life of our society.[10] The attention to the aesthetico-political regime at work in our society is important because it delimits the spaces and times, the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise that simultaneously determines the place and stakes of politics as a form of experience.  Since dialogue is subjected to a reining aesthetic-political regime, this analysis is inevitable for us to understand how dialogue is enabled and constrained by it.

Contesting the Choreography of Society

Humans are aesthetically oriented but are not enslaved by it. They do not uncritically dance to the tunes of the aesthetico-political regime that subjects them.  They can contest the choreographic form that emerges through the aesthetic-regimes. Although, the choreographic form inscribes a sense of community, it is possible for humans to contest its order. This possibility of contestation introduces the politics into any society.  This means politics is the interrogation of the distribution of the sensible.  It is refusal to mimic the choreography of a society. It calls for a redistribution of space and time.[11]  Politics is therefore transgressive and strives to redistribute power in our society.  The appointment and allotment of space and time by the reining aesthetico-political order is over turned by  dissensus  of the political response which provokes transformation in the distribution of the sensible. Hence,  Dissensus is not just disagreement with the discursive formation. It is challenge to the reining distribution of the sensible and proposal for a re-arrangement of the sensible. It contests what can be seen; who is allowed to speak and hold power and attempts to bring about a new distribution of the same.  Dialogue of any kind has to understand dissensus and dissent not as a mere disagreement but an interrogation of the reigning aesthetico-political regime. Hence, dissent and dissensus and not just mere consensus are sacred for dialogue.

Ethics and the Aesthetico-political Regime

All political approaches and positions have their aesthetics. Aesthetics can sometimes be seductive and has to be guided by ethics. Often aestheticization of the political can be both good and evil. The power of aesthetics cannot be dismissed in politics. In some way aesthetics  contests our tendency to reduce politics to being rational alone. Hence, we can see that there is an ethics embedded within all aesthetic orientations and can expose political practices that have ceased to look oppressive by the force of habit.  Thus for instance, the form of power in any democratic society remains indeterminate. With the beheading of the King in France, power remains empty. Power can only be represented as it has the people as it source and cannot be co-substantial like that of the king of the past.  The political is the flesh of the society and simultaneously appears and is occulted. It remains veiled in the visible.  This means power remains disembodied and is perpetually contested.  But by force of habit we think that power is enfleshed by certain leaders and families alone. But aesthetics presents such dynastic politics as regressive and   indicates a decadence of our democracy.  Thus, aesthetics introduces ethics into the political.[12] In the same manner, aesthetics can introduce ethics for or against the reigning aesthetico-political regime at work in diverse contests of dialogue.  The ethics that is embedded within an aesthetical regime becomes a mode of life but also stands in need of critical scrutiny.  Thus, this will assist us to resist our temptation to reproduce the status quo by just following the principles of mimesis.

The Synchronic Dialogue

Dialogue is not merely a practice of reason and logos.  There are hermeneutical, linguistic, emotive, aesthetical, epistemic, theological and political dimensions that are inter-twined and keep inter-texting in the process of dialogue. All these dimensions are synchronically present in the process of dialogue.

Listening to the Aesthetic and Mimetic in Dialogue

Mimesis is often viewed as a strategy of resistance.  Thinkers like Theodore Adorno and Luce Irigaray consider mimesis as the central strategy of resistance.  Mimesis, here, enters a realm of creative imitation. This means there is a politics and aesthetics of mimesis.  The resistance is creatively dawn by blurring the boundary between the signified and the signifier.  It draws us to the tension between the represented and the representation. The painting of the pipe is not the pipe but simply an artistic representation. In some way the act of mimesis becomes a point of rupture and points to the fact that resemblance and repetition is an illusion.  Within this train of thought, we need to understand how an invitation to dialogue becomes a call for mimesis. Each group, individual, and community in dialogue chiefly follows the principles of mimesis and aesthetics which brings about the recognition of those involved in dialogue.  While those involved in dialogue seek recognition, they may use mimesis as a tool of resistance and the dialogue may be in for a discordant harmony. It is challenging to accommodate these traversing and transgressing insights that can co-exist in the very process of dialogue.  The dialogue that masks and hides this rough side that co-exists in the dialogical context cannot be authentic and may be blinded by conscious or unconscious concerns driven primarily by the aesthetic qualities of the dialogue.

Listening to the Peformative and Constative  Sides of Words

Meaning can no longer be thought through positivist and essentialist modes of analysis.  Often meaning dynamically erupts, disrupts and even corrupts our signification processes. We have to focus on the performativity of meaning in the context of dialogue. Language strives to effect action.  Words can be productive and performative.[13]  Mostly linguistics has been constative in its orientation. Such an approach views the words through a static lens tracing stable patterns, structures and rules. But there is  a dynamic side of the words. Dialogical dialogue requires us to listen to both the constative and performative sides of words.  There are extralinguistic   effects particularly   on the receivers engaged in a verbal communication.  The context of dialogue often reiterates as well as iterates and lends itself to performative construction of one’s identity.[14] The performative construction of identity can open us to even hybridization of the self through the dynamic engagement in the dialogue.  Hence, the process of dialogue can become profoundly transformative. Dialogue may become performative.  It often brings into being what it names.  There is no identity outside language and discourse.   The context of dialogue becomes a signifying practice and may become identity performative.   Indeed, in a  dialogical context, most utterances  remain in a high degree  of performative mode.

Listening to Silence in Dialogue

Silence speaks. It often articulates that which cannot be easily articulated. Besides this, there is silence that required for any dialogue.  Silence becomes the background for dialogue to occur. There is also the silence of listening that each partner in dialogue keeps to listen to the other. That is why we have to admit that these different forms of silences are co-present to and co-constitute all dialogic processes.  Sometimes the depth and nature of silence can present an imperative to make a new beginning and dialogue can become a catharsis.  Such intense catharsis lifts the dialogue to become therapeutic. Hence, silence is not mere absence of speech in a process of dialogue. We   have the challenge to listen to the way silence announces itself through dialogue.  Indeed, silence has a way of announcing its own happening. Silence is an event. Often, the context of dialogue can produce affects[15] that can induce silence that can threaten the very nature of dialogue.   Affect does have an ability to interrupt, disrupt and derail the direction of dialogue. But it also provides room for the dialogue to take a therapeutic turn. It is important to discern the emergence of affect.   Articulacy is unable to tolerate the silence of affect. Hence, we need to put our ears on the ground and discern the affect that stays beneath the sound, shame and form of dialogue. This means we need to listen to the manner in which affect can inhabit articulated parts of dialogue and decode how it can behave like an hidden guest  or an outside within and initiate responses that will heal the process of dialogue.


Asymmetries and Dialogue 

Dialogue being dynamic and intertwined with several factors that we have so far considered cannot be understood as a linear process. There is complexity and non-linearity embedded into the entire process of dialogue. Although, we often want to align it to logic of equivalence that levels down and make smooth the rough edges, it often gets entangled in logic of difference driven by a mimetic desire to become the other of the same.  Unfortunately, somehow we seem to be uncomfortable with asymmetries that emerge in the process of dialogue. But authentic dialogue requires us to face these issues squarely.

Strange Attractors and Dialogue

The notion of strange attractors comes from the complex non-linear system.  It refers to a pattern of cyclical dynamic motion towards which a system tends when it responds to external stimuli which somehow disturbs its internally determined processes.  The systems when considered over period of time are seemingly attracted towards a pattern even at any given time the system appears to be behaving randomly.  An oscillating pendulum that comes to rest at a point that finds a balance between the force of gravity and friction that it is subjected to is an instance of simple a attractor operating on a linear system. A linear system can be described by the summation of a system’s functions. But this is not the case with complex dynamic systems. These systems can be described by considering the interaction of the components of the system and between the system and the environment in which it is placed.[16]  Psychoanalysis has been already applied to understand the complexities of psychic processes of our mind.  Just like non-linear dynamic systems behave in sudden, disruptive and unpredictable manner so also the evolution of process of dialogue   cannot be plotted in a straight line and may not also be continuous, proportional and predictable. This means process of dialogue might be moving towards several points of attraction that is not foreseen by the agents engaged with it.  The several values towards which a dynamic system is moving are called strange attractor(s). Since there are multiple values, we may use the term space instead of point when we speak of strange attractor. The process of dialogue will have several unpredictable potential attractors and may finally settle towards one or more strange attractor(s).  This means there is a fuzzy side to dialogue.  Hence, dialogue may not always have a single point of closure.

Sources of Self and Dialogue

Dialogue is a conversation which begins from the familiar and move to the unfamiliar territory.  It is a movement into a space where one’s identity is questioned and demands a certain degree of mutual conversion of the partners in dialogue.  Often dialogue opens wounds and we have to proceed through an encounter of empathy rather than through confrontation of the past.  Such a dialogue is able to encounter the other as other, different as different and does not demand a mime of any sameness of the partner in dialogue.  This means the other in dialogue constantly challenges the sources of our self and often there is a temptation to treat the other as no different and the other is treated as what David Tracy calls ‘projected other’[17] engaged in the process of dialogue.  Dialogue in a way becomes an interrogation and therefore is discomforting and often is domesticated as presenting a masked self encountering a projected other. This means the hermeneutics of honesty is often sacrificed and what we have is a plastic dialogue that fails to touch our reality.  The rupture that dialogue threatens is an invitation to integration. Dialogue discloses the other as well as interrogates the sources of our self and challenges us to accept ourselves as well as the other, the partner in dialogue.  The asymmetries in dialogue are sometimes caused by our narcissism that often introduces a masked self encountering a projected (demonized) other.

Dialogue and Pathos

All givenness is inter-givenness. This means our facticity is inter-facticity. All dialogue is guided by a profound spirit of (em)pathos.  But often such (em)pathos is difficult to come and unhealed wounds of the past  disturb the process of dialogue.  Hence, the process of dialogue may be afflicted by trauma seeking healing through a cycle of repetitions. These cycles of repetition of trauma and series of defence mechanisms often reveal a deeply pathological narcissism affecting people engaged in dialogue.  Pathos doubles up when shame and humiliation add on a new burden upon an already trauma afflicted people. In such situations, dialogue has to simultaneously become therapeutic otherwise dialogue in every guise and form is doomed to fail.  Trauma, shame and humiliation introduce blocks and asymmetries in process of dialogue.  But these asymmetries can be potential starting points that can challenge us to build therapeutic dialogues.  Authentic dialogue is the only therapeutic solution to the pathos that afflicts our society.  This requires an intense listening. Such a listening exhorts us to listen to the unsaid and the unsayable in everything that is said.  Pathos speaks through what is said and what remains unsaid in everything that is said in the context of a dialogue. This active listening is the basic ingredient of therapeutic dialogue that is characterised by openness and stays in saying and not closes onto a said.


This journey into the metadialogistic dimensions of dialogue has opened us several widows to look at the finer aspects of dialogue. It has brought us to face the subtle asymmetries that cohabit the process of dialogue and has opened for us ways of addressing several of them. It has challenged us to transform the process of dialogue into a therapy.  There is an ethical imperative to enter into dialogue to heal and integrate everyone.

[1] See M.M Bakhtin, The dialogic Imagination: Four Essays , Ed.Micheal Hoquist, trans. Carly Emerson and Michael Holquist (London: University of Texas Press, 1981), pp 269-271.

[2]  Aniket Jaawre, Simplifications: An introduction to Structuralism and Post-structuralism (Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan 2009), pp. 68-80.

[3] See Ibid, pp. 114-137.

[4] See M.M Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, p. 278.

[5] See Graham Allen, Intertextuality (London: Rutledge, 2007), pp.14-30.

[6] Mikhail Lampolski, The Memory of Tiresias: Intertexuality and Film ( Berkley: University of California Press, 1998), pp 16-18.

[7] Boris Gasparov, Speech, Memory and Meaning: Intertextuality in Everyday Language (Gottingen: Hubert and Co. GmbH and Co. K.G, 2010, 2010), pp.4-8.

[8]  Ibid.

[9] Christine Van Boheeman Saaf , Joyce, Derrida and Lacan and the Trauma of History: Reading, Narrative and Postcolonialism (Cambridge : the Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp.2-3.

[10] See Roland Bleikar, Aesthetic and World Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 18-23.

[11] See Ibid 24-26.

[12] See Ibid, p. 26.

[13] See Douglas Robinson, Perfomative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things with Words (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 3-18.

[14] See accessed on 21/02/2017.

[15] Affect is an experience without content. It indicates to the mind that something has happened and not what happened.  It becomes a witness that something happened without being able to speak of its nature. Affects occurs in silence or as silenced and remains pre-discourse.

[16]  James Rose, “strange Attractor”, in  James Rose and Graham Shulman,Eds.,  The Non-linear Min: Psychoanalysis of Complexity in  Psychic Life (London: Karnac, 2016), pp 7-15.

[17] Joseph Redfield Palmisano, Beyond the Walls: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Edith Stein on the Significance of Empathy for Jewish Christian Dialogue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 11.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao