Hymes and Tedlock

Dell Hymes writes (2003):

“It might be a fair summary to say that Dennis is concerned most of all with the moment of performance, and I am much concerned with the competence that informs it. Dennis trusts most of all the speaking voice, I evidence of recurrent pattern.” p. 36

Hymes places the above discrete distinction in opposition with a polemical distortion:

“…the equation Tedlock : Hymes = pause : particle” (p. 37).

Is it too much to read this as a quintessential instance of the dilemma of quantum mechanics? Do these two erudite scholars represent the indeterminate two-sided-ness of language as energy (“moment”, “pause”) or language as matter (“competence”, “particle”)?
The other dynamic I’m observing in Hymes’ wonderful chapter, “Use All There Is To Use,” is a play between “dialectic” and “dialogue.” I am not sure if his narration follows an alternation pattern – it may. ­čÖé

  • discussing oral and written languages: “Here the dialectic between original and adaptation is acute” (p. 46).
  • re. the creativity of given storytellers in a particular historic circumstance: “The resources in such moments are not one’s voice and audience, but experience reflected upon, experience and stories acting upon each other” (p. 73).

This puts me in mind of a conversation a few weeks ago in class, about how graduate students can learn the academic system enough to succeed in it (as in finish with a degree) without being coopted by it (i.e., maintain resistance to certain forms of hegemony).
One cannot avoid co-optation. Whatever forms of resistance practiced are absorbed dialectically by the institution by a social version of Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The discrepancy that often prevents recognition of the equality of opposing force, is that there are not equal and opposite effects. The harder we resist, the harder the institution pushes back. Since it is way bigger than us, we usually get squashed.
I say “usually”, because there is an art (that can be learned) of switching from the particle-based dialectics of “reaction” to the time/energy-sensitive dialogics of “effect.” Social change occurs when the reactions of equal and opposite forces are met with an alternative that breaks the dialectical pattern. Storytellers who adapt their narratives to fit the social circumstances operate in vertical, contiguous time; those who insist on the same narratives (or discourses, as the case may be) operate in metaphors, substituting one dialectic for the next (no dialogue).
Dialogues can become patterned too (just like story narratives), enacting representations of larger discourses, repeating the social dialectic just as effectively as the repetition of unchanged stories. When one recognizes this is happening, it’s time to change up again. Institutions are not designed to adapt to such live fluctuations; hence the individuals who practice them are always and forever at risk.

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