living in liminality

I was challenged (by Robin), during my comps defense, concerning what I gain from distinguishing between dialogue and dialectic. Established philosophy considers the dialogic a subset of the dialectic. At the most abstract theoretical level, this is no doubt the case, but – as I tried to argue – the way academics use the term “dialectic” leads more to the re-creation of already-established hierarchies of relationships rather than to any kind of change in them. Constant labeling of “the dialectic” or application of “dialectical” to particular patterns reifies those patterns, re-constructs them in social reality.
The distinction between the dialogic and dialectic is apparent – and relevant – phenomenologically. Just as we discussed in class last night concerning categorical distinctions between “the everyday” and “the performative” – the crucial factors are agency and knowledge. In the everyday, we operate within the boundaries of accepted dialectics, take these as given and unremarkable (even if they suck). In the performative, the boundaries themselves are brought into view. No one knows what is going to happen as an effect or outcome of the performance. Will there be uptake? Fallout? Reification? Change?
The remarkable Xavante continually invent “new modes of interaction with dominant society.” Anthropologist Laura Graham argues their creativity is a direct outcome of the Xavante’s unique cultural form of performing dreams. These communal, marked performances reify the knowledge of Xavante empowerment and agency in the world. In effect, the Xavante confirm a dialectical structure that places themselves at the center of everything that happens – not as victims but as the cause of the circumstances. Their internal dialectic (of socially constructed, language-based, narrative performance) provides such a source of cultural (group) stability that the Xavante can engage in dialogue with a world of constant, unpredictable, and bizarre change. While we (outsiders to the culture) may perceive larger dialectical relationships that (in our version of reality) lend a dubious cast to the Xavante’s perception of reality: the fact of the matter is that

the Xavante are still Xavante.

The Xavante insist on dialogue with the rest of the world: keeping everybody guessing. 🙂
The relational liminality is the relevant difference between dialectics and dialogue. As long as we operate in a dialectical frame, we have confidence in structure. The form of the relationships is more-or-less known – even when we are caught off guard the logic is accessible. Our identity remains intact, and we can go on according to established habits and rhythms. If we enter the dialogic, however, the phenomenology shifts dramatically. Now, the future is wide-open. Not limitless, but the limits are beyond familiarity, the awareness of risk exceeds perceptions of safety.
At this point, conclusions are unapprehendable.

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