“Don’t flatter yourself.”

Limits and Perspectives
on Dialogism in Mikhail Bakhtin

I think that’s what he said.

My memory is sketchy on the exact word, but the principle had something to do with a kind of misrepresentation. I think! It looks cruel written down but in the complexity of the moment I did not feel it unkindly, rather as a caution. We were talking about blogging…. why do I do it? How do I do it? (“Do you ever lie?” he asked.) No. I try to write honestly about whatever was/is the most important thing at the time. Or, more precisely – I write about what seems to me most important relative to the desired/intended audience at a given time. So I write now (Friday morning, a few hours before presenting) to the people attending this conference on Bakhtin. In my mind, also, are the people who attended the conference last week in Antwerp. I hope they are reading but I realize they probably aren’t – everyone is already massively committed to many important efforts and besides, the blog format seems “extra” anyway (doesn’t it?) – definitely less significant than a journal article or book.

I’m going to have stop now and
get ready, which means I won’t post this yet as there is
more I want to add.

A day later (Saturday morning)

“Does it take over your life?” He’s discovered a “horrid fascination” for blogging (not necessarily for bloggers?!) This morning, yes, I am compelled. There is a force of language in me that wants expression. I could ignore it: I have in the past. Nothing happened – no cataclysms or miracles, just another mundane unfolding of a regular day. Usually when I blog it is the same – nothing momentous occurs, no responses forthcome, the day unfolds more-or-less like any other day. Yet I am satisfied that in some small, unfinalizable way I have played my bit part in the human saga.

I made connections with people I want to continue and deepen. Take Lakshmi, for instance:

“We need to talk!”

Usually I’m the one approaching others with that very American overture! What a dinner conversation we had out on some small island in the middle of Only A Few Knew Where, punctuated by the occasional speaker who deigned to drift upstairs to bless us with a lesson in (highly gendered, ahem) Swedish drinking etiquette or a Swedish poem set to song. (Not bad Johan, not bad!)

I’d chased down Daphna because she knows Wilfred Bion – and who the heck knows him?! Lo-and-behold, one of her dear friends is Miriam – who I just met last week at a conference in Antwerp! (Centripetal force, anyone?) Lee Wah secured the most scenic view for the evening repast, and quickly convinced me that I need to take lessons from Che Husna Azhari, who is an expert in the art of telling without saying.
My notes from dinner include:

  • concept of rhythm = closure; loophole = opening
  • when to invoke history, when not to because it becomes a burden
  • necessity of periodic closures or no invention (?) – “periodic” because opens up again
  • polyphony
  • aesthetic mode of attack
  • dialogizing
  • crazy theory
  • Rabelais‘ body and Manausomeone‘s ghost
  • the only response is schizophrenia
  • the first suicide bombers were Sri Lankans
  • Mahabharata, how people ______ the past_____
  • the constitution of voices (plural) doesn’t automatically = dialogue
  • Tagore’s friendship with Gandhi and their public disagreements

If I had been able to write quickly enough I would have composed a story of these elements alone in an attempt at representing the wonderfully chaotic yet intensely unified stream of our conversation. Already, however, the dinner fades into the experience of the conference as a whole, interweaving in memory with myriad other interactions and stimuli.
After dinner, Lescek introduced me to a lovely toast, “to the health of heartful ladies” and Sissel bought me a jagermeister. (Here’s to you, Nick!) Jan, Margit, and Gunhild taught me that Norwegian is a tonal language (like Chinese!) and pronounced my paternal grandmother’s last name, Tarang. Hopefully I practiced the downward accent and upward lilt enough times to be able to reproduce it for my family! Apparently I also spoke with Steffan about a “social psychological something.” On the way to the bus, Magnus duly informed me, “It’s a little cold.” And someone negotiated permission to bring along his wine glass!
And then it was the last day.
Hopefully I will be able to put my hands on a copy of the paper on collective memory (and the other dozen papers I have reasonable certainty bear, in one way or another, either soon or somewhen, significance to my own endeavors). I need to give credit for a discussion facilitated by Eugenio about the different definitions of dialogue, which inspired me to state the meanings in my mind when I use the terms dialogic and to dialogue. (More accurately, by listening to the debate the meanings that I have been living cohered into a language I could trust to convey the intersubjective sense I hope to stimulate and experience.)
I am eager to read Professor Zinchenko’s paper and was thrilled by his visual representations of the chronotope. I found the last session a nicely-symmetric bookend to Michael’s opening address, one of those centripetal effects of language that cannot be planned – only embraced wholeheartedly when they unfold.

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