Sunday, January 20, 2013

Boundaries and the Dialogic

The included middle of Lupasco and Nicolescu gives me a convenient handle for understanding Edgar Morin's concept of the dialogic, which I first encountered in his book On Complexity but which is also discussed in his Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future (1999) and in his article The Reform of Thought, Transdisciplinarity, and the Reform of the University (in Nicolescu's Transdisciplinarity: Theory and Practice, 2008).

Dialogic is a form of thinking and talking that allows us to juxtapose antagonistic points of view without seeking to resolve them in a reductionist, Hegelian dialectic that simply moves "beyond contradictions through synthesis" (Reform of Thought, 26). As Morin explains it, dialogic "allows us to connect ideas within ourselves that are thrown back on each other" and allows us to contemplate "the necessary and complementary presence of antagonistic process or instances." Morin gives the profound examples of Life and Death, which are as antagonistic as is possible and yet which are both bound up with the other. Indeed, Reality unfolds as the constant engagement and interaction of Life with Death, and the one does not make sense without the other, and yet they are still antagonistic. Order and Disorder are similar antagonistic concepts, which complexity theory shows us are absolutely bound with each other and define each other. Life itself is a function of the engagement and interplay of Order and Disorder. Too much Order freezes and fixes a living thing—kills it—and too much Disorder leads to chaos—and again, death. Life exists in that fertile included middle that is the zone of engagement between Order and Disorder.

The dialogic, then, captures for me the interplay and engagement between the narrator and the neighbor in Mending Wall. The narrator begins the poem with a bold, bald assertion of his point of view: something there is that doesn't love a wall. The neighbor counters with an equally bold, bald, and contradictory statement: good fences make good neighbors. It is, as Frost says, "a kind of outdoor game." Frost is giving us a thesis and antithesis, and in our reductionist manner of thinking, we might reasonably expect a synthesis. I don't think there is one. There is only the dialogic between not wanting a wall and wanting a wall.

The dialogic in this poem juxtaposes two antagonistic positions and does not resolve them. We might think this a failure, but I don't think so. Rather, the resulting tension of the unresolved antagonism is the very source of the engagement between the narrator and his neighbor. It is the game between them, and this game, this engagement, joins them. Without the opposition, there is no game. Without the game, their is very little life. There is no diversity, no possibility of the exchanges of energy and information that make so rich our physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual lives. The dialogic recognizes and formalizes the dynamic, complex, and antagonistic engagements at the heart of all our games.

Because of our reductionist habits of mind, we see this juxtaposition of antagonistic sides as necessarily leading to the destruction of one side by the other through intellectual, emotional, or physical power or to the destruction of both sides in a synthesis, but Frost, Morin, Lupasco, and Nicolescu suggest a third way: "a way of reconnecting ideas without denying their opposition" (Reform of Thought, 26).

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