Model of a dialogue as the function of social cultural context

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №4 - 2012

Author: Kotova Larissa, East Kazakhstan State University in honor of S. Amanzholov, Kazakhstan

People live not only in a biological and social medium. They live in the vocal surroundings, the surroundings of “the certain verbal culture”. “Everyone is immersed into this storming ocean from birth till death, and everyone is searching for the truth or, at least, the cogency with the help of the words” [Михальская 1996, 40]. And as never before, this is very characteristic of the contemporary stage of the human history.

The fastness of life of the postindustrial society, the phenomena collectively known as “information burst”, technological advancement and application of information technologies in mass communication, their huge and ever increasing influence on all spheres of human activity have changed social and cultural environment and “cultural awareness of the epoch” (I.P. Ilyin). Such changes witness the emergence of a new – harmonious – type. “Its orientation, which counterbalances the relations of a man and the surrounding world, results in understanding the dialogical principle of their existence and interrelation” [Михальская, 1990, 51]. We can observe the extended use of a dialogue to a scale which has never been so dimensional before. At the same time, strange as it is, isolation and estrangement of people, the feeling of “being lonely in a crowd”, which is not characteristic of a man, who is sociable by the nature, increase. Professor Yevdokimov observes: “From inherent integrity of the civilization and spontaneous activity of the society the world turns to isolation and estrangement (mind that the amount of communication increases!)” [Евдокимов 2008, 145]. Archpriest Mikhail Dronov echoes: “Estrangement and egoistic solitude have become customary to us, while lie is no more viewed as an ethical torment depriving as of genuine emotional experience of meeting another man” [Дронов 2008, 30]. It’s characteristic of a man to seek understanding and sympathy, and feel joy finding them. At the same time “one of the worst evils of the society is the fear to get into close interpersonal contact – people prefer a ritual lie of perfunctory relations” [same, 36]. One can see that a real-life dialogue is being substituted by reading: it lowers the risk of getting into conflict and is a lot more comfortable. Ideally a real-life dialogue is an interactive process of interpersonal communication.

According to A.K. Mikhalskaya a new cultural paradigm provides evidence that “practice of communication abounds in both unsettled problems and problems which were not raised or even not sensed by the science.” [Михальская 1990, 51]. First of all, there is a need to re-evaluate the interpretation of the nature and results of communication [same, 56]; a “cultural specific” notion of “effective communication” also requires clarification. The notion of “being involved in a dialogue” is also quite ambiguous.

Conversation, characterized by a great variety of forms, also includes such form of verbal communication as a dialogue which is an interaction of communicants. It may happen in a real-time environment (the so called on-line dialogue) and/or be a part of literary communication (the off-line dialogue), which is an “author-reader” communication by means of a literary text.

In traditional rhetoric based on principles suggested by M.V. Lomonossov (who, in his turn, drew them from the protestant traditions) dialogue has a narrow interpretation of “exchange of remarks” or “elementary messages”. А.А. Volkov expands this traditional definition: “Dialogue is a conversation between several people characterized by a sequence of remark and resulting in a common decision making”; “a dialogue may contain separate monologues which are seen as expanded and comprehensive remarks” [Волков 2001, 21].

However, the traditional Russian philology also suggests a different interpretation of a dialogue which is so broad that treats a dialogue as “the principle of existence”, since, according to M.M. Bakhtin, “to exists means to be involved of a dialogue”. The necessity to scrutinize the interpretation of a dialogue in various social and historical context, within various logical spheres is obvious. Clarified understanding of a notion of dialogue will help in determining its effectiveness.

The roots of different interpretation of a dialogue can be found in the antiquity. A.K. Mikhalskaya wrote: “Aristotle, who in his “Rhetoric” described communication as a trinomial act, which was later inherited by the theory of communication, linguistic pragmatics, theory of speech activity and speech culture, was a lot more attentive to the participants of communication – speaker and listener – than it is acceptable in contemporary science and practice. Nowadays the listener only has “the right” to decipher, decode information the speaker conveys and do it “adequately”; the effectiveness of the speaker is usually determined by the degree of completeness and lack of impediments the speaker manages to achieve in his attempt to convey the message to the listener, i.e. by the minimum hindrance in the transmission process. Such approach reflects the subject-object character of relationship between the speaker and the listener generated by the culture of a monological type” [Михальская 1990, 52]. According to A.K. Mikhalskaya such culture “resulted from within subject-object gnosiological model which reflects rationalistic west-European scientific paradigm” [Михальская 1992, 58], which is called “Cartesian”. Then we can observe the following: “the theory of information and the theory of communication using the ancient rhetoric interpretation of the communication structure (“speaker-message-listener”) brought it to the contemporary philology having filled it with the new content characteristic of a monological culture based on primacy of theoretical knowledge” [Михальская 1990, 52]. Development of such interpretation of communication brought up the idea of “effective communication” “as a maximum (most complete) transfer of information from the subject of communication (speaker) to the object of communication (listener)” [Михальская 1992, 58].

This approach is characteristic of the American rhetoric. O.P. Brynskaya calls it “the most perfect tool of manipulation of public opinion” [Брынская 1979, 22]. A.K. Mikhalskaya adds: “A passive role of the recipient who is manipulated by the author of the message is clearly observed in such sphere as advertising” [Михальская 1990, 52].

In the culture of monological type the “activity” of the recipient, if any, adds up to understanding, reproduction and analysis of the received information. To achieve this the speaker should provide “such “form” of the means of communication which could be adequately decoded by the listener”. Despite the voiced call “to rehabilitate the recipient” and “not to exclude the recipient from the scope of our attention” (Ya. Sobol), subject-object relation of the speaker and the recipient have been prevailing for a long time (in particular, in the soviet linguistics). Thus, B.N. Golovin asserts that “the objective is to provoke in the speaker’s (reader’s) mind the same image or information that the speaker (writer) wanted to convey… And the higher is the level of similarity the more effective is the communication” [Головин 1998, 23]. The author writes: “If the speech grasps different spheres of the listener’s or reader’s mind, subordinates it to the author (italics added – L.K.), such speech is effective” [same, 28] (in this context “efficacy” is to be considered synonymous to “effectiveness”).

Thus, in the process of communication, it is necessary for the participants who received information to “comprehend it in the same way, treat and evaluate it similarly” which will result in reducing “to a minimum the difference in information which depends on mismatch in how people’s minds work” [same, 36-37]. Thus it leads to the conclusion that in this paradigm “the perfect type of communication is the maximum assimilation of the information recipient to the speaker, when the speaker and the listener are integrated. In this “communication curve” there is a solitary piece – implementation of the monological world view and communication, and this “curve” naturally transforms into a vicious circle” [Михальская 1990, 54].

This monological “ideal” could emerge and develop, for example, in the period of “developed socialism”. Only one speaker had “the right to speak” (i.e. had power); there was one standard way to express the standard content (think of perpetual quoting which turned into the norm)” [same]. The recipient only had a chance for “lengthy applause” or “reproduction”. We agree with A.K. Mikhalskaya who once said that even accepting “pluralism” we, bearers of the socialist culture and corresponding to this culture communication model, “tend to interpret pluralism from the same monological point of view: admitting that there are different points of view on the subject, opportunity to speak freely, we are likely to perceive each utterance as complete and detached, unconsciously rejecting its potential openness, incompleteness, ability for development and interaction with other utterances. Thus, pluralism appears as a set of simultaneous uncoordinated monologues about the world” [same]. This realization influenced the character of the scientific discourse of the 20th century, which radically differs from the language of research written by Russian scientists of pre-revolution period and in the twenties of the 20th century: “Reference to the best research texts of pre-revolution period and the twenties of the 20th century (earlier the author speaks about the language of historical essays of Klyuchevsky and Solovyev and quotes A.F. Lossev (A.F. Lossev said: “I wish my editors stopped hunting for colloquial words and phrases and eradicating them as weeds. They just don’t understand! Described in popular fiction style, the subject doesn’t become less scientific” (Мастера красноречия. – М., 1991) – L.K.) is a surprise to the contemporary reader, trained by editing to average, leveled, abstract, expressionless pseudoscientific and pseudo academic speech (italics added – L.K.). “Editing”, which used to bring scientific texts in compliance with the ideal of the society, was one of the manifestation of “purism” as a form of a language policy, cultivated in the epoch of totalitarianism and stagnation. A language policy is an activity of the state which cultivates the speech ideal corresponding to the type of the state. The state, “determining” people’s lives, “takes care” of their speech” [Михальская, 1996, 46-47].

Such understanding of the speech communication process according to A.K. Mikhalskaya is “that type of culture which is being overcome by the humanity and which is based on the monological world-view and the monological description of this world” [same, 51]. This culture is about to be substituted with a new one, distinguished by the harmonizing character, marked by the dialogical principle of existence and interaction with the world. “Gnosiological aspect of these changes can be characterized as a conscious transition from subject-object relations to subject-subject relations” [same].

Changes in social cultural situation lead to changes in the character of people’s communication – it becomes more democratic and more “dialogical”: “the ability to get into contact with the audience, evoke a warm response, arouse the response reflection concerning the topic of discussion is of great value. The speech (opposed to the traditional speaker’s one-man play in the British Parliament – L.K.) now resembles the ancient diatribe – a monologue, which imitates the dialogue, directs the thoughts of the listeners and leads them to a decision” [same, 54].

The new culture is characterized by a maximum broad interpretation of the dialogue, which takes root in the M.M. Bakhtin’s concept according to which “…dialogical relations is a phenomenon far broader than relations between the remarks of a composite dialogue, this is very much like a universal phenomenon that penetrates into the human speech and all relations and manifestations of the human life and everything that has sense and meaning” [Бахтин 1979, 56].

M.M. Bakhtin pondered on what F.M. Dostoevsky did in literature and what he himself called a “true dialogue”. F.M. Dostoevsky “discovered” the world of a true dialogue. In his works the mind of the author “is aware of existence of other equitable minds [of the characters – L.K.], as endless and as infinite. It reflects and reconstructs not the world of objects, but these foreign minds with their worlds, reconstructs them in their true incompleteness (since this is their nature). But it is impossible to contemplate on, analyze and define foreign minds as objects – one can only converse with them. To think about them means to talk with them. (emphasis added – L.K.), otherwise they immediately turn their object side to us: they fall silent, close and get stiff as complete object images. The author of the polyphonic novel is required to demonstrate intense dialogical activity…” [same, 92]. Bakhtin admits such kind of author-reader relations: “Every true reader of Dostoevsky perceives his novels not as those of monological type, but can rise to the new author’s stand and can feel a special active expansion of their mind, but not only in terms of mastering new objects (human types, characters, natural and social phenomena), but, first of all, a special, previously unknown conversation with other rightful minds and active penetration of the dialogue into depths of the human being” [same, 92-93]. In other words, a true dialogue (regardless of who participates in it) is an interaction of rightful subjects, but not the influence of one (author/speaker, the active participant) on the other (recipient/listener, the passive participant) as on the object.

The principal difference between a true dialogue and a dialogue, which can be called dialogue only due to its form, is in the model of the interrelations between its participants: subject-subject in the first case and subject-object in the second case. Dominance of any of them in certain cultural context has historical and social background. The idea of which model of speech communication is to be admitted ideal varies throughout history. A.K. Mikhalskaya sees their roots in the antiquity since there coexisted the two models – two rhetorical ideals having essentially different backgrounds. One of them belongs to Socrates, the other to sophists. “The ideal of speech “by Socrates” presupposes that the basic condition for a good speech is, first of all, its truth. Second, its morality, which was interpreted as good not for the personal but social welfare. Third, a strict order of speech in terms of meaning and words. The sophists’ ideal was different. The first requirement to speech was its “subordinating”, manipulative power. The second is its formal verbal beauty and elegance. The third is its logical sophistication and formal logical correctness. There also was the forth, connected with the second and third, principle – the opportunity to self-express in the speech: for the sophist an effective speech is, first and foremost, a certain type of “self-advertisement”, “self-assertion”.

In contemporary Russian speaking environment there is a conflict between at least three rhetorical ideals of different origin and nature. The first, and the most widely spread since it is accepted by the mass media is the American or Americanized ideal. It takes root in the sophistic approach and is of similar nature. The second one is old Russian, eastern Christian, close to the ideals of Plato and Socrates [Михальская 1996, 42-43].

It is necessary to examine properties of each historically established rhetorical ideal, but this is the topic for a separate serious study, which is outside the scope of this article.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №4 - 2012

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