Toward a poetics of dialogue

In my view, dialogue is an art of communication, a poetic. Dialogue is imaginative, expressive, creative and moreover deeply human. There are specific and useful techniques to dialogue. However, there is also a deep theory and philosophy to dialogue. To the theory and philosophy, the techniques are not merely pointers but practical signs to the presence of praxis. This praxis means there’s more than just the practice of technique. There is a worldview that informs the technique (Bell & Fenske, 2004).

Just as there are specific techniques of rhyme, meter and construction to poetry, there is a structural technique to dialogue that can be practiced. However, the art itself is not just technical mastery, although technical mastery can be phenomenal to behold. The technique is not sufficient to the art. I would also suggest that the technique is also not necessary to the art. I suggest that the method of art, the technique, is neither sufficient nor necessary for the content of art, the art itself. There is an ideal which exists without expression and no expression is complete without being a reference to the ideal.

To me poetics is rhetoric of and from the heart, or whole person, and theatre is imitation and emphasis of life for transformation; dialogue is a communication from the heart which emphasizes transformation.

When I suggest that I am offering a poetic of dialogue I am making an explicit connection to notions inspired by Aristotle’s Poetics. I link dialogue to more than just poetry but rather to a field of communication-as-art that can be mastered. I mean to suggest that dialogue is itself a form of communication that while naturally occurring can also be mastered.

By art, I mean to suggest the meaning of Aristotle as interpreted by Boal, that “Art is the re-creation of the creative principle” (1982). This suggests that art is an iterative system, a set of relationships that modifies itself, self-creates as in the systemic principle of autopoesis. I mean to imply that dialogue is a form of communication that is both a process of transformation and that can create itself, that it naturally occurs.

I am also implicitly making a connection between the art of poetics and the work of design. Working with a vocabulary, within specific constraints, both the designer and the poet have reciprocal relationships with their clients. I am offering an archetypal language of dialogue that can be used artfully, within the constraints of an enabling dialogical space, by a practitioner who is in a reciprocal, interdependent relationship with other practitioners.

I believe that the sufficient and necessary component of an art is an authentic practice, a practice that is, to be sure, enhanced by technique. Dialogue is, I believe, a natural form of communication. However, it is also an art form the quality of which can be more or less enhanced by the authenticity and mastery of the practitioner. It is enough to be willing in engage in dialogic relationships, but the cultivation of dialogic ability in self and others is the next step to building those relationships.

Of course, I also believe that this sufficiency of authenticity to dialogue makes the art of dialogue, in many ways, one that may only ever be an anecdotally verified emergent quality of human behaviour. As a subjective human interpersonal event, it may be possible to see that participants believe that dialogue has occurred, and it may be possible to see indications that a dialogue has emerged; but, to say definitively that dialogue, which is to say that special form of communication, has occurred may not be fully verifiable. I suspect that the most thorough exploration of dialogue may be available through oral history and through the techniques of ethnography and participatory research methodologies.

Dialogue must be more than merely parrhasia, free speech. Dialogue is not dialog, neither merely the ability to speak nor the ability to speak one’s mind. It is not enough that people merely communicate and it is not enough that one merely speak one’s mind. Dialogue is a systemic communication that is neither one-sided nor empty social exchange. While it may be possible for dialogue to emerge in the unlikeliest of places, there are places where this emergence is more likely and places where it is unlikely. There is also the possibility for dialogical space without dialogic process, and there the possibility for dialogic process without dialogue.

The emergence of dialogue from dialogic process within enabling dialogical space is an expression of an art form, a poetics of human relationship that is transformative and reawakening to the essential and interdependent humanity of the participants.