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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The English terms dialogic and dialogism often refer to the concept used by the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin in his work of literary theory, The Dialogic Imagination. Bakhtin contrasts the dialogic and the "monologic" work of literature. The dialogic work carries on a continual dialogue with other works of literature and other authors. It does not merely answer, correct, silence, or extend a previous work, but informs and is continually informed by the previous work. Dialogic literature is in communication with multiple works. This is not merely a matter of influence, for the dialogue extends in both directions, and the previous work of literature is as altered by the dialogue as the present one is. In this sense, Bakhtin's "dialogic" is analogous to T. S. Eliot's ideas in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," where he holds that "the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past." The influence occurs at the level of the individual word or phrase as much as it does the work and even the oeuvre or collection of works. A German cannot use the word "fatherland" or the phrase "blood and soil" without (possibly unintentionally) also echoing (or, Bakhtin would say "refracting") the meaning that those terms took on under National Socialism. Every word has a history of usage to which it responds, and anticipates a future response.

The term 'dialogic', however, does not just apply to literature. For Bakhtin, all language - indeed, all thought - appeared dialogic. This means that everything anybody ever says always exists in response to things that have been said before and in anticipation of things that will be said in response. We never, in other words, speak in a vacuum. As a result, all language (and the ideas which language contains and communicates) is dynamic, relational and engaged in a process of endless redescriptions of the world. That said, Bakhtin also emphasized certain uses of language that maximized the dialogic nature of words, and other uses that attempted to limit or restric their polyvocality. At one extreme is novelistic discourse, particularly that of a Dostoevsky (or Mark Twain) in which various registers and languages are allowed to interact and respond to each other. At the other extreme would be the military order (or 1984 newspeak) which attempts to minimize all orientations of the work toward the past or the future, and which prompts no response but obedience.

When scholars in France (notably Julia Kristeva), the United States and United Kingdom in the 1970s and 1980s rediscovered Bakhtin's work, it seemed to fit with the then-nascent concepts of "intertextuality". European social psychologists also applied Bakhtin's work to the study of human social experience, preferring it as a more dynamic alternative to Cartesian monologicality.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dialogic" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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