Dialogic versus Monologic

Dialogic versus Monologic – Bakhtin defines dialogic texts in opposition to monologic texts. Dialogic texts “speak to” other texts (other books, movies, stories, myths) and other writers. Dialogic texts do not merely “answer” these texts; they are not apologies or sequels. They instead open up an ongoing exchange, in which both texts are enriched and informed. Further, a dialogic text does not communicate with one other text, but with many—more than the writer is aware of. And this web of influence extends out from other texts into the text under scrutiny, so that past works are seen in a new light as new works appear, and new works cannot escape entirely the gravity of history… Heady stuff, but simple, in theory. Here, “monologues” are not only erroneous but impossible. Monologism implies a blindness to other texts, to history. This is reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” a seminal essay which argues that “the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past.”

It’s important to note that dialogism occurs at the level of the word as much as at the level of the overall text. Wikipedia puts it bluntly: “A German cannot use the word ‘fatherland’ without also echoing (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.” Every word is eternally somewhere, waiting, connected. Bakhtin conceived this decades before the internet, but now it is literally true: All text, including books, movies, chats, emails, images, and so on, are connected, archived, and indexed, theoretically forever, online. The dialogue is unending. The carnival goes on…

Leave A Comment