John Shotter
University of New Hampshire, Durham (NH), USA

E-mail:jds@hypatia.unh.edu

 

CARTESIAN CHANGE, DIALOGICAL CHANGE - THE POWER OF LIVING EXPRESSION

 

In contrast to Cartesian views of change, in which changes in forms of life are seen as following from changes in ways of thinking, I want to explore what is involved in changes that occur, not just simply when a single body must react to new events happening in its surroundings, but when two or more living bodies (organic wholes or unities) 'rub up against each other', so to speak. Then, something very special happens in the boundary zone of spontaneously responsive, living activity occurring between them. New forms of activity are inevitably and continually created. I tried to capture the special nature of this shared activity a while ago in the concept of 'joint action' (Shotter, 1980, 1984, 1993). More recently, Bakhtin (1981, 1984, 1986) has described it as the 'dialogical'. Others, however - Merleau-Ponty (1962, 1968) and Bateson (1979), for instance - have likened the kind of interweaving that occurs within it to that which occurs in binocular vision, in the optic chiasma. Such 'chiasmic' inter-relating or interweaving is of quite a special kind, neither simply causal nor simply logical (formal). In it, we get the creation of 'relational dimensions' (in binocular vision, we get 'depth') expressed in a greater bodily 'at homeness' in one's surroundings. As Wittgenstein (1953) puts it, we gain that kind of understanding which consists in 'seeing connections' (no.122). It is the nature of 'chiasmic' inter-relations that I will explore in the paper.