Wednesday, August 29, 2007


There are many good reasons to write dialogues. They let an author pursue a topic easily when she is in two minds about it. They encourage a reader to "see both sides of the story." The let an author distance himself from his opinions, which is useful when the opinions are tentative, embarrassing or invidious. They train a writer in the tough art of imitating human speech.

Most importantly, though, dialogues put thought in context, showing how it interacts with social and political and emotional factors. Sometimes this contextuality can a bit of a drag (arguments can be complex enough without being messed up by human emotions). But often it is a virtue: besides being entertaining, it can instruct us on the purpose, duties and difficulties of real-life discussion. Arguments always seem more urgent when they are presented by real-life actor (rather than the aloof and anonymous voice of, say, an academic). And when putting together an essay, it is easy (even obligatory) to polish away all the dead-ends and confusions that went into the final product; on the other hand, a good dialogue will "show its construction lines", giving a running lesson in the art of inquiry.

So dialogues are both performative and a performance. They are also an interesting point of contact between philosophy and literature. Interesting, because these two forms of inquiry tend to use dialogues as a means to quite different ends. For philosophy, dialogues help to balance out the life of the mind with the life of ordinary human activities. For literature, dialogue helps to balance out the life of ordinary activity with the life of conscious thought; the latter gains expression through dialogue.

The point of all this is to introduce a new category of writing on this blog. Or at least, to introduce the idea of a new category: for I have not done any diablogging so far. But I hope to do some soon, and I will aim to bring out the good and wholesome qualities that are inherent in dialogues, and to make my negligible but enthusiastic contribution to the world of the dialogue, a world that has a past and a present that is of course too lustrous and huge for any sub-servant of the genre to contemplate without embarrassment.