On ‘the inner alter’ in dialogue

‘The third party’ as an ‘inside’ feature of dialogue


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2.3 ‘The third party’ as an ‘inside’ feature of dialogue

The other kind of ‘the third party’ is essentially different from the former case because it is ‘the third party’ within: it is an inside feature of dialogue. This meaning of the third party has already a long past in dialogue studies. It is based on the idea that a great deal of what speakers convey to one another cannot be reduced to knowledge, thoughts and words that they acquire as individuals. Instead, it is traditions, institutions, friends and colleagues, political parties and so on, who speak through dialogical participants. Speakers may explicitly or implicitly refer to those who are not physically present in dialogue and they may quote or repeat someone else’s words either to support their own arguments or to say something with irony, as a joke and so on. And so although dialogue, whether a clinical interview, a telephone chat or a dinner conversation, may involve only two participants, conversation is conceived as being penetrated by a number of visible or less visible Alters who communicate through the mouth of speakers. Any single conversation, being no more than a slice in the life-long dialogue, has its past, present and future. It never starts out from nothing and interpersonal dialogues cannot be reduced to the here-and-now exchange of gestures and words. In one way or other, each dialogue is a continuation of previous dialogues, whether in terms of particular positions, attitudes, contents and contexts; it is filled with ideas of others, their commitments and loyalties. And this is why any interpersonal interaction may involve a variety of virtual participants, or, as these have become known, ‘third parties’. As Bakhtin insisted,

[t]he speaker is not Adam, and therefore the subject of his speech itself inevitably becomes the arena where his opinions meet those of his partners (in a conversation or dispute about some everyday event) or other viewpoints, world view, trends, theories, and so forth (in the sphere of cultural communication). World views, trends, viewpoints, and opinions always have verbal expression. All this is others’ speech (in personal or impersonal form), and it cannot but be reflected in the utterance. The utterance is addressed not only to its own object, but also to others’ speech about it (Bakhtin, 1979/1986a, p.94).

Bakhtin continues saying that even a slightest allusion to another’s utterance produces a dialogical turn and cannot be reduced to a referential object: ‘Attitude toward another’s word is in principle distinct from the attitude toward a referential object, but the former always accompanies the latter’. The speaker creates links to others’ communications, anticipating their responses, reactions and feelings. Bakhtin (1979/1986b) discusses the idea of ‘the third party’ in the context of understanding. He maintains that ‘a third party in the dialogue’ is not to be taken in an arithmetical sense but in a sense of a symbolic participation – there of course can be more than three participants involved. The author and the addressee can have dialogue only because the author

with a greater or lesser awareness, presupposes a higher super-addressee (third) whose absolutely just responsive understanding is presumed, either in some metaphysical distance or in distant historical time (the loophole addressee). In various ages and with various understandings of the world, this super-addressee and his ideally true responsive understanding assume various ideological expressions (God, absolute truth, the court of dispassionate human conscience, the people, the court of history, science and so forth)… Each dialogue takes place as if against the background of the responsive understanding of an invisibly present third party who stands above all the participants in the dialogue (partners) (Bakhtin, 1979/1986b, p. 126).

For Bakhtin, the idea of ‘the third party’ is an aspect of heteroglossia: the third part(y/ies) speak/s through dialogical participants in different ways; as we have just seen, it could be an invisible super-addressee or a mediator between the author and addressee. The latter case can take place because the author and addressee share at least some knowledge about the subject matter in question. The third party however involves more than a reference to shared knowledge. It is actually the organizer of topics, of ideas and even of positions from which dialogical partners speak.

Levinas’s (1969, 1998) concept of ‘the third party’ is different from that of Bakhtin. It is profoundly ethical and universalistic. ‘The third party’ includes the totality of the mankind. In explaining the concept of ‘the third party’, Levinas confronts the notions of love and justice. He argues that love for the other person creates no more than ‘a society of two’ (1998, p.20), it is a society of solitudes that resists universality. Therefore, love for a single human being is to the detriment of another; it blinds respect for another, that is, for the third party. In daily living one cannot encounter another fellow man as if he were the only person in the world. And so in contrast to love, justice as an engagement with others, is based on unlimited obligation. The self is simultaneously confronted by claims of all others, ‘the third’: ‘The third party looks at me in the eyes of the other – language is justice’ (Levinas, 1969, p.213). It restricts the self’s and the other’s freedom by calling for responsibility and so both the self and the other are responsible to the third party: ‘the real ‘thou’ is not the loved one, detached from others’ (p.21) but it is the totality of others, of the humankind. This is why Levinas’s concept has important political and economic significance in alleviating the feeling of strangeness, of poverty and destitution of others. Levinas is of course aware that it would not be possible, in the name of justice, to avoid comparison of different others, weighting and calculation in negotiation of interests with respect to different others. Nevertheless, ‘the third party’, that is, ‘the whole of humanity which looks at us’, calls for justice among everybody and at least to some degree reaches balance in asymmetries of relations.

In yet another sense, in discussing the subject matter of the third party (without actually using the term) other scholars, like George Herbert Mead and Sigmund Freud, introduced the terms like the ‘generalised other’ and the ‘superego’, respectively. Although the underlying concepts of these terms are theoretically different, they both function as a societal ‘super-addressee’ sanctioning and reprimanding individuals who dissent from socially imposed norms. They are part of individuals’ consciousness (e.g. ‘the people’, science, tradition), unconscious (e.g. Freud’s superego) or conscience (e.g. Mead’s ‘the generalised other’; Bakhtin’s ‘the court of dispassionate human conscience’ or ‘the court of history’).

3. Internal dialogicality

3.1 External and internal dialogue

Having considered some conceptions of the ‘inside’ dialogue third party, let us now turn to ‘the inner Alter’. By ‘the inner Alter’ I shall mean symbolically and socially represented kinds of the Alter that are in an internal dialogue with the Ego. These inner Alters may or may not be physically absent from an external dialogue. Let us explain.

It has been well recognized in psychology and in studies of dialogue - and even more so in literature – that humans, when speaking to others in what we can call an external dialogue, may also hold an internal (or inner) dialogue within themselves. In other words, they have the capacity of speaking to themselves and of having a symbolic dialogue with the Alter that may not be immediately present. It could be argued that talking to oneself amounts to a monologue, but whether one calls inner speech an internal dialogue or a monologue depends on an epistemological stance one adopts. Dialogically orientated scholars like Vygotsky, Voloshinov or Bakhtin have drawn a great deal of attention to dialogical aspects of internal dialogue and inner speech. For example, Voloshinov was concerned with the nature of internal dialogue not only in Marxism and the Philosophy of language (1929/73) but also in papers published in the late 1920s. He questioned the role of other voices in internal dialogue, referring to different possibilities that the second dialogical voice might take. Thus, the second dialogical voice could represent the social group to which the self belongs; the internal dialogue could constitute a conflict between the self’s own norm and that of the group; or the self, belonging to two social groups might try to decide which position to take; or the second voice might not represent any stable position but consist of incoherent reactions determined from moment to moment (Todorov, 1984, p.70). Michail Bakhtin (1984), also preoccupied with the nature of inner dialogue, discusses his position above all in his analysis of Dostoyevsky in terms of double-voicedness and heteroglossia.

But while great novelists like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Marcel Proust, James Joyce or Thomas Mann display exuberant and profoundly rich inner dialogues in their literary masterpieces, social and language scientists consider other tasks: what is the relation between internal and external dialogue? What form does it take in different concrete situations? What are linguistic characteristics of inner dialogue? Voloshinov stated the problem succinctly:

It is clear from the outset that, without exception, all categories worked out by linguistics for the analysis of the forms of external language (the lexicological, the grammatical, the phonetic) are inapplicable to the analysis of inner speech or, if applicable, are applicable only in thoroughly and radically revised versions...the units of which inner speech is constituted…resemble the alternating lines of a dialogue. There was good reason why thinkers in ancient times should have conceived of inner speech as inner dialogue. (Voloshinov, 1929/1973, p.38).

Theoretical and a methodological problems identified by Voloshinov still remain. Until recently, they have not received much attention in social and language studies.

Postulating a triadic relation of dialogical subjectivity, Salgado et al. (in press) propose the concept of ‘the-other-in-the self’. These authors point out that, dialogically speaking, ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ are relational terms. The other participant in dialogue can be postulated as ‘outside’ with respect to the self but the self appropriates ‘outside’ and the other in a subjective manner and therefore, ‘the other is the other-in-the-self’ (Salgado et al., in press). This clearly dialogical meaning of outside/inside and of ‘the other-in-the self’ opens the door to further conceptual analysis.

Bearing on the idea of ‘the other-in-the-self’, as well as on that of the ‘inside’ third party discussed above, in the remainder of this paper I shall use the notion of the ‘inner Alter’. I am making this terminological change because the sense of ‘the inner Alter’ is somewhat different from Salgado and Ferreira’s ‘the other-in-the-self’. While I agree with their model according to which dialogical subjectivity, generally speaking, requires three elements the Ego-Alter-Third (Salgado, personal communication) as discussed above in section 2.3, I am referring here only to ‘the inner Alter’ with respect to internal dialogue. In order to carry out this proposition, I am therefore returning to the basic triadic relation of dialogical epistemology Ego-Alter-Object (representation) (Moscovici, 1984; Marková, 2003).

Internal dialogue does not necessarily accompany an external dialogue. If we take the Voloshinov’s account described above, it is clear that internal dialogue is an attempt to solve the author’s conflict, whether relational, personal, and moral, choice-related and so on. It is during such circumstances that the second, third, etc. voices enter the inner dialogue as ‘the inner Alter’. ‘The inner Alter’ can take multiple and multifaceted forms, for example, as participants’ reference groups, conscience, individual and collective memories, commitments and loyalties, the selves’ internal dialogues, their mutually shared knowledge, the distrusted Alter, the superimposed Alter and otherwise. This multiplicity is not surprising because, as already emphasised above, a concrete dialogue in which the Ego and the Alter are involved is no more than a momentary episode in the life-long continuing dialogue. Each subject enters a concrete dialogue with all their previous social experience which, unavoidably, shapes their encounters. Equally important, ’the inner Alter’ also manifests itself linguistically and through diverse speech activities of the Ego and Alter. How does this fit then with the epistemological dialogical triad?

The triad of dialogical epistemology Ego-Alter-Object (representation) refers to the joint – or social - construction of knowledge. Since any meaningful conversation or dialogue involves communicating about something, e.g. social reality, the self, feeling etc., I assume that this triadic relation also applies to subjective dialogicality. However, in the case of inner dialogue we are concerned with the Ego- Inner Alter – Object (representation) that either can be embedded in external dialogue formed by the Ego-Alter-Object; alternatively, the Ego’s inner speech can take place outside external dialogue. If Ego-Inner Alter-Object is embedded in external dialogue, what goes on in internal dialogue does not necessarily take the same form in the external dialogue. I may, in my internal dialogue express distrust of my partner but externally, for one reason or other, I may not expose this feeling. The remainder of this paper provides some examples of the inner Alter as a component of the dialogical triad Ego-Inner Alter- Object/ (representation).

3.1 The inner Alter in dialogue

Let us consider, as our first example of ‘the inner Alter’, Platonov’s (2005) short story ‘The Return’. This will enable us to take a look at some of the multiple aspects of internal dialogicality of the main hero, Ivanov. The plot of this short story is simple.

After four years in the army during the Second World War, a Guard captain Aleksey Alekseyevich Ivanov is demobilised and sent home. Waiting at the railway station for long hours and in a gloomy environment, there was ‘nothing to divert of comfort human heart except another human heart’. Ivanov started conversation with a young woman Masha whom he had known from the army. She too was waiting for the train to go home. As he moved closer to her, he asked her for a tiny and comradely kiss on the cheek, ‘imagine I am your uncle’. That was granted, the train finally arrived and they travelled together for two days. On the third day Masha reached her town and Ivanov interrupted his journey to stay with her for two days before continuing his journey home to his wife and two children whom he had not seen for four years. Another kiss on the cheek and a final goodbye separated them. Ivanov’s wife Ljuba and his two children, Petya, who was nearly twelve years and Nastya, five year old, kept waiting for him during the last six days; and he explained that the train was delayed. During Ivanov’s absence, Ljuba and her children lived in poverty; she worked in a brick factory, while Petya took over the role of the head of family. During the conversation Ivanov learned that an uncle Semyon had been coming to the family during the last two years to play with the children and to read them story. Jealousy, suspicion, mistrust and feeling of having been deceived by his wife erupted during the evening. Nastya slept, Petya pretended to be asleep while the couple tried noisily to clarify the situation. However, the children were woken up and brought in the dialogue. In the morning, when Petya woke up, only his little sister was at home. Mother has gone to the factory and father back to the railway station. Petya dressed his sister and took her out with him towards the railway crossing, where would be chance for their father to see them from the train. In the end he did, got off the train to meet his children.

Dialogues in this story take place at several levels, or one could say, there are several embedded stories involving different Ego-Alter-Object and leading to different forms of internal dialogicality in which one story is framed by another one.

In the dialogue between Ivanov and Masha at the beginning of the story, at first sight, there seems to be no ‘inner Alter’ as their conversation and kisses on the cheek seem to be the ‘here-and-now’ way of coping with boring waiting for the train. But there is more to it and in delaying his return home for another two days Ivanov’s inner Alter spoke by ‘putting off joyful and anxious moment of reunion with his family’. And so reflecting on the dialogical triad Ego-Inner Alter-Object (Masha) one can see that the anticipated anxiety of the return turned into the factual anxiety as the story unfolded itself. Back with his family, Ivanov found his home strange and could not understand it; he was no longer used to family life, his children and his wife.

Another internal dialogue occurred when, externally, a dialogue took place between Ivanov and Ljuba, and the ‘outside’ ‘third party’, the family friend uncle Semyon was unwittingly brought into conversation by little Nastya. Semyon has been coming to see the children, to play with them and to read to them. His wife and his own children had been killed by the Germans, explained Ljuba. Semyon loved Petya and Nastya, ‘he talked to the children about you, Aloysha … He told the children how you were fighting for us and how you were suffering. They’d ask why, and he’d say because you’re a good man.’ Astonished and jealous, Ivanov (Ego) could not accept (Inner Alter) that Semyon (Object) would talk to his own children, never having met Ivanov yet singing his praises.

Another embedded dialogue took place between Ivanov and his son Petya. Pretending first to be sleeping, Petya listened to his parents’ heated debate about Ljuba’s ‘men’ when father was away and he was surprised by some of mother’s admissions. In his internal dialogue he whispered to himself: ’So our mother’s been naughty too’, ‘fancy that’. However, he then involved himself in dialogue with his father, narrating a story about another local woman who had a friend when her husband was in the war. Having returned, the husband started cursing his wife, day after day, until he exhausted himself, and made his wife cry. Then he stopped tormenting her and changed the tone, telling her that she had been very foolish having had only one man with one arm because he, when he was away, he had had a number of women. And then, Petya commented, everything was fine between them and his wife was happy. But that was not the end. The husband finally laughed: ‘But I deceived my Anuyta – I hadn’t had anyone…A soldier’s the son of the Fatherland, he’s got no time to fool around, his heart is levelled against the enemy. I just made all that up to give Anuyta a scare’ (p.292).

The final and a decisive part in the story that brought about the change in Ivanov’s mind is his internal dialogue, framed by all the previous dialogues. It is the crucial negotiation within himself after he had left his wife and children and got again on the train going in the direction of Masha’s town: ‘Masha isn’t expecting me’, he thought. ‘She told me I’d forget her, whatever I said, and that we never meet again; yet here I am, on my way to her for ever.’ (p. 293). Having had these thoughts and finding no excuse for his wife who had kissed and had had sex with other men so that she could survive the war and separation from her husband, he thought that her behaviour was the proof of her true feelings: ‘All love comes from need and yearning; if human beings never felt need or yarning, they would never love’.

As he looked out from the train window for the last time, he saw two children trying to reach the train crossing. He did not recognize his own children. He saw that those children were exhausted, fell to the ground and got up again. Ivanov closed his eyes not wanting to see and feel their pain. But here, a final and definite internal dialogue prompted the change: ‘He suddenly recognized everything he had ever known before, but much more precisely and more truthfully. Previously, he had sensed the life of others through a barrier of pride and self-interest, but now, all of a sudden, he had touched another life with his naked heart’ (p.194). As he looked out again for the window, he realised that these two children in the distance were Petya and Nastya.

Platonov’s story, composed of a number of internal dialogues and involving various representations within Ego-Alter-Object triads, makes sense only as a story and not as a number of extracts that could be analysed separately from one another. Each of these internal dialogues involves different inner Alter, in which morality, ethical questions, distrust, self-hurt and self-interest are negotiated by the speakers with respect to some inter-relational problems that are embedded in and framed by other inter-relational problems.

3.2 Inner Alter of distrust and secret

In discussing the Platonov story I have given examples of internal dialogues that comprised negotiations between different positions of the inner Alter in order to solve inter-relational problems apparent in external dialogues between the Ego-Alter. Internal dialogues usually involve personal issues requiring reflection and evaluation of one’s own and others’ conduct, both past and present, and on that basis making decisions and predictions about the Ego-Alter future conduct.

In this section I shall consider internal dialogue as a means of protecting or enhancing the Ego’s interests. In this case, internal dialogue is dominated by the Ego’s distrust, uncertainty about the future conduct and intentions of the Alter and it is these concerns that determine the content and its thematisation in the external dialogue. However, the focus of dialogical analysis is not on ‘objective’ qualities of the Alter that could be correctly or incorrectly perceived, but on interactions between the Ego and the Alter that as generated by relevant social representations. For example, the Ego may represent the Alter as someone who can pass on desirable or undesirable information to the third party which may benefit or harm the Ego, respectively. In other words, the Alter is represented as a potential mediator between the Ego and a powerful third party.

Strategies of self-presentation have been traditionally studied in social psychology under the different names like impression management, self-management, impression formation, self as an actor, and so on. In these approaches the self has been usually conceptualised as a Machiavellian attempting to influence others by presenting a favourable or even unfavourable image of him or her in order to gain some benefits. Yet it is significant that social psychological research has treated self-presentation and the like phenomena as one-way activities of the self targeted at the other participant in order to impart the desired effect.

In contrast, speaking from the dialogical perspective, self-protection or self-enhancement is a viewed as a triad composed of the Ego-Alter-Object. However, since we are talking here about the Ego and the Inner Alter, internal dialogue involves a kind of projection or a representation of the imagined impact that the Ego’s message could have on the Alter. Moreover, internal dialogue could be concerned with the possible effect of the Alter on an imagined (and sometimes unknown) third party. And so, an external Ego-Alter dialogue is likely to become a prudent verbalisation of what goes on concurrently (or beforehand) in the internal dialogue. The external dialogue could thus become anything ranging from a fake dialogue, double-talk to a window dressing or a camouflage that is intended for the represented Alter and the imagined third party.

Within this perspective, at least two alternative scenarios are possible, although in practice the two may be intermingled, and could appear in more or less extreme versions. They are also likely to be inter-related with other communicative phenomena, e.g. with institutional discourses, inter-group relations and otherwise.

In the first case, the Ego may strategically impart a specific kind of knowledge, particular personal information or otherwise to the Alter in believing that the Alter will spread that knowledge around to different third parties either as a gossip or as diffused information from which the Ego may benefit. These third parties, themselves, could potentially become future gossipers, which the Ego may believe would be even more beneficial. A variation of this case could be a rhetorical speech of a politician interviewed by a journalist in a television studio. Although apparently talking to the journalist, the politician addresses the invisible audience in the outside world or some future recipients of his/her speech that might win him voting voices.

The alternative scenario with respect to self-presentation is not to convey information but to conceal it or to impart the misleading information about the self. This strategy would be based on the Ego’s distrust of the Alter who might misuse knowledge or information about the self and pass it on to the third party. Simmel’s (1950) classic analysis of notions like ‘discretion’ and ‘secret’ presuppose that others are divided into those with whom the self shares or does not wish to share discreet knowledge. Suspicion that such knowledge could be passed on to those for whom it is not intended, would shape the content as well as the style of the Ego-Alter dialogue. Although distrust and suspicion may apply in any circumstances, dialogues in totalitarian regimes are particularly characterised by fear of revealing secrets, which will result in pretending something and concealing information, because one will carefully consider what can and what cannot be safely said. Totalitarian regimes thrive on engendering distrust, and fabricating fear and uncertainty in communication. As the dissident Václav Havel (1975) brought that to public attention, fear is associated with the loss of human dignity, the crisis of identity, passivity and non-involvement in communication. Since verbal messages can be misused by the other party, the use of words that do not mean anything, that express generalities and are non-committal seem to be a safe strategy of survival. And Yuri Levada (2004) argued, ‘the presence of cunning and double-think is a constant reminder that both the law of self-preservation and the hope of daily life continuing as usual request conformity’ (p.157). Although daily conversation does not normally involve such extreme cases, it nevertheless often contains some traces of self-presentation strategies and of non-committal or empty exchanges of words.

Finally, the inner Alter could also represent a relatively stabilized perspective, for example, something like Mead’s ‘generalised other’, Freud’s ‘superego’ and otherwise (see above). This could also include the common-sense knowledge, religious beliefs, laws of the society, institutional practices and so on, that could be transmitted from the generation to generation. Although such stabilised inner Alter could remain an implicitly present aspect of external dialogues between Ego-Alter, there is always a potentiality that it enters explicitly into speech, become questioned and negotiated. These relatively stabilised inner Alter like the ‘generalised other’, ‘superego’, traditions and established moralities are built into institutions, whether religious, governmental or otherwise and reproduced in daily discourse. As they become internalised and stabilized, they can engender ‘bad conscience’, ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ if transgressed.

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