Friday, October 14, 2005

8] My Dinner with Andre'

Dialogue, Education, and My Dinner with Andre by Azly Rahman Columbia University, New York “[R]eal dialogue is here continually hidden in all kinds of odd corners and, occasionally in an unseemingly way, breaks surface surprisingly and inopportunely – certainly still oftener it is arrogantly tolerated than downright scandalizing – as in the tone of a railway guard’s voice, in the glance of an old newspaper vendor, in the smile of the chimney sweeper.” (Buber, 1995, p.19) With reference to the above quote, Buber (1995) laments on the limitation of genuine dialogue in that much of the transformative aspect of genuine communication has been contaminated by our consciousness – historical, class, technical, etc. – we brought into our interlocutions with others. Dialogue between realms of consciousness in the presence of the Thou and one in which the “I” has met the Thou in a spiritual-relational way can constitute pure dialogue and hence become the means and ends in education. In relation to Buber’s (1995) idea that genuine dialogue is one which takes into synthesis the intersubjectivities and “world-historical” dimension (Buber, 1995, p. 83) of the exchange of social messages, one can then define education as a process of exploring objective realities in an intersubjective manner in order to arrive at yet stages of objective realities and hence these will then be explored further intersubjectively and so on and so forth. Education then becomes a process of flowering in which the seed belongs to a historical consciousness derived from flowers before it and when the new flower becomes ripe and bloom it then decays and germinate more seeds until the end of its time. For Buber (1995), perhaps, two individuals engaging in a dialogue already possess their respective “pre-Oceanic historical consciousness” shaped eons of time even before they were born. Experiences from childhood, class, gender, race, ethnicity, and from being shaped by technology and techno-ideological domination constitute the historical consciousness of individuals. These can become limitations to a transformative goal of becoming a “world-consciousness” being; one in which the Thou is present in the I. In My Dinner With Andre, I would say that Wally Shawn brought his baggage of such experiences into an educative realm of sharing of experiences, negotiating objective realms, in order to unconsciously arrive at what seemed to be a beginning of a transformative moment. Wally's realm of consciousness is one situated in a “this worldly” realm; one in which he is caught in a day-to-day struggle of making ends meet, of accomplishing tasks perhaps mundane and mechanical in the eyes of a metaphysicalized individual, and one in which his socio-economic class has reduced him primarily attuned to a reality of surviving in a world “it” or “things”. Wally is thus, an “I-it” realm, in Buber’s term, by chance plunged into a dialogical situation with Andre Gregory, the latter a being whose realm is an exact opposite. Andre’s world is one in which the “I” has perhaps met the “Thou” in which his socio-economic status and his voracious appetite for “soul searching” have rendered him a persona whose reality is primarily attuned to a mystical and metaphysical realm. At the dinner table hence, we saw a meeting of beings, one with a “world consciousness” of the “I-it” and one of “I-Thou” as in Wally and Andre respectively. It is a meeting not merely of two people possessing of (or being possessed by) a varying amount of economic/material capital but of metaphysical/spiritual capital. The movie could also have been titled “The Re-education of Wally and Andre” in that only when there is, as Buber (1955) term as the inclusionary aspect of the parallel monologues can genuine dialogue happen. When Wally was probing into what lies in the consciousness of Andre for a great length of the conversation, he is merely excluding himself from the dialogue. Similarly, when Andre was narrating his metaphysical escapades, he is largely excluding himself from the transformative realm. But when Wally started to question the “meaninglessness” to him, of Andre’s “fantastic stories”, a genuine dialogue was about to be established and one which perhaps would have a lasting effect on both characters. Through this thesis – anti-thesis of this stage of the dialogue, we saw a remarkable moment of the meeting of the I with the Thou in the dialogue itself (and not between the interlocutors as persons). In essence, the dialogue conducts the interlocutors. There is then a gradual flight from the “I-it” world of communicating to the “I-Thou” world of dialoging. There is then, albeit at first a spark of tense exchange of views, a move towards understanding, synthesis, and a breakdown of “Master-slave” type paradigm in the narrative. Such a moment of transformation can be called “education”. By way of conclusion, illustrated by the typology of dialogue from My Dinner With Andre and encapsulated within Buber’s (1995) conception of what constitutes dialogue, I would say that education must address both the mundanenes and profundity of lived experiences. It must be about searching for meaning in a world of chaos, complexity, and competition, of finding beauty in minute details, and in searching for typologies in metaphysical grandeur. In the transformative spark ignited in the dialogue between Wally and Andre, the former perhaps will begin to ascend to spiritual-metaphysical heights in his day-to-day struggle whilst the latter might then “come down to Earth” to share with others what “secrets of existence” he has struggled to unravel. This moment of transformation will then become one in which the Thou meets the I whereby horizons of significance meet. In Buber’s (1995) words thus, genuine dialogue, cannot take place through one’s being concerned with oneself but only through one’s being concerned, knowing what it means with the world. (p.101) And such a concern can thus constitute “the re-education of Wally and Andre”. *****

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AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.