Dialogical Balance

:: DiaLoGicaL baLanCe ::

(Introduction from “Dialogical Balance: Working Through My A/r/tographical Self,” by Heidi May, 2009)

“Purpose emerges as something to be worked towards, rather than as something that is necessarily present at the beginning of the making/experiencing process. Demands are made throughout the process—the perception, selection, and organization of qualities and responsiveness to them. These relationships reorganize thinking in an on-going dialogue.”
_____Margaret MacIntyre Latta (2008). Aesthetic Education: The Task of Revisioning, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 40(5), p. 692.

“A/r/tography…It is the desire to respond to the disappearance and appearance of signs, the impulse between what is known and what cannot be expressed, that gives new tension and vibration to the signifier. Research, thus, becomes an act of unsettling, an evocation that calls out, asking for a response, a living inquiry, transforming static moments into momentum, multiplying and metamorphosing.”
_____Stephanie Springgay, Rita L. Irwin, Sylvia Wilson Kind (2005). A/r/tography as Living Inquiry Through Art and Text. Qualitative Inquiry, 2(6), p. 907.

:: The term “working through” is derived from psychoanalysis and is known as the point of therapy when the subject realizes something relevant and feels a need to replay and reanalyze things continuously.  Freud coined the term, describing it as the boring part of the process from the analyst’s point of view as he states,  “this working-through of the resistances may in practice turn out to be an arduous task for the subject of the analysis and a trial of patience for the analyst” (Freud, 1899). Although not always the most enjoyable part of the therapy process, the act of working through is nevertheless crucial to a better understanding of the self and therefore, concepts related to the self. This can also be said for any process that involves creative work. Some of the most significant thinkers of our time constantly replay and reanalyze ideas, through writing and through artistic practices, however, these ‘obsessive’ acts are rarely understood by others. In writing about the importance of eccentric curriculum, Dennis Sumara (2005) acknowledges that many critical events in the 20th century were generated by “the eccentricities of individuals who strayed from beaten paths, pursuing personal obsessions that only a few could imagine would prove so influential” (Sumara, p. iv). The works left behind by some of these creative individuals reveal dynamic processes of rhythmic repetition and an ongoing dialogue with the self. The aesthetic process I refer to as working through is increasingly relevant to current interdisciplinary inquiries that embrace the intersection of, and the spaces in between, curriculum theory and artistic practice.

:: Within “Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Underground Aesthetics” (1998), John Rajchman describes the postmodern theorist Lyotard’s aesthetic writings as “not a methodological aid to historical research or critical appraisal” but instead, “a tool to expose often unseen tensions, shifts, and complications in philosophical thinking and its relations with society.” He further describes Lyotard’s writing of theory as “not one philosophy but many talking to one another, held together without being unified, the notions of aesthetics itself assuming different guises with the rhythm of their unresolved tensions” (Rajchman, 1998). Through this self-reflective and fluid process of writing, Lyotard revealed hidden tensions and complications pertaining to theory, eventually creating new understandings.

:: Claire Pajaczkowska (2001) describes the early feminist writer Virginia Woolf as an artist who contested the limitations of liberal humanism in order to find a cultural practice in which the ‘divided self’ can be acknowledged, explored, deconstructed, and reconstructed. Woolf has been recognized as an artist who challenged the prestructuralist emphasis on the significance of the self to explore the significance of division (Pajaczkowska, p. 8). Her writing was deeply rooted in her own experiences of the brain, as someone who was mentally ill, and she expressed a divisive tension within her cognitive process by literally incorporating a fragmented mind into her narratives. In her novel To the Lighthouse, there is little plot and the text is dense with the “process of minds flowing through time” (Lehrer, 2007, p. 175). The narrative is constantly interrupted by thoughts, by thoughts about thought, and thoughts about reality. Her writingsexpressed an intuitive understanding of “a self divided against itself” and her art searched for whatever held us together (Lehrer, 2007). As Jonah Lehrer demonstrates in his book Proust was a Neuroscientist (2007), the work of neuroscientists Roger Sperry and Michael Gazziniga, (1962 and again in 1981), proved that ourfeeling of unified identity was a “mental confabulation” and that “we invented the self in order to ignore our innate contradictions” (Lehrer, p. 180). The author claims that modern neuroscience is now confirming the self that Woolf believed in, ultimately placing importance on the deep insights that artists can contribute to critical research.

:: In Michael Holquist’s introduction to Speech Genres & Other Late Essays (1986), a collection of works by literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, he describes “The Problem of the Text” as typical of most of Bakhtin’s essays from his last years. Holquist says that it is not necessarily an essay but rather a series of ideas that Bakhtin jotted down in notebooks over the duration of his life, however, Holquist argues that this informal structure allows the reader to witness Bakhtin’s mind at work:

“This lifelong dialogue with himself accounts for many of the features that characterize Bakhtin’s style (or, more accurately, one of Bakhtin’s styles): the allusive structure of his remarks and the repetitiveness that so often bothers readers trained to value more economical and forensic presentations. Anyone expecting a finished, consecutively prosecuted argument in these pieces that have been torn out of the notebooks is bound to be frustrated. But the suspension of such expectations reveals a style that has its own rewards; not the pleasure we derive from an author who compels us to believe his logic is ineluctable, but the excitement that comes from seeing a mind at work while it is at work” (Holquist, 1986, p. xvii).

Bakhtin’s philosophical work examines methods of dialogue, among other things, thus it seems fitting that the form of this particular publication of essays reflect the content of the text. In “Task of the Teaching Life: Self Through Bakhtinian Dialogue and Ideological Engagement” (2004), Douglas McKnight examines Bakhtin’s 20th century work on dialogue for its potential to serve those who teach for existential reasons as opposed to those who view teaching as merely a job or profession. McKnight describes Bakhtin’s view of dialogue as part of a structure “within and through which we come to consciousness” and through which we give meaning to our existence and begin to understand our connection to others: “From a Bakhtinian sense, dialogue is the relation between: one’s self, a particular ideology within one’s self and a piece of media that puts forth a different ideology, and an individual and the institutional discourse that govern him or her” (McKnight, 2004, p. 284).

:: The points of dialogical relation described by McKnight are akin to the spaces in and between the identities that comprise the a/r/tographical(1) self – the self of the artist, the self of the  researcher, and the self of the teacher – interconnected to one another yet often existing in flux. Mikhail Bakhtin, like Virginia Woolfe before him, understood the self to be something that emerged in time and space. For Bakhtin, the self emerges through dialogue; for Woolf, the self emerges through the act of attention and focus. As a visual artist who is comprised of multiple identities that constantly transform and overlap, often in conflict, I am exploring the connections between these two conceptions of self, investigating the space in which they might meet and reflecting upon how my understandings can be applied to the dialogical relations that occur in the teaching and learning experience.

(1) A/r/tography is a form of arts-based educational research and living inquiry, inherently about self as artist/ researcher/teacher. It is a research methodology that combines art and text, intentionally acknowledging the relationship between art, research, and teaching. It is a methodology of embodiment and awareness. In this paper, I am working with visual art, although a/r/tography can consist of other art forms. See Irwin and Springgay references.


*to download the full paper “Dialogical Balance: Working Through My A/r/tographical Self,” click HERE


Freud, Sigmund (1899).  “Screen Memories,” Collected Papers (Volume 5).  Ed. James _____Strachan, London: Hogarth Press Ltd. and the Institute of Psycho – Analysis, 1952.

Irwin, Rita and de Cosson, Alex (Eds.) (2004). A/r/tography: Rendering self through arts-based _____living inquiry. Vancouver: Pacific Educational Press.

Latta, Margaret Macintyre (2008). Aesthetic education: The task of revisioning, Journal of _____ Curriculum Studies, 40(5), 687-698

Lehrer, Jonah (2007). Proust was a neuroscientist. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

McKnight, Douglas (2004). Task of the teaching life: Self though Bakhtinian dialogue and _____ideological engagement. Interchange, 35(3), 281-302.

Pajaczkowska, Claire (2001). Issues in feminist visual culture. In F. Carson & C. Pajaczkowska _____(Eds.), Feminist visual culture. New York: Routledge.

Rajchman, John (1998). Jean-Francois Lyotard’s underground aesthetics. October, No. 86, _____ 3-18.

Springgay, S., Irwin, R.L., and Wilson Kind, S. (2005). A/r/tography as living inquiry through _____ art and text. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(6), 897-912.

Sumara, Dennis (2005). On the importance of the eccentric curriculum. Journal of the Canadian _____Association for Curriculum Studies 3(1), iii-vi.

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