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November 23, 2011, Wednesday

Surplus of seeing and uniqueness of ‘the I’

The Fourth UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum will convene on Dec. 11-13 in Doha, Qatar. The topics of the forum revolve around the same issue: how cultural diversity contributes to human development, be it economic development, the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals or the very humanitarian self-fulfillment of individuals in post-modern multicultural societies. Multiculturalism is a fact of life.

It is not an experiment. We have not been poured into the “melting pots” of nation states to be reduced to homogenous citizens, nor have we been gathered from all corners of the world with the hope of creating a “crossbred” society of a higher order. But it is true that very fact of life is a source of richness for us, if utilized properly.

Celebrating pluralism is a catchy phrase in the post-modern era, but very few people have worked on the mechanisms of how peaceful co-existence and the happy contributions of individuals of differing cultural, religious, ideological, ethnic, linguistic or even disciplinary backgrounds may add value to a discussion. The logic is commonplace logic: the more different perspectives we have in a conversation, the more enriching the end results of that conversation will be.

Michael Bakhtin is a unique exception among scholars who have studied the surplus value the other adds to a conversation.

Bakhtin’s thought about multiplicities in dialogue is almost sketchable. According to him, I cannot see behind my head, only another can see my back and a unified view of what I see, and what another sees makes the universe more complete. Bakhtin called that added value the “surplus of seeing.” But the Bakhtinian world (and, in fact, any world perception after Einstein) cannot be a two dimensional world where we see an “I” looking towards the East and seeing everything east of itself and another sitting in front of it, looking towards the West and seeing the I and everything the I cannot see in the West. The Bakhtinian world is n-dimensional, n being the number of people engaged in any dialogue.

In an n-dimensional world, the position of the I is unique. Nobody but I can see what I can see. Only with that other, can we see what we could never see on our own. The contribution of each and every body in a dialogue is unique and absolutely enriching, and nobody else can make the same contribution.

Any I missing in a conversation is a missed opportunity. Any I missing in a dialogue is a defect in the overall world perception of the participants of that particular dialogue.

The uniqueness of the I is also time specific. The I sees the world in this particular way only in this particular moment. The next moment what the I will see as the world will be the world of the next moment. So, the contribution of any I in any dialogue is time-specific. The participation of any I or any other in a dialogue at a given time produces a surplus of seeing specifically for that particular moment.

What you see in my eyes as complementing you and your world, you will never see in another eye and you will never see it in my eyes in another occasion either. My further contributions to you in the future will not fill the gap created by the fact that you did not look into my eyes here and now.

There is no making up for an absence in dialogue. That is one big reason to be in the Doha Forum.

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