Culture and Dialogue: The Tenth Anniversary

In: Culture and Dialogue
Gerald Cipriani
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Volume 10 of Culture and Dialogue is a landmark in the history of the journal.

Who would have imagined that eleven years after its launch in 2011 by Taipei-based publisher Airiti Press the need for comprehending the nature of the dialogue in all its forms and practices would have been more pressing than ever? In a world increasingly characterised by partly human-made imbalances of all kinds, whether biological, environmental, political, economic, religious, linguistic, aesthetic, ethnic or gender-based among others, understanding how to channel energies between selves, selves and worlds, or selves and nature is the fundamental condition not only for the possibility of a civilised way of life, but also for the possibility of existence per se. The dialogue, understood as “conversing across” according to its ancient Greek etymology, is a practice of self-emptying whose relational movement is at the core of the renewal of all parties involved – a bridging that makes the dialogue anything but “binary” or “dualistic” as too often ill-understood. The dialogue is therefore no instrument for static co-existence between differences. Nor is the dialogue a confrontational dialectic that would bring us to the promised land of a synthesis in the waiting of further crises, predicaments, and suffering. None of this. The affirmation of differences in the making through mutual relinquishing is creativity in motion necessarily within a unifying field of sameness that itself undergoes transformation in the process. Needless to say, and thus understood, the spirit of the dialogue holds as abysmal any form of ideology, in whatever field, for whatever purpose. For what rests at the core of the dialogue is the urge to preserve not only human dignity but also the dignity of the milieux within which we find ourselves. The dialogue is a human practice that seeks to sustain mesological dignity. Crucially, this also implies that ethical equality between all parties involved is a critical condition of the dialogue, and this regardless of differences of degree or kind, whether in terms of size, tradition, fabric, language, position, and so on. At times the spirit of the dialogue needs to find the concrete means to remain alive or give others the free choice of dialogical experience and configuration. This is where the spirit of the dialogue departs from the dangerous naivety of some forms of pacifism – the ones that in the not-so-distant past and in some parts of the world translated into “collaborationism” with invading autocratic regimes, or even, however paradoxical it may appear, “colonialism” when self-proclaimed as pacificism that seeks to “civilise the savage” and bring an end to indigenous infighting by means of its own colonial model. To resist and overcome barbarism in all its forms with the aim of re-establishing and preserving true peace, namely one that is neither homogenous nor imposed but relational, communities or individuals have to resort from time to time and reluctantly to non-dialogical measures – but each time in such a way that the very dialogical end does not justify any means so as not to mutate into the same kind of barbarity against which it is fighting. Evidently, only when such theoretical points move to the concrete fields of the dialogue do we realise the infinite complexity of the matter. Still, in the face of the challenges, disasters and atrocities of all kinds induced by human beings one would be either dishonest or undiscerning not to accept what has been the motto of the journal since its creation, that if more people understood the nature of the dialogue there would be fewer problems in the world.

From all these concerns emerged the idea of launching a journal devoted to the promotion, practice, and scholarship of the dialogue in all its cultural forms – a project to which the late Tzvetan Todorov instantly and wholeheartedly lent his name. Martin Ovens, of the University of Oxford, who is known for his work in comparative philosophy also showed immediate interest and enthusiastically joined the editorial team together with Loni Reynolds and Robert Clarke who offered to write reviews of books relevant to the theme of each issue. And since its purchase by well-established and renown Leiden-based publisher Brill in 2015 the journal has also enjoyed the equally invaluable assistance of Erika Mandarino and subsequently Kaitlin Sager.

The journal has been publishing from its beginning two issues per year, each focusing on a particular theme within the theme of “culture and dialogue” and with the distinct feature of being open from time to time to different languages in addition to English. Some issues were guest-edited by authorities in their field, which is certainly something we wish to pursue. To reach a broader readership we have, however, recently decided that only one issue will be thematic while the other will address the general topic of “culture and dialogue.”

From the outset the range and richness of topics covered in the journal have been breath-taking; and the same holds true with the diversity of methods used, whether hermeneutical, comparative, dialogical, interpretive, or analytic. This is a journal that publishes cutting edge research at the crossroad of philosophy and cultural studies, not for heuristic or instrumental reasons but to address increasingly vital problematics at the core of the very possibility of existence – our existence as well as that of others and the milieux within which we all live.

This anniversary issue 10.1 at first intended to celebrate “the arts and cultures of the dialogue” without privileging any theme or perspective. But then, in view of the dramatic unfolding of events at the heart of Europe on a scale unseen in the twenty-first century and whose barbarity should be unequivocally condemned by all civilised parties – as should be any similar forms of aggression worldwide, we decided to welcome more specific topical reflections such as on war, peace, violence, sovereignty, disinformation, or self-constructed history. The end result is a blend of timely contributions written in the spirit of the dialogue as well as about non-dialogical experiences, stances or views.

Daniel Raveh discusses the meaning and nature of non-violence through the lens of a dialogue between three great thinkers who addressed the issue of violence within the contexts of India and/or Pakistan, namely, Ramchandra Gandhi, Saadat Hasan Manto, and Mahasweta Devi. Mohamed Turki suggests the possibility of a “humanist culture of co-existence and sharedness in place of a culture of exclusion, terror and war” by reflecting on the work of Edward Said from Orientalism to Humanism and Democratic Criticism. Philip O. Ujomu equally proposes through the African concept of “ubuntu” a relational alternative to the dynamics that lead to “peonage, domination, oppression, and exploitation” in all their forms. Gereon Kopf take an allegory, the “Twelve Wolf Encounter Pictures,” as a starting point to reflect on the dynamics that govern multi-cultural encounters and, in particular, the “pervasive resistance to acknowledging our common humanity and our equality as human beings.” Finally, Robert Clarke offers a timely and topical review of a collection of poems, Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine, which reminds us, if need be, of “the intolerable collapse of dialogue” in situations of conflict, violence and destruction.

I hope that readers will enjoy the selection of essays of this anniversary issue. I also hope that the journal has over the years successfully achieved to highlight the centrality and multifarious nature of the dialogue, in a way as an admission of its fragility should we forget or neglect to find the robust means to keep it alive.

Obviously, the views expressed in this Editorial are those of the Editor in Chief and do not necessarily reflect word for word those of all colleagues involved in the journal. This final point leads me to renew my gratitude to all members of the editorial team and board who have, in one way or another, individually or through their respective institutions, contributed to maintaining Culture and Dialogue alive.

Gerald Cipriani

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