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Navigating Voices

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There are many ways of thinking about conversation. That listening and speaking, give-and-take between humans can be seen as the process of moving towards a mutually created recognition and agreement when confronting the unknown and unfamiliar. For Hans-Georg Gadamer, conversation, as a model of human activity, also describes the process of human understanding in which knowledge of oneself and the world can never be complete. In the absence of an essential human nature, and in the limitations of historical situatedness, understanding arises through meeting different perspectives. ‘[T]here is an Other who is not an object for the subject but someone to whom we are bound in the reciprocations of language and life’ (Gadamer in Grondin 1994: x).

Talking together publicly involves what Hannah Arendt calls an ‘enlarged way of thinking’, dependant on the presence of others whose perspectives must be taken into consideration (Arendt 1961: 220). To speak in public about one's experiences with nature turns those impressions and reflections into shared ideas and qualities, open to persuasion, judgement and alteration, qualities which may induce others to enter new experiences, or to care for the world (see Whiteside 1998: 30-38). Those experiences – the immediate meetings between the human and other-than-human living beings, entities, landscapes – can be likened to conversation. The relations experienced and expressed are like dialogues, reciprocal exchanges within the variations of communicative abilities. ‘Language’ is not confined to rational, verbal articulation, but taken as the whole of embodied comportment, responsiveness and communicability. The ideals of what constitutes equitable relations in a human conversation, are extended to describe relations with the other-than-human (see Plumwood 2002: 167–195; Dryzek 2000: 140–16; Smith 2001: 59–75). Conversation as a model can be extended also to the experience of meeting a work of art, the back-and-forth of questioning and interpretation involved in coming to an understanding of it.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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