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The Dialogic Nature of Kent’s Paralogic Rhetoric

The Dialogic Nature of Kent’s Paralogic Rhetoric

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Published by Cynthia Bateman

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Published by: Cynthia Bateman on Apr 26, 2011
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Cynthia BatemanThe Dialogic Nature of Kent¶s Paralogic RhetoricIn his essay, ³Paralogic Rhetoric: An Overview,´ Thomas Kent describes a paralogicconception of language as one that recognizes the absence of rules or conventions that, under anycircumstances, dictate or control in advance the success or failure of utterances on their intendedaudiences (143). Kent extols that writing is a communicative act; communication is entirelyheuristic; and, that we become better communicators (better writers) the more we interact withother language users. As a heuristic act, Kent claims that communication is entirelyunpredictable. Yes, we may make more informed guesses as to how another language user mayrespond to a particular word or phrase based on our experience of how other language usersresponded to the same word or phrase, but we are still only guessing. We have no way of ever knowing for certain how another language user will respond to a word or phrase in any givencircumstance. Kent¶s insistence that effective communication requires a language user, another language user, and a world shared with others is reminiscent of Bakhtin¶s notion of dialogicdiscourse (Kent 145-146). In fact, Bakhtin¶s concept of dialogic discourse may offer a morethorough and nuanced understanding of the unpredictable nature of communication than doesKent¶s paralogic rhetoric.Bakhtin writes that before we ever claim a word or an utterance as our own, it has already been claimed. The word or utterance has always already been claimed. He writes, ³The worddoes not exist in a neutral or impersonal language (it is not, after all, out of the dictionary that aspeaker gets his words!)
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, but rather it exists in other people¶s mouths, in other people¶s contexts,
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Though I would argue that even words taken directly from a dictionary are always alreadyloaded with meaning. After all, words are placed into dictionaries based upon their 
 
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serving other people¶s intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one¶sown´ (77). So before we ever speak or write a word, any word we might choose to speak or writeis always already fully loaded with meaning bestowed upon it by its historical heteroglossia.
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 While I suppose Kent¶s reference to a ³shared world´ between two language users mayrepresent Bakhtin¶s notion of heteroglossia in that a shared world may allow for specific wordsor utterances to represent specific means based on socially accepted terms, Kent¶s shared worlddoes not emphasize the importance of context over text that Bakhtin¶s heteroglossia does.Moreover, Kent is unclear as to what exactly he means by ³a world we share with others´ (Kent145). Does there exist a world that we do not share with others? Kent¶s notion of a shared worldseems to imply that we can escape the social and historical nature of language Bakhtin¶s writes isinherent of all words. In addition, Kent seems to assume that language users in a
 shared 
worldagree, to some extent, on the meaning of specific utterances, but I am not convinced of theaccuracy of such an assumption. And again, the reader must appreciate the vagueness of theconcept of a shared world. Perhaps Kent¶s shared world is nothing more than geographical proximity. Of course, a shared world that merely represents physical location at the time of communication does not in any way account for the complexity of meaning inherent to wordsunder Bakhtin¶s notion of heteroglossia.While it is unclear as to whether Kent appreciates the concept of heteroglossia in hiscriteria of a shared world, Kent does acknowledge the need of at least two language users for effective communication (though he does not specify what criteria qualifies a communicative actas effective or ineffective). Bakhtin writes, ³The word in language is half someone else¶s. Ituse/importance in a communicative world. That¶s why dictionaries are constantly updated rather than left stagnant.
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I am referring to Bakhtin¶s definition of heteroglossia as a specific-ideological belief system or a way of seeing the world (Bahktin 73).
 
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 becomes µone¶s own¶ only when the speaker populates it with his own intention, his own accent,when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention´ (77). Alanguage user writes a word with the intention that the chosen word will evoke a particular response in the intended audience. However, Bakhtin emphasizes that the writer¶s chosen wordalready half belongs to someone else. The word comes preloaded with social and historicalmeaning. The writer can do no more than to attempt to mold the word, using various rhetoricaldevices available to him, to suite his particular need, but he must remember that any utterance heconstructs is always already filled with meaning he may or may not intend for it to contain.The writer is the equivalent of Kent¶s language users. Understanding the role of heteroglossia in meaning making is essential for a writer if he is to construct utterances thatconvey the meanings he hopes to convey. After reading Kent¶s overview of paralogic rhetoric, Iam uncertain Kent¶s language users possess such an understanding, in part because of theaforementioned vagueness in that third term²the shared world²and in part because Kent seemsto downplay the very notion of heteroglossia (though he does not ever use that term). He writes,³In the give-and-take of hermeneutic guesswork that accompanies every act of writing, we arenot bound by convention or by any preexisting social system of norms, although knowledge of these conventions or social norms will undoubtedly make our acts of writing more efficient«´(Kent 146). So according to Kent language users are not bound by pre-assigned contextualmeaning of utterances? Bakhtin does write that a language user may populate an utterance withhis own intentions but whether the language user is effective in having his intention override thesocially assigned intention always already contained in the utterance may depend more on thestrength of that social heteroglossia than Kent seems to acknowledge.After all, according to

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