Review essays-dialectic and dialogue-by Dmitri Nikulin

Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 32 (1):177 (2011)
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Dmitri Nikulin extends his earlier study of oral dialogue (On Dialogue [Lexington, 2006]) to an investigation of dialectic, moving from a narrative of its development in Plato and the history of philosophy (ch.s 1-3) through a renewed phenomenological account of oral dialogue (ch.s 4-5) to a critique, from the perspective of oral dialogue, of the limitations of written dialectic (ch. 6). I take up some of the provocations of his bold and open-ended argument. Does his own “writing against writing” constitute a performative contradiction, and if so, does this attest his critique of the limitations of dialectic or exhibit, in the elicitative force of its irony, the transcending of these limitations? How, if at all, may we reconcile Nikulin’s radical claim that oral dialogue is the very mode of being human with the drive of the turn to written dialectic to understand being itself and its relation to being human? Just insofar as the virtues distinctive of written dialectic — above all, precision, systematic elaboration, and universality — move the philosopher to suspend oral dialogue in its essential attention to a particular other and to the “who” that one emerges as for this other, may this very suspension also constitute a phase within ongoing oral dialogue? Are the last words of the “(Dialectical) Conclusion” with which Nikulin paradoxically closes his critique of dialectic really just the opening words of a conversation that the attentive reader’s very being will move him to pursue?

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Mitchell Miller
Vassar College


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