I recently re-read Augusto Boal’s Legislative Theatre. In the Prologue he writes:
In reality, does dialogue exist, ever? Or is the contrary the case – that what we think is dialogue never actually goes beyond parallel or overlapping monologues?…Could it be that we merely speak and cease speaking, intermittently, rather than speaking and listening? We know the word we speak, but we do not know what will be heard. What we say is never what is heard. (p4)
Boal turned his attention to the ways in which theatre and performance might possibly offer spaces for the development of more genuinely dialogic forms of engagement and wrote about his “experiments” across almost as many years as Paulo Freire, and worked in many of the same geographic contexts as Freire, whom he considered his “father”.
The centrality of the search for dialogue as a way to come to understand and transform the social and cultural is something that at present confuses me. As a result of recent experiences, I am left wondering if in fact genuine dialogue across class, race, gender, age,sexuality, able-bodyness, and all the other markers of positionality is possible. The characteristics that position me – whether those markers are assumed by me or ascribed by others – serve to anchor me in what seems to be an oppositional space to those who do not share those characteristics. If a core aspect of solidarity requires that I understand the position/s of others – that I am able, almost, to try on someone else’s subjectivities – then empathetic, humble dialogue is clearly a key task.
BUT: does the power of being positioned work as necessity against such solidarity? Because I wear markers of certain privileged (at this point in time) identities – white, male, heterosexual- am I not to be admitted to the struggle? Am I positioned as being, in essence, the Other to the struggle? (And if so, how much “worse” is that than, say, being identified as a white, heterosexual woman? Just one notch off?) The role of the privileged ally is a troubled one, and my thinking at present is that Boal’s search for ways to continually nourish genuine dialogic engagement across and within broader cliques or classes should be one of the primary tasks of the critical community. Are we becoming so atomised by the tyranny of positionality that we are overlooking the central need to come to know each other through human-to-human dialogue? Undoubtedly, race matters. Gender matters. Sexuality matters. The discourses and discursive practices that construct these subjectivities matter, but unless we’re going down the path of hierarchically arranging oppressions (in which case, I’ll argue for class as a determining and defining aspect of contemporary life), then we need, in my opinion, to be watchful that we aren’t straitjacketed into position(alitie)s we can’t manoeuvre within. Certainly, we need to ensure the constraining straps of “positionality” and “subjectivities” aren’t so tight that we can’t join hands in common struggles.