Battling with dialogic discourse

Battling with dialogic discourse

The electricity was rewired in my study.


You rewired the electricity in my study. Credit where credit is due.

You rewired the electricity in my study whilst I was out. My first proper out since lockdown began. Why is that significant? Just so that people know clearly where their sympathies should lie. This out was deserved. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Prior to this act of rewiring, and I honestly can’t remember precisely when, we had had one of those conversations that people (like us?) have to pass the time: listing things we were going to do in the few remaining days, discussing whether the weather would rain or not, what we were going to have for tea, whether the shopping list was ready or not. And if not, why not. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. Later, you said that I had said that you could do whatever you wanted. Go ahead. Be my guest. A la bonne heure. Until very recently I thought that this expression had something to do with happiness. It doesn’t. But that’s by the by. You knew damn well that this was my way of saying, do whatever you want, just don’t involve me. Or, don’t bother me with that now, because I am thinking about something quite different. Which you would have interpreted as me implying that what I was doing was more important than what you were intending to do. And you knew I knew that you thought that you knew. But let’s nip that knowing about knowing right in the bud, before it does all our heads in. Even though a big part of the problem is right there.

But what is to be expected from conversations that are measured in years rather than minutes? Between two people who were once individuals but have now morphed into something quite different. Maybe, one might consider not listening as normal and healthy in this particular context. A defence mechanism. I know, you would not agree with this suggestion at all. If I were to ask you, which I damn well won’t, you would say that it is undeniable proof of unbearable egocentricity. Ok, you’re right.  I do have a selfish streak. And when I am feeling particularly bien luné, I will even go as far as to say that I am, on occasion, guilty of not hanging on – or from – your every word.  If I try to figure out, in a lazy sort of way, when this trait of not listening properly developed, I find that it’s impossible to pinpoint. And this lack of precision, it seems to me, is symptomatic of general sloppiness and reprehensible even, for without noticing or listening, no skill, including that of language, can be acquired. And no amends can be made. How can an eventual argument be anything but one-sided if at least one of the interlocuters is not quite sure what they are arguing about? Or claims not to be sure, having taken great care not to put themselves in a position where they know what they are supposed to know. For paying attention requires motivation. It implies effort and ultimately change.

Not listening properly is absolutely, hand-on-heart, not one of your faults. I didn’t say many. Or even imply it. Ever this disturbing tendency to put words into my mouth. You, on the contrary, have the scary skill of listening too well and holding to account. Sometimes, I suspect you of even going as far as fabricating exchanges in your head and then interpreting everything that is said through the filter of those imaginative conversations. Although now that I’ve put it like that, it seems probable to me that everyone is guilty of this. Not least of all myself. Our tragedy is clearly not personal.

Over and over the same old overs again.  For while circumstance and experiences vary over the years our utterances are immutable, based on great wads of shared time, births and deaths, sex, frames of reference, assumptions, blind spots. Misunderstandings. The words themselves may change, but it is not the words that matter for we cease to hear them, hearing only what we want to hear. Hearing enough to judge whether that which is spoken is pleasant or funny or loving or scathing or hateful or reproachful. Uncaring. We don’t need Bakhtin to tell us that all our utterances are echoes of what has been said before and are shaped by what is to be said.

Heart clenching. Muscles wrenching. Tendons stretched to screaming point.

But we are not there yet.

Some couples have each other say things they don’t mean and then use these untruths to construct their shared narrative. Some reproach each other the words that weren’t said: “You didn’t say thank you”. “Well you didn’t say please”. “I love you”. ‘’Thank you”. “Don’t you mean, ‘I love you too?’” “Why do I never say the right thing?” “Why do you never say what needs to be said”. Others force their partners to put into words what should never be said, particularly if they are true. A word of advice. Bite your tongue and look down at your slippers and do whatever you need to do not to utter that which should not be uttered. And will cost you dear. For everyone knows you should never call a cunt a cunt. The fact that someone (let’s move away here from you or I) was or is capable of acting like one, does not excuse anything. On the contrary. And so on. Ad infinitum.

We have learnt to use these same arms too well.

At loggerheads: clanging and cumbersome. The viciousness of a couteaux tirés is much more exhilarating and foreign.

With foreignness comes dissociation.

“I’m going to rewire your study and put an extra plug in the adjacent bedroom and whilst I’m at it…”. “Uh huh…I’m going to (try and) do some marking and then (as you already know) I am going out.” Rewriting is such a ball! A romp. No need for bleating, whining, apologising.

You should have said clearly. Oops. I should not have let the should slip out, for with it blame shifts in a way that I cannot easily deny. It’s the red rag you have been waiting for. What you are saying is you couldn’t, because I should have? What are you, mentally deficient (débile)? No, I am asking you to spell out your bullying heart. Admit, admit. What does that make you? Or do I mean me?

You required immediate action and I dug my heels in. If you had said: I am going to… and would you mind?  I could have (not saying I would have, but I might have) said well, that’s lovely but… But the bit after the but would not have been to your liking.  So, you let me go and you did all the dirty work alone, in bitterness. Your fury vented on my return was all the sweeter for being righteous. I had a fun afternoon. How about you? Are you taking the piss? Rhetorical question. What do you take me for? Nobody asked you to. How was I supposed to know? But that makes it even worse and the shouting begins.

I remember wondering idly why you couldn’t have done something else entirely or nothing at all.

 And what coming home to quietness would be like.

After bruising bouts of verbal viciousness, we slink away to our books or our screens, mouths mauled and bleeding from all that sharpness.  Mercifully, nobody let themselves be forced into eating their words.

What after? What comes next? What is left? All these pesky questions.

I would like to say pillow talk. Which is not the same as confession, whatever the translators may say. In the spirit of reconciliation, let’s make the last word a sigh. Not a prayer. A simple sigh. Before darkness.

You will notice that it is not specified if this is a sigh through gritted teeth, a soft sigh, a solitary sigh or a shared sigh.

Because who am I to say?

Thanks as ever for flowers from fig_tart

5 Replies to “Battling with dialogic discourse”

  1. Zaro, I read Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby and loved it. Thank you so much for the recommendation and the VERY flattering comparison. What impressions did I come away with? Pale orange images blushed with rose, the velvety touch of death, bird tears supped by moths, links between surgery, sewing and sutras. Survival strategies: Mary Shelley’s creativity, the narrative skills of Scheherazade and Ashley Smith, Che Guevara’s empathy, Atagutaluk’s cannibalism. Remembering. Climate change and hermaphrodite polar bears. Deserts and northern wastes. The joy that can come from writing about pain and loss. The capacity we have to read and listen, to tell and translate stories into our own particular language so that we can understand and respond. Metamorphose. The idea that creation is a creature if not of darkness, then of the glimmering half light required to tinker. The art of making without knowing exactly what it is we are doing. Messing around. A singing child in a well. Gifts and stories.

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