Freedom and Dialogue in a Polarized World

By (author) Sharon Schuman

Publication date:

11 December 2013

Length of book:

256 pages


University of Delaware Press

ISBN-13: 9781611494624

Freedom and Dialogue in a Polarized World argues that our most cherished ideas about freedom—being left alone to do as we please, or uncovering the truth—have failed us. They promote the polarized thinking that blights our world. Rooted in literature, political theory and Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories of language, this book introduces a new concept: dialogic freedom. This concept combats polarization by inspiring us to feel freer the better able we are to see from the perspectives of others.

To say that freedom is dialogic is to apply to it an idea about language. If you and I are talking, I anticipate from you a response that could be friendly, hostile, or indifferent, and this awareness helps determine what I say. If you look bored or give me a blank stare, I might not say anything at all. In this sense language is dialogic. The same can be said of freedom. Our decisions take into account the voices of others to which we feel answerable, and these voices coauthor our choices.

In today’s polarized world, prevailing concepts of freedom as autonomy and enlightenment have encouraged us to take refuge in echo chambers among the like-minded. Whether the subject is abortion, terrorism, or gun control, these concepts encourage us to shut out the voices of those who dare to disagree. We need a new way to think about freedom.
Freedom and Dialogue in a Polarized World presents riveting moments of choice from Homer’s Iliad, Dante’s Inferno, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Melville’sBenito Cereno,” Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony,” and Morrison’s Beloved, in order to advocate reading for and with dialogic freedom. It ends with a practical application to the debate about abortion and an invitation to rethink other polarizing issues.

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"To see true dialogue as a way of allowing conflicting voices to hear and understand one another is to offer hope of some resolution in our current world of polarization and impasse. Sharon's book on Freedom and Dialogue in a Polarized World does just that, by taking us back to some great debates of literary art, like Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, in which dialogic freedom takes the liberating form of seeking out a continuum of layers of knowing, as Portia and Shylock fail to navigate a way of transcending the hostility and cultural deafness that holds them apart. This thoughtful book is timely in the best sense."