Intercultural Dialogue and the Human Image – Maurice Friedman at the IGNCA

Edited by S.C. Malik and Pat Boni, Published by IGNCA, New Delhi and D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd., New Delhi, 1995, xii, pp.286, index, Rs.600/-

This work is a valuable record of Professor Maurice Friedman’s lectures, discussions and seminar which took place during his visit to the Centre, in which a number of eminent Indian intellectuals took part.

The focus of the collected work is upon understanding the nature of human existence, which is characterised in terms of an individual’s “dialogical” relationship with the other. The basic `given’ of the human situation is that the individual exists in an ongoing dialogue with the rest of existence. The influence of Martin Buber’s thought is notably present in Friedman’s own approach to the quest of authentic existence.

On the one hand, the dialogical perspective upon life rejects the modern conception of the individual as a pure abstract will somehow engaged `in’ the world, and capable of choosing freely from the possibilities of modes of existence presented to him in his deeper, fullaer grasp of the human situation. In this perspective the individual’s uniqueness becomes merely a function of his situatedness in the dialogical encounter with the other. The individual is just that entity which is defined in terms of the attributes and the character of the dialogical relationships he is supposed to initiate. He seems to have no independent ontological status (a notion Bijoy Boruah finds puzzling, p.199).

On the other hand, the central Existentialist obsession with `free choice’ (as in Buber:’ … I turn with the whole of my existence towards the good’ p.68) requires no less than what is rejected, namely, the spontaneity of a will which is unique and exists prior to the choice it contemplates making. Thus there is a tension running through Friedman’s argument – a tension between the possibility of freely choosing the direction of one’s life and what may be called `dialogical determinism’ of the contents of the self. I believe this tension has not been successfully resolved in the discussion that follows while too much time got spent on exploring the notion of `dialogue’ itself.

Nonetheless, the immense advantage of the dialogical perspective for understanding human relationships especially in ethics cannot be underscored. If existence is necessarily dialogical, then the well-being of the so-called individual must be a derivative of the qualities of the relationships he enters into. So the Other is already included in my own existence. The Other’s existence is not like the existence of an object. Our experience of other human beings is clearly different – they are being like ourselves. It follows that God has to be viewed as personal if religion is to be a dialogue between I and Thou. This creates a problem for the notion of dialogue, especially for conceiving a dialogical relationship between man and nature of objects of art.

The dialogue perspective throws new light on the nature of aesthetic experience. If the experiencer is no longer a separate entity than the experienced object, then in reality there would only be experiencing. In a creative dialogical engagement the duality of I-Thou relationship must cease to exist. This opens up a way of looking at creativity which is much closer to the Indian spiritual tradition.

Having said that, I must cinfess, that a book of this sort cannot be easily reviewed as `it cannot be summarized’ (Friedman, p.283). It has to be read and used as material for a `dialogue with one’s own soul’ (Plato’s expression). Its insights will be extremely valuable to all those who are working within the fields of philosophical anthropology, philosophy of art, therapy, religion and ethics. The credit goes to editors and the publisher for making such a work available in an almost completely error-free print.

– M.M Agrawal



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