You’re going to hear a lot about a “dialogue with literature” and a “dialogue within literature” this year. If you want to either enjoy this class or do well in it, you’ll need to grasp this concept from the beginning.
Let me first define dialogue by what it is NOT. Dialogue is not, the book or poem speaks to us, and we guess at what it really said. It is NOT, the text says something, and we respond by spouting opinions about what it said.
A dialogue consists of voices in conversation moving ideas toward understandings – understanding of the idea, understanding of the self, understanding of literature. These understandings are dynamic things; for example, while you likely have an understanding of what love is right now, you probably also know that your experiences of life will give you opportunities to understand love in many different ways. The same thing can happen with the same book: The Great Gatsby can mean one thing to you when you’re 17, another when you’re 27 and you’ve seen more self-fashioning, and still another when you’re 77 and you’re reflecting on all the things people do to get what they think they want.
If you can accept the concept that there is no fixed meaning for a text, that there is no point to arguing for an exclusive meaning for a text, that there should be an intellectual joy for discovering the connections between what people have written and what people have always wanted to know, feel, experience, then you’re ready to move on to the forms of dialogue we will encounter on our journey through this year.