Craig M. Gay – Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
BS (Stanford), MTS (Regent College), PhD (Boston)
Craig Gay lectures in the area of Christianity and Culture, directs Regent’s ThM degree program, and edits Crux, Regent’s journal of Christian thought and opinion. He is the author of Dialogue, Catalogue and Monologue, Cash Values: The Value of Money the Nature of Worth, The Way of the (Modern) World, With Liberty and Justice for Whom? and he co–edited (with C. Peter Molloy) The Way of Truth in the Present Age. Craig has contributed chapters to a number of collections on the subjects of “modernity,” “secularization” and “economic ethics” and his articles and reviews have appeared in Christian Scholar’s Review, American Journal of Sociology, Crux and Markets & Morality. An active member of St. John’s (Shaughnessy) Anglican Church, Craig and his wife, Julie, have four children.
Gay, Craig M. 2008. Dialogue, Catalogue & Monologue: personal, impersonal and depersonalizing ways to use words. Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing.
The main title of Gay’s book (Dialogue, Monologue, Catalogue) outlines his concerns on the use of words in three “distinct postures” and his subtitle (Personal, Impersonal and Depersonalizing ways to use words) delineates his apprehension further. It is not only our words, but the attitudes we take on them and the deceptive purposes to which they are put. Words, Gay declares, “are at the essence of our existence” (p.12) and we are only as good or true as our words.
Dialogue is a posture of “genuine conversation,” monologue is a posture of “willfulness,” a means to an end, and catalogue is used by Gay to stand for a posture of “uncommitted observation.” It is the latter form of communication that I will suggest is becoming the main vehicle for the International Language Program Services (the old Academic Affairs), in which knowledge is accumulate but can, “in principle, be spoken by anyone, to anyone else, and at any time.” Examine Insite, for example, to see the depth of knowledge, words and information that ILPS demonstratesÑa virtual catalogue, but how can we determine how much wisdom it contains? This is an important issue because as technology increases face to face dialogue decreases (“send me an e–mail on that”).
The purpose of language is dialogical–God spoke to man and before that the Godhead communicated with each other. Jesus, incarnated as the Word, listened, spoke and taught. Gay points out that dialogue raises some questions about humans and evolution–was there ever a man that did not talk to someone? We communicate “on the basis of a shared understanding of experience” (p.29) and interaction is on the basis of our words and the “personal backing that each of us gives to our words as we speak them” (p. 35).
There are certain conditions for genuine dialogue: a common world in which to hear each other speak, respect for each other when we speak, honesty and openness (which always entails risk), standing behind the words we speak, and a desire to seek truth. Without this, “our words must eventually devolve into chatter” (p. 41). On the other hand, dialogue breaks down when we speak careless words, and there is fear and mistrust. And even in the best of situations, communication can be simply the result of our mutual interests such that we may sidestep dialogue.
Gay ties dialogue to human destiny, seeing it as an “all–or–nothing event.” We may easily mistake words and speech to substitute for a full interpersonal relationship of dialogue. This follows Gay’s assertion that “[if] human origins can be tied to dialogue, then so, too, can the matter of human destiny” (p.48). The distortionof words lead to confusion and deceit.
“Catalogue speech is that which is spoken out of a posture of objectivity,” a position that most scientists would claim but rarely exemplify. It is the position of information technology, which is convenient, but dissociated and impersonal. As Gay says, “it doesn’t really tell us anything about ourselves at the deepest level,” although it is “interesting, informative, and often useful” (p.56). Catalogue speech is also visually biased, largely descriptive and yet passive and “we have come to believe that if we can see the surface relations between things, we can be said to know them completely” (p.58). In catalogue speech we want to accumulate enough information to know how something works and how we can make it work for us, but it is essentially and “ultimately wordless.”
In our organization(s) have learned how to logically arrange things in a system and then act upon and manipulate them. We do not so much reflect and contemplate, but rather we prize intellectual activity to theorize, speculate, illuminate, demonstrate, explicate, and so on. We think of intellectual activity by means of analogy and vision, exemplified with our digital imaging technology. We believe to some extent that we are outside of the world of objects and can observe them impersonally (although Pike taught us that we must move back and forth from the outside view (etics) to the inside view (emics). We are arriving at the state where we may soon believe that we can manage language programs technologically and will face difficulties in asking and answering questions about ourselves. Again, to quote Gay, “we still tend to think of education as a process of arranging, cataloguing, and transmitting information” (p.71).
A number of years ago I was asked to take part in an aviation safety accident report and visited the site of the accident. I was the lone social scientist; the others were professional technicians. When the report came out it was devoid of personal pronouns. The wind and the airplane, the wing and the load, all of these and other inanimate objects were the culprits–the pilot and the person handling the cargo, were not mentioned. Reflecting on this, I indentified immediate with Gay who said, “indeed, quite often, the language of science and technology is entirely devoid of personal pronouns” (p. 75). Could it be that “busyness distracts us from facing the disconcerting realization that more often than not we do not really have any idea who we are and what we are doing” (p.77).
Gay is not kind when he talks about the language of catalogue: “It overwhelms us with … words and speech” on a “flat visual plane” such that we are “deluged… by vast quantities of information and… a plethora of opinions” (pp. 80–81). Instead of catalogue we must occupy “a minority position within Western culture” in which our personal words and speech establish stability and coherence.
Gay begins his chapter on monologue by recounting the promises of the scientists who completed the inventory of the human genome. They believed they had discovered “the language of God” and that all human problems could be converted into technical problems–there was no interest in one’s existential awareness. In other words, a monologue occurred, where “the speaker has an unbounded sense of him– or herself, seeking from others only that which somehow confirms his or her own desires” (p. 89).
In monologue there is always an ulterior motive, nowhere better illustrated in our culture than in advertising, where we are led to believe that the quality of our life is enhanced by consumption. Politicians have learned this art and have used the narrative of promise to gain personal control. Issues that are complex are made very simple and words are abused and manipulated.
Gay concludes his book with comments on a Christian theology of the Word because “to the extent that words and speech have been corrupted within contemporary culture, there will be no escaping this corruption short of attempting to restore dialogue to health” (p. 119).
Dialogue is, of course, the posture that Gay is suggesting, noting that it describes God’s own nature of intercommunication. I agree with Gay that “our culture has become full of empty–in effect, ‘musical’–speech indicates a desperate indifference to responsible personal existence” (p.143). I end with a statement by Gay, reframed as a question: Will we, in our organizations, speak the truth and stand behind the words that we utter? That would take place in dialogue, not in the more “comfortable” postures of monologue or catalogue.
Review by Karl Franklin