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This report is taken from PN Review 194, Volume 36 Number 6, July - August 2010.

Catchwords (7) Iain Bamforth

Dialogologies. I discovered only recently that the sometimes annoying French habit of publishing expositions of philosophical systems in interview form goes all the way back to Descartes, and to a young theology student at Leiden, Frans Burman, who tracked the great man down to the north Dutch abbey town of Egmond-Binnen in order to record their Q&A session on 16 April 1648, less than two years before the philosopher’s death. An English translation (from the original Latin) of their talk was published only in the 1970s, although the French translation itself had had to wait until the collected works appeared in 1896. While Burman’s questions are pertinent, complete and even quite slyly insistent with regards to clarifying what the master meant by innate ideas, and display a thorough acquaintance with the original texts, the same cannot always be said of some of the modern ‘conversations’, which show no recognition at all of the remarkable outcome of Descartes’ attempt to make an experiment, not an argument of the cogito.

The devil of publication is whispering ‘Why spend all this effort on writing books, when we can get between covers just by pretending to have a dialogue?’

The imperative mode still has something magical about it – you expect the letter of instruction to become reality here and now through the sole agency of an auditor.

Wilhelm Dilthey once pointed out that if two persons engaging in a dialogue both understood precisely what they were ...

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