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Paralogy


The word "paralogy" comes from Jean-francois Lyotard. In his book, The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard argues against Jurgen Habermas. Habermas has argued that our conversational quest should be for consensus, but Lyotard opposes that saying that the quest should be for "paralogy".

Paralogy is the ongoing creation of meaning. You say something and it inspires me to say something in return. Consensus, Lyotard tells us, is merely a stage in our conversation. What conversation can give us can be much more valuable than that. It can bond us to the process of a dialogue that requires both our parts, and when it works successfully it can awaken our minds to an unending expansion of new ideas. That's paralogy.

And what about "enchantment" and "charisma"? I am using "enchantment" to point to the way in which we all sink into a point of view, even though we can, when we think about it, identify with the opposing point of view, at least a little. Enchantment is the suspension of our awareness of alternative points of view. Without enchantment we would swim in inconsistency and confusion.

Perhaps, "charisma", as you note it, is to have the power to draw others into your own enchantment. If so, I would say that "charisma" is a modernist term, not a postmodern one. It is a way to reach consensus. In this modernist picture, if I have 'charisma' I can brainwash you into thinking my way.

But I hope that if I do sometimes say something that resonates for you, then you will, please, take it and call it your own. And while you have it as your own, perhaps you would be willing to take it in your hands and mold it a little so that the ideas sing to you even more clearly, so that the ideas become distinctively yours and no longer show the hidden trace of my voice. And finally, when you have it like you like it, please send it back to me with your signature. I guarantee I will not know your thought was seeded by my own. After all, my thoughts are seeded in this way, too. Do any of us ever say anything that is not just such a creative reweaving of the words we've heard before?

Lois Shawver, 25 September 1996