On October 7th, 2019 I had the chance to attend the Dialogic workshop hosted by Professor Norman Cornet. In a small auditorium, I experienced his unique method of teaching as well as a chance at meeting a prominent local writer.
For 32 years, Professor Norman has been teaching the dialogic approach, a learning method he invented. The theology teacher believes that higher education should be revised and brought back to its roots of a dialogue rather than a monologue. This way everyone is an active listener and there is a different approach to the teacher-student relationship. This method reaches to the core of the self and the spirit of humanity. He believes we are all on a spirit quest and that artists use art and creativity as an expression of the spirit quest.
At this workshop, he teamed up with Rawi Hage, a Lebanese-born and critically acclaimed Canadian author as they went through snippets of his book Beirut Hellfire Society. Hage never intended to be a writer although he was an artist who craved to share his story and experiences. Originally a photographer, he started writing short stories which eventually led to him trying out novels. He believes literature to be more powerful than politics as the medium pulls progressive change in the language of taboo or cultural topics. With thematic discussion, although there is less of it in western media, it furthers discussion in a nation even if the discourse is a bit slow.
With 4 full length novels under his belt, Hage has written on numeral topics. However, Lebanon remains one close to him. His latest work, tackles issues that still loom the country. The title deals with the Civil War of Lebanon in the 70s-80s and its fractured society as well its tribal affiliations. Even after the civil war, Lebanon remains a conservative religious society. With a theology-based republic, issues of morality are brought up such as the extinction of religious minority groups in Lebanon. The book also deals with taboo topics such as sexuality. It questions the religious authority and the erotic mysticism based on law surrounding it. To Hage, religion dictates constrictions and this book hits at what drives it. It challenges oppression between the secular religion who owns the body of society. Themes of living freely and not limiting the body from secular choices and gripping at sexuality in a confrontational context are used as a metaphor for progressive change.
Hage’s message is to enlarge the community of Lebanon from a closed society to a more open one. This is reverberated in dialogic teachings. At its base, it is a collective conversation. A way to communicate a message from the reader to the writer. From yourself to others. Through theology, diaologic teachings analyse religious scriptures and notations such as Hebrew scriptures. These books of law reflect art and artist perception in a cultural subtext. Religion is the substance of culture; culture is the form of religion.
The methodology of the dialogic method begins with the teacher assigning a text or snippet of an article to students. After reading the text, the student and teacher will all write one word that reflects their feelings on what they just read, then a sentence, then a paragraph, then an unfiltered and conscious ramble of their overall opinion. On top of it all, the writings are all done anonymously to get the most honest and creative responses from those who participate. Afterwards the class goes through every single response as they read them out as a group. In this instance, both Rawi Hage and the listeners got to riff on what was stated by anonymous participators. This method allows for unfiltered discussion on topics and actively invests all of those who participate.
Overall, I thought the workshop was really interesting and I would be fascinated if more teachers started incorporating the dialogic method into their courses. This type of conversation breaks the ice in reflections of not only the students but the author of the text themself. Through this collective stream of consciousness, the audience got to see how Rawi Hage reacted and respond to replies out of context. Sometimes he seemed impressed by some reflections and for others, he thought that he had failed as a novelist and was unsure if he has succeeded in spreading his message at all.
Originally Published on bandersnatch.ca