October 4: conversation and how I don’t do it

The other day I was talking to a friend I hadn’t seen for a quite a time. I could tell this friend didn’t get out much by, in part, the material of his or her coversation, and, in part, the shape of the conversation. I had asked a question. The answer was being provided. It had gone on for quite some time. I interrupted with another question to wiggle the subject into a new, less tiresome field. My friend ignored my question (I assumed he or she hadn’t registered it) and continued with the in-depth response to the initial subject. Then, a minute or so later, when that first response was over, went seamlessly into the response to the second question, which turned out to be another solid block of monologue.This is conversation as stimulus with great blocks of response, conversation as exam interrogation, and not my idea of how it should be done. Much as I like prefer Mondrian to Jackson-Pollock as an artist, I do not like conversation done in that way. For me, conversation should be a nimble give-and-take, a picking-up and a putting-down, serious and jokey together, the sublime and grotesque, more Shakespeare than Racine, light. That is the art of conversation. It is not the assiduous articulation of exhaustive reports. You need to adapt to the expectant ears and eyes in front of you. So remember that next time we’re engaged in a chat. Much as I enjoy sponge pudding and custard on the kitchen table, I don’t want it served up in social life.


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