Spying on the gentle art ofconversation

On a daily basis, my worldview tends a tad more toward the narrative weave of Plato than the precision of Aristotle.  But on regular occasion, events do tend to catch me up and I see the virtue of the latter’s brilliant classifying energies. To wit, the past 10 days in regard to conversation, a pursuit that very clearly shows both the intentional functional differences between ars and techne.

I am a creature who craves the former and, in recent days, has been involved over much with the latter:  the exchange of information rather than the eliciting of new ideas or the construction of refreshed feeling. Conversation should move us, both together and as individuals, rather than be a volley of data or, only marginally more interesting, a co-lecture.

Conversation matters because it is bigger than the words, thoughts, puns, explanations, questions, guesses and assertions that hold it together and allow it to hang in the air between us as something with  its own body and shape and temperature and hue. Conversations, real conversations, change us, frighten us, reassure us, realign our molecular structure not according to a knowable pattern but according to a pattern that requires further discovery.

In fact, I did have two of these yesterday, strewn about without proper due among another half dozen or so that were faint and either manufactured or stridently one-sided (with speaker on one side and listener struggling to maintain true sorge on the other side). The good that arose from this is not a small one: today I care quite fervently that those conversations that lie ahead be of the mattering sort, rather than pastry cream.

Fortunately, conditions are perfect for this resolution, as I am with people for whom conversation does indeed matter and have the will myself to make it so. I am oddly reminded of the first day of my second year of boarding school, when, in the space of walking down a staircase in South Hall (between the third and second floors), I consciously decided to be chatty rather than continuing in the rather tightlipped manner my previous 12 and a half years had been lived. I have no idea why I made that decision on that staircase or why my determination to reconnect conversationally pulls with such force now.  Only that, in both times, ee cummings was right: “since feeling is first…”


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