The tone of the philosopher will become sublime when he speaks of the laws of nature, of beings in general, of space, of matter, of motion, and of time, of the soul, of the human mind, of sentiments, and of passions; as to the rest, it will be sufficient for him to be noble and elevated. –Buffon
. . .Still less do I desire to talk learnedly. Learned conversation is either the affectation of the ignorant or the profession of the mentally unemployed. And, as for what is called improving conversation, that is merely the foolish method by which the still more foolish philanthropist feebly tries to disarm the just rancour of the criminal classes. No: let me play to you some mad scarlet thing by Dvorak. The pallid figures on the tapestry are smiling at us, and the heavy eyelids of my bronze Narcissus are folded in sleep. Don’t let us discuss anything solemnly. I am but too conscious of the fact that we are born in an age when only the dull are treated seriously, and I live in terror of not being misunderstood. Don’t degrade me into the position of giving you useful information. Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. -Oscar Wilde The Critic As Artist
The sloppy reader may, in these two quotes, suppose opposing views are being espoused, however, a more careful read reveals their complicity of purpose and meaning. The philosopher of Buffon is more akin to a child reveling in the mystery of first discoveries that pepper childhood’s ignorance and innocence than to the preening academia of the professional thinker. Or, if one prefers an ancient example, compare the joyous meandering conversation of Socrates to his claims against the Sophists; the former has the cognitive wanderlust of genius, the former lacks vitality in the constraints of mercenary tactics and the bounds of formal practice.
We must air our ideas. Either one can do so in the excitement of the sublimity of existence, or in the noxious fumes of pretension. For those interested in digging into the truth this is for you. For those who prefer empty magniloquence, who would feign to speak over the heads of their peers without speaking into their ideas. Get the fuck out. This is not for you, please leave.
The Art Of Conversation
The purpose of conversation as a mental exercise is exploration and practice. The metaphor carries on, as in strength training, the mental weight if unused becomes vanity; vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.* The new formed muscles must serve their purpose whether in sport or in labor, or, as a cruelty artist might devise, in mere intimidation. Regardless, well-formed arms are no end in themselves, neither is a well-formed mind.
Conversation, of the banal variety, the small talk, sports, weather, politics, family, work, whatever else, gratify a need for entertainment and society; deeper conversation tests, tries one’s beliefs and provides a forum to air them out. As one reads deeply and across large swathes of Western history he will inadvertently internalize crazy shit. If you do not give voice to these ideas, they fester and compound, eventually you become a quack, a crackpot, and a general wanker. However, if a man is able in the company of men to engage them in answering a question–What is man; what is beauty–not what is beautiful, not the qualities of the elusive 10, the ideal; do right and wrong, good and evil exist; what is the nature of God; how much can a man know; from whence comes knowledge; does free will exist; why are fringe Calvinists socially awkward; why is a raven like a writing desk?–he avoids the transformation into a wack-a-doo.
Conversation is the germination of the seed that carried all the forests of philosophy. (Relativism, the theory that sticking one’s finger in one’s bottom is as good as philosophy for providing important answers, is the logger cutting the forest down. No tree is sacred.)
Conversation of the higher things, rerum excelsior, forces a man to prove himself to his peers; among men one must be quick and malleable, as one idea is shot down a man must either prepare its defense extempore or admit his mistake, reevaluate and restate, then move in another direction. As one reads deeper and wider into the vast seas of the West he will assuredly begin to feel his understanding expanded. Conversation, with an intelligent peer, puts a man back in his place, much like one who after a month of strength training in seclusion exercises with a fitter friend. It is encouraging, your better ought to goad you to be better than you are today; or, if your friends are dicks: scotch and a sucker punch. Both ways you win.
The point is not to learn in a tower, but to take your hard won knowledge to the field. Writing screed on a blog about whatever one fancies to know is no replacement. Anyone with a sufficient audience will find ample supplies of ditto-men, he needs instead to test his mettle against a stronger foe, to spar mentally.
Avoid at all cost vapidity. If one fills his soul with emptiness, his soul will remain empty. As a man grows his conversation should grow, not more learned–that is dogmatic and scholarly, of the academic-speak variety–but more lucid, logical, and cadent. Many people, maybe as many as despise diets, having fat heads to match their fat bodies, disdain discussing the merits of aristocracy as a means of preserving tradition, or the knowable traits of God, why Greece conquered Rome, or the nature of existence and being, of living as opposed to existing; find a sparring partner.
Avoid topics that pertain to events happening at the moment; they are too close to consider independently of one’s own prejudices; avoid politics in the specifics; do not ask if it is lawful to make a glass factory of the Middle East, ask if laws arise naturally or if they are statutory; avoid statistics; do not ask about growing numbers of PTSD, ask about the nature of Glory, Honor, and Spoils. These are all fair topics for light discussion, just as jogging is technically exercise but it isn’t going to give you strength like Victor Pride.
A final note. A very good conversation should leave your mind reeling, like a good workout can leave your arms wobbling; after you workout you feed your muscles, after a mental workout feed your mind. Pick up another book while the ideas are fresh, or better yet grab a pen.
Veritas numquam perit,
*Vanity of vanities, all is vanity -Ecclesiastes 1:2