I have been thinking about conversations between two or more people and what it is that goes on in them.
This interest has been partly stimulated by Irvin Yalom’s novel, When Nietzsche Wept, which I have just finished reading while holidaying with friends.
Sociability, of course, feeds a human need. Excluding clearly purposive interchanges such as between doctor and patient or teaching, or exchange of recipe information (though even that may in fact fulfil wider conversational needs) conversation occurs in an almost infinite variety of potential ways.
Wikipedia [https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversation] helpfully groups them in four categories:
- Conversations about subjective ideas, which often serve to extend understanding and awareness
- Conversations about objective facts, which may serve to consolidate a widely held view.
- Conversations about other people (usually absent), which may be either critical, competitive, or supportive. This includes gossip.
- Conversations about oneself, which may be attention-seeking or can provide relevant information to participants in the conversation.
Might this blog be a form of conversation? Certainly any number of topics are possible and though one person starts, there is hope for response!
A 2006 article from The Economist [http://www.economist.com/node/8345491] quotes Cicero’s “On Duties” (44BC). He states that no-one has set down the rules for conversation as they have for Public Speaking and therefore is determined to do so. He is pretty comprehensive in what he covers:
“Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper”
Yalom’s novel delves into the subject rather more deeply. Based upon imaginary meetings between Lou Andreas Salomé, Josef Breuer (Freud’s mentor) and Nietzsche, it emerges from Yallom’s own vast psychotherapeutic knowledge and experience. The plot is well conceived. Nietzsche, at this time in 1882, entirely unknown, wracked by migraines and multiple symptoms is tricked by Lou into consulting with Breuer, Vienna’s leading physician.
The two men are each entrapped in their unrealised sexual fantasies – in Nietzsche’s case to Lou Andreas Salomé and in Breuer’s to Berthe Pappenheim, better known as Anna O. Nietzsche, however, far from seeking sociability, flees from it. Why
The novel is excellently conceived both as an introduction to the early practice and theory of psychoanalysis and to the developing philosophical ideas and output of Nietzsche. It could be that Yalom’s ability as a story teller is less well developed and the novel seems to drag in places.
On the other hand, it may simply be that I wanted to return to conversation with my friends. In any case, following Cicero, I will not speak too much in case you want your turn…?