Something Worth Talking About

There is something about a good conversation that is completely satisfying. The Victorian prose fiction I am reading, my new professional position, and some new acquaintances inspired me to do a little research on the topic of conversation. On one hand, conversation is described as an art. On the other hand, it is called a lost art; ‘The Oxford Dictionary’ defines it as informal communication while another source states that conversation must follow specific rules of etiquette. Conversation seems to be a fraught topic. There are mountains of books about conversation with titles like ‘Crucial Conversations,’ and ‘Crucial Confrontations.’ There are writing about ‘conversational narcissism,’ which sounds like it  just might lead to an awkward silence, or worse, an awkward turtle. I found books written about conversation theory, the Bhom Dialogue, and one that described conversation as the most painfully difficult thing people engage in. Everything I read agreed on one point: conversation is indispensable to people, and a fundamental part of daily life. Maybe that’s was there are so many contradictory texts and theories on the subject. It seems that conversation can be sparkling, or you can have a tin ear for dialogue.

I like a good conversation; during the last few weeks I made some acquaintances who also really like a good chat. We had so much fun conversing that we found our selves talking about how startling it is to meet a group of people who thoroughly enjoy and appreciate conversation. We discovered that vocabulary, tropes and theme the conversation essentials for our klatches – we do enjoy a good metaphor. It is quite surprising to find yourself discussing this sort of thing in conversation. If you are anything at all like me you probably never thought about things like vocabulary and use of tropes in casual, informal communication.

According to the anthropologists who’s work I read this week conversation is anything but casual. I think I agree with them. Conversation, dialogue, and discourse are, for me, barometers of society and the individual. They are appropriately complex in exactly the way Barthes described in ‘Image, Music, Text.’   What was most startling to me about our klatches is the presence of the etiquette required to expand conversations. Etiquette means following the ‘rules prescribed by convention or authority;’ its root is an old French word that means ‘label.’ This is all suddenly very revealing to me, and sent me straight back to my Approaches to Text reading list.

The ‘Approaches to Text’ unit is one that I return to again and again in my learning journey. My conversationalist friends, the Victorian authors’ splendid dialogue, and my new professional responsibilities developing communications materials for a non-profit organization converged last week. I love that there is so much to learn, and appreciate the relevance of the topics we study; this week I realized how much I love the process of  studying, and applying  the material in my daily life.  I have never been so glad to be studying English and Comparative Literature.

Studying English and Comparative Literature is one of the best decisions I ever made. When I began studying I expected to use my education and degree to achieve professional goals, and I have, beyond my wildest expectations. What I did not really expect, or at least could not visualize, is how studying English and Comparative Literature would completely change how I think and express myself. That’s something worth talking about.

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