Esteemed thinker: Jonathan Swift

Conversation_Marcel Duchahamp As we become more and more adept at using our fingers to transpose our thoughts, such as via emails and texts, so has the art of conversation become relegated to being much more succinct. However, there are times when longer conversations are a necessary tool , especially during an occasion such as at a party…which leads us to the reality that we all know those persons or person who engage us in conversation, only to drop us like a hot-potato when someone else, more to their liking arrives … leaving us standing idly by the cheese dip and hoping to strike up another conversation with an alternative guest.

Then there is the conversationalist that likes to jump into the exchange even before you may have completed your thought. For them the “me show “never has ended and is only at a pause while you are speaking. Makes you wonder if they are really listening to you; I would have to say not.

Having a conversation with yourself can also cause much confusion, as well as instigating particularly strange looks from others. This chat to yourself needs to be relegated to personal space, such as the car or shower.

Conversations on the telephone, this may be a safe bet, for not being able to see the party on the other end can keep you from seeing their eyes rolling. However, these conversations are too often cut short when it is interrupted by that all too popular noise…the click… meaning that someone will trump you…(Alas this reminds us of the party goers.)

And lest we not forget that there was a time when meals were accompanied by good food and good conversation; sadly only to be have been replaced by inanimate objects, the cell phone.

So… take heed for if you find yourself engaged in a conversation, do not get to used to this tête-à-tête because it most likely will be over before you even know it.

Jonathan_Swift_by_Charles_Jervas_detail_web Today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) 18th century satirist and author of the great work Gulliver’s Travels. Born in Dublin, Ireland, his father died when he was only seven months old, his family relied upon relatives for financial assistance. In 1704 he published his humorous take on religion, A Tale of the Tub; becoming an active figure of the Dublin society and politics becoming a blunt critic in efforts of improving Ireland.

For your pleasure today I have snipped from his book The Battle of the Books, and bring you a portion of a most humorous essay titled, “Hints Towards an Essay on Conversation”. Although the mid 1700s was a time when people prided themselves as being conversationalists, we will soon learn from Mr. Swift that this art was not without its trials and tribulations during his time.

And now, without anymore interruptions, let us take a few moments for the illustrious writer, Jonathan Swift.

“…There are some faults in conversation which none are so subject to as the men of wit, nor ever so much as when they are with each other. If they have opened their mouths without endeavouring to say a witty thing, they think it is so many words lost. It is a torment to the hearers, as much as to themselves, to see them upon the rack for invention, and in perpetual constraint, with so little success. They must do something extraordinary, in order to acquit themselves, and answer their character, else the standers by may be disappointed and be apt to think them only like the rest of mortals. I have known two men of wit industriously brought together, in order to entertain the company, where they have made a very ridiculous figure, and provided all the mirth at their own expense…

There are some people whose good manners will not suffer them to interrupt you; but, what is almost as bad, will discover abundance of impatience, and lie upon the watch until you have done, because they have started something in their own thoughts which they long to be delivered of. Meantime, they are so far from regarding what passes, that their imaginations are wholly turned upon what they have in reserve, for fear it should slip out of their memory; and thus they confine their invention, which might otherwise range over a hundred things full as good, and that might be much more naturally introduced…”

First image: 1909 by Marcel Duchamp, pen and ink
Second image: Portrait by Charles Jervas

Esteemed thinker: George Santayana

telephone operator The utterance of sound comes in forms that are pleasing to the ear or displeasing to the psyche. We may be aroused by the mellow song of a lark coming through the window or may shudder when awakened out of a sound sleep by the ringing of a renegade alarm clock. The sounds we hear when we rise from bed may set our mood happily, such as the coffee pot starting its every day routine, or it may propel us into gloom such as by way of the newscaster giving us our daily dose of troubles.

Most all creatures in the world use their voice to convey sounds that may produce harmony or disharmony.
The dog barks in a threatening growl to warn or in a series of light snips to greet. The cat hisses when you accidentally step on its tail, (a most unpleasant cry and experience for both the stepper and steppe), or it may meow in a truly affectionate manner hoping that you will give it your attention.

But as for humans, we have been granted sounds that go beyond the ordinary; we have the gift of speech, the ability to communicate in staccato, such as with an imperative sentence… “Watch out!” or those laced in metaphor as in poetry. The sounds that flow from our lips are a powerful tool and can leave an impression deeper than one’s footprint stuck in mud. The first time a baby learns to say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, we are elated, for this sense of recognition is now a bond that goes beyond mere sounds.

And so, as we journey through the day and into the night the sounds we make, may it be a sigh, a groan, or dinner conversation, can play a most significant role. For with each utterance that we generate, there is some individual or creature that receives it… we can make music to the ears or not… but with certainty and limited effort, it is quite an extraordinary feat to create… this thing we call sound…

George_Santayana For today’s post I present to you the esteemed thinker: George Santayana (1863- 1952). Born in Madrid, Spain, he was a philosopher, critic, essayist, novelist, poet and known for being a naturalist before it became a popular subject. Rivaling Emerson in literary accomplishments, he made relationships between literature, art, religion and philosophy prominent themes throughout his writings. Santayana received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1889 and was a faculty member at Harvard University from 1889 to 1912, eventually earning a place now called Classical American Philosophy. He is notably remembered for his quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

From his book Reason in Art, I have extracted for you a small portion from the chapter titled “Speech and Signification”. Take time to ponder the words of Mr. Santayana for his thoughts and concepts are most provocative.

“Music rationalises sound, but a more momentous rationalising of sound is seen in language. Language is one of the most useful of things, yet the greater part of it still remains (what it must all have been in the beginning) useless and without ulterior significance. The musical side of language is its primary and elementary side. Man is endowed with vocal organs so plastic as to emit a great variety of delicately varied sounds; and by good fortune his ear has a parallel sensibility, so that much vocal expression can be registered and confronted by auditory feeling. It has been said that man’s pre-eminence in nature is due to his possessing hands; his modest participation in the ideal world may similarly be due to his possessing tongue and ear. For when he finds shouting and vague moaning after a while fatiguing, he can draw a new pleasure from uttering all sorts of labial, dental, and gutteral sounds. Their rhythms and oppositions can entertain him, and he can begin to use his lingual gamut to designate the whole range of his perceptions and passions…

Language had originally no obligation to subserve an end which we may sometimes measure it by now, and depute to be its proper function, namely, to stand for things and adapt itself perfectly to their structure. In language as in every other existence idealism precedes realism, since it must be a part of nature living its own life before it can become a symbol for the rest and bend to external control. The vocal and musical medium is, and must always remain, alien, to the spatial… Yet when sounds were attached to an event or emotion, the sounds became symbols for that disparate fact…”

First image: Title: TELEPHONE OPERATORS, Creator(s): Harris & Ewing, photographer, Date created/Published: [between 1914 and 1917]

Samuel Johnson and think time

the thinker So extraordinary is our brain, it works relentlessly, never resting, always on the go; a thankless job. For how often do people go out of their way to pamper their feet with a pedicure, their hands with a manicure, their backs and shoulders with a message, and then their skin with a facial. Yet our sleepless brain only gets ridiculed in a way that it is called rather unpleasant names such as “dumb” or “loser”; it is even the subject of books that claim techniques to make it smarter or perform more proficiently. Yet, all it asks for is a place to lie down at night without being disturbed…and even under the most tranquil of conditions it continues to manufacture pictures and stories…our dreams. And then, are we satisfied? Oh, no! We complain that we had such a poor night’s rest because we “had a bad dream…even a nightmare!”

Alas…our brains continue to work at a feverish pitch but still we become impatient when ideas or answers do not come as quickly as we would like, although the remedy is quite simple… all we really need to do is give ourselves “think time”; a concept that was once exemplified as being even prestigious… so-much-so that people would gather together under the guise of being “a think tank”… allowing groups to ponder and contemplate problems without being ridiculed for being too slow. Today our brains are expected to manipulate information and multi-task even without taking into effect that the poor thing has not changed in composition nor evolved as fast as technology. It can only work as effectively as it always has done in the past, for the more we hurry the less accurate we become.

Slip into any social situation where there is a group of people and often the person who is the loudest and responds the fastest appears to demonstrate leadership qualities that others like to be around. The person who can spin a good tale, tell a joke well, or spout facts like a game of jeopardy often holds an advantage position. But do not despair if you are not firing back as though playing a match of ping pong; for in the game of chess to “checkmate” requires patience and think time.

samuel johnson 2 For today’s blog I bring back our esteemed thinker: Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English writer, critic, and man of tolerance. His writings covered subjects as varied as theatre, biography, politics, religion, travel, French, Latin, Greek, and Italian translations; as well as America, censorship, taxation, and slavery.

I invite you now to take a few moments of your valuable time and tap into some thoughts from his essay titled “Conversation”. I present to you the astute words of Dr. Johnson….

“None of the desires dictated by vanity is more general, or less blamable than that of being distinguished for the arts of conversation. Other accomplishments may be possessed without opportunity of exerting them, or wanted without danger that the defect can often be remarked: but as no man can live, otherwise than in an hermitage, without hourly pleasure or vexation, from the fondness or neglect of those about him, the faculty of giving pleasure is of continual use. Few are more frequently envied than those who have the power of forcing attention wherever they come, whose entrance is considered as a promise of felicity, and whose departure is lamented, like the recess of the sun from northern climates, as a privation of all that enlivens fancy, or inspires gaiety…

It is apparent, that to excellence in this valuable art, some peculiar qualifications are necessary: for every one’s experience will inform him, that the pleasure which men are able to give in conversation, hold no stated proportion to their knowledge or their virtue…no style of conversation is more extensively acceptable than the narrative. He who has stored his memory with slight anecdotes, private incidents, and personal peculiarities, seldom fails to find his audience favourable… “

* first photograph: The Thinker by French artist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)