Why do we have conversations? There are many different purposes. A great deal of talk interchange has very little or no meaning: it consists of what David Rosenthal calls ‘mindless, recited utterances’ because it involves no thought: for instance:
Greetings: A.Hello. B.Hello
Questions and Answers: A, What time is it? B. Two o’clock. It also encompasses exchange of information at work, when shopping and seeking directions when in a strange place.
Either of these two interchanges can be followed by enquiries for each others’ states of health and comments on the weather..
These words requires no thought whatsoever. The purpose is to demonstrate that we are friendly.
A particularly tiresome kind of mindless, recited utterances is when one person talks at another and never stops in an endless stream of phrases and sentences that are known by heart. This person starts to talk as soon as they see you and finally says goodbye and vanishes.
I once had a stepmother-in-law who did just this. It was hard to get away from her when she came to stay. She never looked at me but kept her eyes fixed to the ceiling corner. I tried an experiment by leaving the room and reading in the kitchen. After an hour I could hear her voice droning on. I went into the room where she was and walked out again. She was utterly oblivious of my presence. She was one of the people I call ‘stuck insiders‘. I still haven’t worked out what was the purpose. She said she loved children, but there was very little proof that this was the case.
I met another stuck insider when I was up at university, the only student in my year who was foolish enough to want to learn Catalan. My tutor walked into the classroom, raised his eyes up to the ceiling and recited a monologue in his own language. I never absorbed a word he said. I can recognise stuck insiders by the faraway look in their eyes. You would wonder how he (or she) managed to cross the road without being knocked down.
Yet I have had one or two of them come to me for help. They all said that only if they could find a partner all would be well. They think only of what they think they want. It never occurs to them that they need to have something of themselves to give. Once I recognised this type I refused to work with any of them ever again.
Conversation at cocktail parties or that sort of thing is, I find, quite impossible. Myself and others who have hearing aids avoid them like the plague. We are cursed by background noise and are constantly on edge for fear of answering a question inappropriately.
Oh for the bliss of a real conversatiom about real topics like art, books, music, philosophy or even politics when i’m in a room of very few people. But such encounters are rare.