Conversation: A History of a Declining Art

Sadly yet another example of a full length book best suited for an article. Choppy and ungraceful writing like “There were nine people at the Socrates Cafe I attended– six women of various ages and three men (also of various ages).” Also ridiculous sentences like “Should women belong to the conversible world?” — positing an opinion he agrees with but hiding behind it as a question to deflect any blowback from this admission. Chockablock filled with references designed to make you swoon at the size of Miller’s brain: Hume, Swift, Montaigne, Plato, Socrates, Woolf, Johnson, Boswell. But then he includes hip misogynists like Henry Miller and Eminem to let you know he’s an academic on the outside but cool on the inside. The only valuable thing I got from perusal of this article that was stretched into a 313 page book is learning about Esther Johnson, a friend of Jonathan Swift who lived in Dublin, 14 years younger than Swift. She’s described in Swift’s “On the Death of Mrs. Johnson” (1728) as a lively woman (Miller deems this “unusual” of course), “Never was any of her sex born with better gifts of the mind, or more improved them by reading and conversation.”

Found by way of Jacoby’s Age of American Unreason which piqued my interested with what was referred to as conversation avoidance devices. Miller’s book was pub’d in 2008, and is almost laughingly outdated with its references to ipods as the conversation avoidance devices du jour. He also includes a clunky explanation, “Blog, as most people know, is short for weblog.” If most people already know that, I wonder why he had to parenthetically intrude an explanation… oh right, beefing up the word count! Miller writes about the Japanese youth who spend “countless hours on their wireless cell phones (keitai), which serve as a laptop computer, personal digital assistant, digital music player, and video game unit rolled into one. Many young Japanese… are keitai addicts, oblivious to the world around them.” The world of digital screens overtaking our entire population was just dawning, one can almost yearn for those simpler times.