Sunday, March 13, 2011

Conversation and Distillation

Alain de Botton:

What explains such limitations? Why would one be unable to chat, as opposed to write, In Search of Lost Time? In part, because of the mind's functioning, its condition as an intermittent organ, forever liable to lose the thread or be distracted, generating vital thoughts only between stretches of inactivity or mediocrity, stretches in which we are not really "ourselves", during which it may be no exaggeration to say that we are not quite all there as we gaze at passing clouds with a vacant, childlike expression. Because the rhythm of a conversation makes no allowance for dead periods, because the presence of others calls for continuous responses, we are left to regret the inanity of what we have said, and the missed opportunity of what we have not.

By contrast, a book provides for a distillation of our sporadic mind, a record of its most vital manifestations, a concentration of inspired moments that might originally have arisen across a multitude of years and been separated by extended stretches of bovine gazes.

Furthermore, conversation allows us little room to revise our original utterances, which ill suits our tendency to not know what we are trying to say until we have had at least one go at saying it, whereas writing accommodates and is largely made up of rewriting, during which original thoughts—bare, inarticulate strands—are enriched or nuanced over time. They may thereby appear on a page according to the logic and aesthetic order they demand, as opposed to suffering the distortion effected by conversation, with its limits on the corrections or additions one can make before enraging even the most patient companion.