Sunday, December 28, 2014

Walking the Mine Fields of Dialogue While Wearing Snow Shoes

Small wonder so much of our daily conversation is non-committal, one-dimensional, earnest searches for safe ground on which to tread.  Smaller wonder yet why, even as we engage in small talk, we find it irritating in ways we have to pause from time to time to evaluate.

Conversation at times feels like trying to make our way through a mine field while wearing snow shoes. 

An essential difference between conversation and argument arrives when the passionate opinions of the speakers erupts from the polite, "I hear you" plateau to actual combustion.  Here,
the subject of the conversation gets shoved aside.  Now, the personalities of the conversants take over..

When the gloves of metaphor and politeness are removed, conversation becomes dialogue.  Whether the speakers realize it or not, what began as an exchange of information at leisure has become a game.  

Depending on the number of individuals present in the conversation, the most dynamic of all plateaus is reached where each is playing a different game, where, in fact, even the players involved may not see the ground rules of the games being played.  

This has nothing to do with fairness or, for that matter, politeness.  Let's assume all the players in this hypothetical conversation gone wild are fair, polite individuals. Reminiscent of the Marquis of Queensbury rules in boxing, these players follow an even more equable code, the code of The 
Social Contract  

What is fairness?  And why does fairness matter?  What is politeness?  Why does it matter?  Why Does the Social matter?  Is it an overreach to apply Rousseauvian philosophy to a conversation that has been amped up to the argument of dialogue?

The stakes are getting dramatic, you could even say Existential.
Whether we are watching this escalation of conversation in a stage play, a motion picture, or a filmed drama for television, we are drawn in by the sheer emotion of these individuals, often without ourselves understanding why our siding with one of the contestants or taking a sudden, emotional antipathy for another contestant.

We side with characters who engage in these games, these dialogue games, these contests, often Roman Circuses of passions and class- racial-, or gender-based encounters.  Those of us who seek to write story in any of its forms are admonished in various pedagogic ways to use dialogue to escalate story points, to engage in some form of exaggerated interplay where seemingly innocuous interchanges are in fact forms of pressure and calculated obtuseness.

Watching such exchanges allows us to relive moments when we were in similar circumstances or to recall moments from our own past when we thought we were engaging in safe, non-combative exchanges.  Thought.  But the thing we are now watching or reading has begun to reverberate, doing for us what effective story must do for us.  The story before us is the now, but a part of us is back in its own now.

We recall William Faulkner saying “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” This helps describe the sense of discomfort that has settled upon us, a reminder that we must be alert to the nuanced role we play as a conversant, a reader, and a writer.

The goal before us, of which you take special note, is to speak as much in the moment as we can and write as we speak.

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