The latest issue of The New York Review of Books has an enjoyable review by Russell Baker of Stephen Miller’s new book, Conversation: A History of a Declining Art. I agree with Miller and Baker that conversation is declining, although I think the blogosphere is, in parts, a valiant bulwark against the tide (Baker disagrees).
But to see how far we have fallen, consider the club that Samuel Johnson founded:
In 1764 Dr. Johnson founded the Literary Club for the sole purpose of “solid conversations” while eating and drinking. Its members included the poet Oliver Goldsmith; Sir Joshua Reynolds, the leading painter of his generation; David Garrick, the most popular actor the day; Edward Gibbon, the historian of the Roman Empire; the economist Adam Smith; the playwright Richard Sheridan; and the politicians Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox.
Well it seems to me that if there is a venue for conversation it’s right here. Virginia Woolf: “there must be talk, and it must be general, and it must be about everything…It must not go too deep, and it must not be too clever…” I think this is the modern salon, and the magic of how the salon itself is assembled means that it could be the high civilized mode of the present and future.