Communication is a holistic phenomena. When you listen to speech, you consider the motives, interests, and abilities of the speaker in pursuing the resulting goals. You ask yourself why someone is saying something the way that they are saying it.
Are you saying I’m stupid?
This is one of those things that trips me up every so often, especially in one-to-one conversations. When we are in a group, it’s easy to understand that disagreement can be seen as an affront; conversely, it can be difficult to remember that people take badly to disagreement in private conversation as well.
Is it interesting to you too?
Topics inevitably drift over the course of a conversation, and picking up cues and allowing the topic to change in the right direction is also important, lest what one considers a profound line of thought is taken by the other to be irrelevant inanity. I imagine religious aphorisms to be a stark example of this – I believe there are people out there for whom the ability to conclude a conversation to a biblical quotation or some other aphorism is profound, whereas such is somewhat inane to me.
Addressing all these facets can be done by adopting the style of classic prose. Classic prose is a simplifying construct which manages to compartmentalize conversational causes and to clarify what would otherwise be an even more impressionistic exercise. It’s a construct that prioritizes simplicity and clarity over all else.
The role is severely limited because classic prose is pure, fearless, cool, and relentless. It asks no quarter and gives no quarter to anyone, including the writer. While the role can be necessary, true, and useful, as well as wonderfully thrilling, it can hardly be permanent. For better or worse, human beings are not pure, fearless, cool, or relentless, even if we may find it convenient for certain purposes to pretend that we are. The human condition does not, in general, allow the degree of autonomy and certainty that the classic writer pretends to have. It does not sustain the classic writer’s claim to disinterested expression of unconditional truth. It does not allow the writer indefinitely to maintain the posture required by classic style. But classic style simply does not acknowledge the human condition. The insouciance required to ignore what everyone knows and to carry the reader along in this style cannot be maintained very long, and the masters of the style always know its limits. The classic distance is a sprint.