on human discourse

by problembear

“For it is a strange thing, but apparently true, that those who speak speak rather for the pleasure of speaking against than for the pleasure of speaking with, and the reason for that is perhaps this, that in agreement the voice cannot be raised quite so high as it can in disagreement.”  — Samuel Beckett, Watt.

(this quote and pic was provided by Tin House in their tweet today – from the following link)  http://www.tinhouse.com/blog/?p=6506/wisdom-coupon-beckett/books/events/general/magazine/workshop


  1. The Polish Wolf

    There’s plenty of that observable on this blog, and I’m certainly not innocent of it. Well timed and well chosen, PBear.

  2. lizard19

    i have a Samuel Beckett quote on my facebook account:

    It is indeed getting more and more difficult, even pointless, for me to write in formal English. And more and more my language appears to me like a veil which one has to tear apart in order to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind it. Grammar and style! To me they seem to have become as irrelevant as a Biedermeier bathing suit or the imperturbability of a gentleman. A mask. It is to be hoped the time will come, thank God, in some circles it already has, when language is best used when most efficiently abused. Since we cannot dismiss it all at once, at least we do not want to leave anything undone that may contribute to its disrepute. To drill one hole after another into it until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping though–I cannot imagine a higher goal for today’s writer.

    –Samuel Beckett

  3. this country could use a little mercy now….

  4. Am I going to be accused of trolling if I state that I think Beckett is clearly wrong here? Beckett seemed to hold a reverence for dialectic, the quaint idea that people in converse could hold common ground through language. That’s well and good, save that Beckett never could resolve his fear of pretty lies, well written.

    Take a look at the construct “One is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.” That sounds pretty straight forward unless one actually looks at what facts are. Facts are verifiable through mathematics, science, logic or (in Beckett’s view) a proper agreement concerning the use and meaning of words. It’s that last one that bites him in the ass. (Us too, in case you think I’m missing my own point.) As Beckett often alludes, agreement becomes a much more complete establishment of what is real than what is often verifiable. So, one’s own opinions can be molded by what is one’s own fact, a fact established on complete misuse of meaning. Orwell was not wrong on that point.

    Which brings us to the idea of ‘civility’. In Beckett’s own view, civility is fostering ‘discussion with’ as opposed to ‘discussion against’, and the emotions those two engender. It is more pleasing to argue against (let’s use the right words) than to ‘agree’ and keep calm. It’s also that much more useless to keep calm than to raise one’s voice in opposition. That is the change in language that Beckett himself called for from “today’s writer”.

    I’ll leave it to the English scholars to clarify that Beckett was being sarcastic, and actually mewlingly worshiped the death of language. So sad. But the point he makes in Lizard’s quote is informative. Recently, Lizard has attempted to have civil discussion with those at ECW. Not once does he seem to grasp that he is agreeing with their lies, or deeply held beliefs as some would have it. There is the odor in that discussion of ‘civility’, and it stinks because it’s based on what are verifiable lies. I don’t blame Lizard for his agreeable stances. After all, it comes from the same language of ‘civility’. I simply reject it. It is false, untrue, unverifiable.

    And that is simply the point. One cannot have a great national civil discussion with those who believe that everything you believe is evil. There will be no “human discourse” concerning the events of last weekend, or likely anything over the next several years. Tower of Babel. We aren’t speaking the same language here.

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