Conversations, in Turn

The Antioch Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Conversations, in Turn


Conversations come in many forms, of course, and turning to another voice--for information, affirmation, pleasure, wisdom, play, with eagerness, in curiosity, for an exchange--is what writers do alone. They argue in tranquillity, and the poets among them, as they recollect their meter-making arguments, sustain and modify, in turn, their various worlds. Conversation, then, is the writer's occupation, somewhere between a hermeneutic perplexity and a dream of communication. As postmodernism, and Derrida specifically, challenged the dream of communication, many conversations, many poems, turned in the virus of this French doubt (the "purifying" virus, some would say) to strategies of self-protection: wit, repression, rationalized depression, silence, and escape. "Speak to your pillow as if it was yourself," Wallace Stevens wrote, with prescience. And John Ashbery added later, "I insist that we need all the escapism we can get and even that isn't going to be enough."

Now that postmodernism has settled into its final self-parodic phase, it may be time to recuperate for poetry what is not silent, not purely escape, something like the lost art of conversation, for example. …

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