November 30: Nothing ever changes

Why the Harvard Classics wants to preserve failures so bad I can't say, but today Jonathan Swift tries to correct people's faults in conversation, and I think it's safe to say that his attempt failed utterly. Or, to put things sarcastically, "Did you know that some people used to be pedantic?" Well, fortunately for us, fantasy sports changed all that!

Or this:
Where company hath met, I often have observed two persons discover, by some accident, that they were bred together at the same school or university, after which the rest are condemned to silence, and to listen while these two are refreshing each other’s memory with the arch tricks and passages of themselves and their comrades.
Or this:
There are some people, whose good manners will not suffer them to interrupt you; but, what is almost as bad, will discover abundance of impatience, and lie upon the watch until you have done, because they have started something in their own thoughts which they long to be delivered of.
Which, in our day, was summarized by Fran Lebowitz: "There's talking, and there's waiting." I also recognized the society of comedy writers in this observation:
There are some faults in conversation, which none are so subject to as the men of wit, nor ever so much as when they are with each other. If they have opened their mouths, without endeavouring to say a witty thing, they think it is so many words lost: It is a torment to the hearers, as much as to themselves, to see them upon the rack for invention, and in perpetual constraint, with so little success. They must do something extraordinary, in order to acquit themselves, and answer their character, else the standers-by may be disappointed and be apt to think them only like the rest of mortals.
That's just what it's like to hang out with us for long periods of time -- extremely entertaining, and then it dawns on you that no one is ever going to say anything. That's why you can really only have a few of us at parties (sort of like dogs, I guess).

And then at the end comes the really provocative thing; for the time. But as if to prove that nothing ever changes, the passage may also be one of the theses of "Mad Men" -- people who know the show better will have to confirm this:
In default of which [proper conversational manners -- ed.], we are forced to take up with those poor amusements of dress and visiting, or the more pernicious ones of play, drink, and vicious amours, whereby the nobility and gentry of both sexes are entirely corrupted both in body and mind, and have lost all notions of love, honour, friendship, generosity; which, under the name of fopperies, have been for some time laughed out of doors.

This degeneracy of conversation, with the pernicious consequences thereof upon our humours and dispositions, hath been owing, among other causes, to the custom arisen, for sometime past, of excluding women from any share in our society, further than in parties at play, or dancing, or in the pursuit of an amour.
In other words, any all-male grouping will inevitably degenerate into a society of baboons. I'd buy that. I only wish Swift hadn't buried the lede like that.

1 comment:

Lisa Simeone said...

In other words, any all-male grouping will inevitably degenerate into a society of baboons. I'd buy that. I only wish Swift hadn't buried the lede like that.

Ain't it the truth?! Another feather in my feminist cap! I'm off to torment hubby and friends with it now.