Concerning Deconstruction: “Talking must be done,” said my grandmother

The thought for this particular post came to me a few minutes ago. I have just been reading –actually, struggling mightily to make sense of– Stanley Fish’s abstruse NYT article on… Deconstruction. Stanley will no doubt be disappointed to hear that I was struggling, since he clearly wrote it to explain and elucidate an abstract and abstruse concept in layman’s terms.

I think I got….something…of what Stanley was saying. There were even points along the way of reading it, that I said to myself, “Hey, I think I’m getting this whole idea…”
In fact, there were definitely points along the way when I said to myself, “Hell, I’ve been doing this myself –deconstructing, that is– ALL my life.” Or, almost all my life.

“In the beginning was the word,” said The Bible. At least, said my Bible, and I assume, all the Bibles in Cobh. Make that “the world”. OK, maybe not “ALL” the Bibles, just “ALL” the REAL bibles.
But I digress. (I had a point there, but it…has eluded me. DE-luded me?)

I listen to a lot of radio. For my sins. God, how little there is to hear that is worthwhile. A confession: sometimes I catch myself THINKING I’m listening, and not actually listening. As if I’ve done my duty by just turning on the radio, which is set at my favorite station, which station is increasingly…turning me off, with its increasing diet of frivolously cute predictabilities. Except that when I switch to any other station, I am soon driven back to my favorite –did you get that, my favorite.

What was my point? Oh, yes. There is, in the world of RADIO, the wonderful concept of DEAD AIR. When no sound is being made.
DEAD AIR must be avoided at all costs. (I’ve always assumed that that is because “dead air” costs money. Who wants to pay for space and then just get silence?)

Always be talking. Always be making noise. In “Glen Garry Glen Ross”, David Mamet has one of the characters –the one that the wonderful Al Pacino plays– constantly repeat the phrase “ABC…Always Be Closing”, as in “always be NOT just selling, but always be CLOSING the deal.” In the world of shark-infested real estate, there is only one accepted mode: Always Be Closing”. (Otherwise, what use are you? Otherwise, why should I pay you? It’s all COMMISSION anyway, isn’t it.)

[There is a rule in life: never be caught with nothing to say. Speechless. Never be AT A LOSS FOR WORDS. That means that you have LOST. There came a moment in the IRAQ/Petraeous hearings yesterday –round about the 7th or 8th hour– when, after sheerest repetition of the point that “we don’t have endless money to finance endlessly the endless war in Iraq” by several senators, among them Boxer, Voinovich and Biden, that General Petraeous –who had been coolly and patiently but insistently above the fray– when it came for him to answer, HAD NO ANSWER. For several seconds. It wasn’t that he was STUCK FOR WORDS. It was that he HAD NO ANSWER.
Was he defeated? Something like that. Both he and Crocker seemed Worn Out. Or at least Worn Down.
I intend to write about the hearings later on, but just wanted to make that point at this stage.]

After endlessly watching and listening on the media to “experts” and “groups of experts” and “opposing experts” for several decades of my life, I suddenly came to the astonishing and penetrating insight about the Rules of the Talking Game for Talking Experts.
You can NEVER say, must NEVER say, the following:
1. I don’t know
2. I never thought about that.
3. That’s a good idea.
4. That’s a good idea. I never thought about that.

But all of these are infinitely better than ——- (SILENCE). Never be LOST FOR WORDS. Interviewers have come up with a wonderful construction to overcome this…failing. You should learn from this; incorporate it into your own style. Rather than be silent and at a loss for words, say to your subject the following words:
“IN OTHER WORDS, you are saying……” –and then just repeat, sort-of, what you were saying. It doesn’t have to be particularly intelligible: by you saying “In other words” you imply not only that you have UNDERSTOOD what was said, but –by now giving this new version– have come up with a more penetrating analysis, or even pointing out an absurdity or contradiction in the original utterance.
This is A GAME. Only A GAME. And to the victor come the spoils. Or The Last Word. Even if it’s verbiage –which is what it sounds like, a garbage dump for verbs.

[I once tried when I was being interviewed to interject “No. IN THESE WORDS I am saying. But of course the host, who was not listening to me, missed my point.]

The Rule is: Always be talking. Always be making noise.

Always have the radio on. You don’t have to listen to it. It’s the radio’s job to make noise. That’s what you PAY it for. So –you have a favorite station? Yes, but you don’t have to listen to it.
You could actually put the radio on, and then put it in the next room (if you have a next room). That way you can hear the sounds of people talking, without actually having to listen to them.
COMPANY. “Life Goes On”. Saecula saeculorum.

That way, you can go about your business, without people interrupting you, which they do all the time. Have you noticed?: nobody listens. (I was telling this guy at the opening at Gallery Six the other day, an interesting point –a little insight, I thought, about something or other that someone had just said– and he interrupted me before I got to the middle of my sentence, with some inanity that apparently I had just reminded him of –“which word was it that set you off, my friend, so I can eliminate it”– which he proceeded, unaware of my reaction, to blather on (and on) about.
In those situations I will often say “Let me finish my point….” to which I often add “Then I want to hear your point.” It’s an elaborate hint that PERHAPS there is a conversation going on here, or at least the possibility of a conversation.

But the Guy at the Opening was in High Gear, and unaware of any other traffic on the road. It took 3 seconds for me to get over my disbelief at the blatancy of his interruption, and then another 4 seconds to take myself aside and tell myself …look, Malachi, it’s just NOT worth it. Save it.
It was a most important lesson for me to learn. Ups my equanimity. Maybe even adds years to my lifespan, even if I am running out of time. (And even if I am, I think I will always look at those 7 seconds, those 3+4=7 seconds, as some of the most meaningful seconds I have spent…in my life? No, that may be going a bit too far…but, you know what I mean.

Going back to the deconstructing Stanley Fish. Stanley taught me some important things in his article –and I have saved it so I can return to reread it.
He taught me that….in the beginning was The Word –well, no, he didn’t exactly use Those words, but you know what I mean (which of course is where the problem begins.)
Stanley said –even if he didn’t– that “In the beginning was the word”. What he omitted to say, to complete the thought, “And it’s been the word ever since.”
“And” –if I might add, with every confidence–,”will at the end, be it BANG or WHIMPER, still be The Word.

“TRUE and FALSE are attributes of SPEECH, not of THINGS”. That was Thomas Hobbes, who beat Jacques Derrida to it by some 300 years.
“There is nothing outside the text,” said Derrida. Fish wisely corrected this to “There is no outside-the-text”.

And as I always say –but did not first say, Cicero beat me to it–Littera Scripta Manet.

But it was my Grandmother, Johanna O’Neill, –my all-seeing, all-knowing grandmother– who has the last word, as she always had, but did not insist. She knew about talking, about that activity which more than any other distinguishes us –at least, that’s what we tell ourselves, from all other Hobbesian Things both living or dead: talking.
Here’s what she said:
(For us to be human, “talking must be done”.)

Chewing the cud. Just like cows in a field.

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