chapter  14
12 Pages

Margaret Bruzelius What to Say when You Talk to Yourself: The Tower of Psychobabble

On the popular level, the large audience for public talk-from Oprah, to the self-conscious "intellectual" productions ofNational Public Radio, to Internet chatrooms-suggests a nation ready to bare its least opinion at the slightest provocation-a nation ready to talk-if not to converse. In most cases, the talker has a "presenting symptom" that the "talking through" process is expected to help hirn or her resolve. The informality of the process-"Hi my name is ... "-disguises its essentially solitary nature: the effort to summon community suggested by this familiarity is counterbalanced (and emptied of value) by the fact that the named person is not known to or responsible to the listeners. A conversational community, pace Jürgen Habermas, is al ready a difficult ideal, generally based on the ruthless exclusion of others (think of the servants excluded from conversation in Austen's novelsj the women and slaves excluded from Plato's gab festsj the difficulties we see now in communicating nonhegemonically across linguistic and cultural barriers). Our current talk communities seem to be based on aseries of solitary voices obsessively "talking through" their problems if not precisely in a vacuum at least in contingendy constituted and evanescent groups that endlessly, randomly form and disperse. We might document a shift in the expectations attached to the idea of talk-away from conversation, with its demands for listening, taking turns, and engagement, and toward just plain talk, a self-display that welcomes listeners only as audience, and suffers their interruptions into the stream of talk only in order to reassert the original flow. This is a "talking through" that can neither envisage itself as really being through, as being finished and moving on, or as conversation, with its possibility of taking turns and play.