Introduction: Opening Gambit

Jon Mee

in Conversable Worlds

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199591749
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731433 | DOI:
Introduction: Opening Gambit

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This chapter introduces the key concepts of the book and offers an overview of the period covered. It argues that conversation does not necessarily work towards communion, but involves an element of risk and even conflict in the process of making meaning in language. These issues were a work in the assumptions of the eighteenth century conversational turn. The chapter addresses two influential critical approaches: the politeness paradigm and ‘rational-critical debate’ in Jurgen Habermas’s theory of the ‘bourgeois public sphere’. In the process it introduces some of the key tropes that governed the issues for the period, such as the idea of the ‘flow’ of conversation or the ‘collision’ between different points of view, indicating how these were often in tension. It ends by addressing the assumption that around 1800 there was a withdrawal from the mixed social spaces of eighteenth-century sociability. Two aspects of conversation stand out: the desire for reciprocal dialogue and the understanding of culture emerging out of the everyday worlds of its participants. These were often in conflict, with the desire for sympathetic understanding at odds with an idea of culture taking place within and between variously situated conversable worlds, but neither conclusively erased the other.

Keywords: conversation; communication; communion; risk; politeness; ‘rational-critical debate’; ‘feminization of culture’; sociability; mixed social space

Chapter.  15071 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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