John Cowper Powys on the Real Point of Conversations

John Cowper Powys

In his book The Meaning of Culture (1929) JC Powys tackles the topic of having a conversation and brining arguments in it. He highlights that the true importance of conversations lies not in arguments but in “some new angle of vision, some new organ of research, some new mirror of reflection.”

One of the greatest destroyers of real conversation is argument. Argument is the silliest of all methods of passing the time; and by far the most sterile. In argument people discuss in order to shine, to make others look fools, to make a show of their own originality, or cleverness, or learning.

There are few who discuss in order really to influence or really to convert anyone else; and yet this passion-ate earnestness of mind leads to much more interesting conversation than the itch to score people off. As a rule no one joins in an argumentative discussion, before a group of listeners, without being betrayed into a gross desire to astonish, to make a hit, to cut an imposing figure. All this is totally alien from real culture; for in real culture what one is after is some new angle of vision, some new organ of research, some new mirror of reflection. It is nothing to real culture who wins in a casual argument or who shows off most brilliantly before a casual crowd.

A cultured nature is far too egocentric to bother about shining before other minds or even about watching the picturesque displays of others. What it seeks is some new avenue of approach, some unexplored secret of sensation, some fresh magnet of sensitivity, that will help it to explore like a liberated tide certain hitherto untouched promontories.

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