Smile encounter

I ride the Seoul subway, line six. A small young woman in a colorful dress gets in and takes a seat. She is not Korean and she wears a scarf. As relative outsider in this monocultural megalopolis, I instinctively feel solidarity with the timid girl, whose face was ridden with acne. I smile at her.

When I sit down I leave a respectful distance between me and the muslim woman, but I notice that the laces of her right shoe were neither properly tied nor tucked inside. I hesitated. Should I tell her? Or is looking at a female foot frowned upon in her cultural paradigm? Would it sound like a lame excuse to start a conversation of the kind her religion tends to guard so strictly, the kind with an erotic dimension, with distant fantasies of impossible lovemaking as pleasurable distraction from the spleen of our daily lives?

I decide to say it.

“Your shoes.”

The young woman’s face shone. She smiled at me three times and thanked me after she had put her footwear in order. Then she thanked me again as she alighted one station before mine, her eyes twinkling and vital. I observed the unapologetic smirk on my own face in the opposite window. This is the kind of experience that makes me make sense of the world. This is the kind of scene I love to write about. I want to convey, and understand, how a few seconds of interaction, wordless and genuine, can make us so happy.

Smile encounter was originally published on Meandering home

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Conversation and Correspondence

It has been said – I heard the physicist Freeman Dyson relating it – that the human urge to converse is akin to the termite’s instinct to build castles. Perhaps the truth of this becomes most clear in the edge case of the hermit who converses or corresponds with an imaginary interlocutor. Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden for an audience; Nietzsche’s deep loneliness is ultimately a yearning for company. Perhaps this yearning, the more intensely it is experienced, invokes the fear that the desired union gets tainted, leading to a gesture of postponing, the bittersweet thought that ‘true’ friendship is always a thing of the future. Nietzsche had his own disappointments with Richard Wagner or his ménage à trois with Lou Salomé and Paul Rée. His Übermensch is above all else capable of friendship, i.e. noble, witty, deep conversation.

We could learn a great deal from intellectual history, and I relish in Peter Watson’s books about it, but I want a working answer for myself. Can the notion of good Conversation (with good wine of earthly, not aquatic, origin) deliver on the promise to give us enough meaning to live fulfilling lives? And can it do this without the backlash of fanaticism, a cult, say, that enforces certain rules of conversation and punishes those who fail or refuse to follow them? Can our idea of conversation become something sacred without the symbolic scaffolding of explicit rules?

I think this is an okay question. Wittgenstein pointed out we always follow public language rules, consciously or not; Habermas attempted a Theory of communicative action as a new foundation of philosophy herself. If we officially elevate conversation to the status of ‘ultimate’ source of meaning, does that destroy the very vitality we had imagined would quench our thirst?

Conversation is the practice of relentless critical interest in each other’s mind that must in my view defy any definite rules, including of course the rule that there are no rules. Provisionary, pragmatic rules are thus indispensible but they are more like patterns than like laws. As soon as we enshrine them (I choose that term deliberately), conversation can find a way around it. It can always find a way to mock or subvert these rules. In more technical words, conversation will never be Turing decidible.

This elegant openness is wonderful and it would be all too human to assert some sort of élan vital at work underneath our endearing attempts to join each other in conversation. Some sort of metaphysical redeeming Truth that appears but through human minds who are ultimately rewarded with the Platonic Union when the lights go out.

In other words: Let us just talk with each other. And believe one thing if you must: After you leave the scene, you will have gotten away with it.

Conversation and Correspondence was originally published on Meandering home

March 31. The Stranger cannot win.

O The biggest poser might also be saying some true words. I play this. This is a first-person novel but as a person I want to put you first. It is an experimental thing I think should be done and it costs me less time doing it myself than looking up in the records of the surrealist writers who have already done it. It’s not about O understanding or even communicating some ideas I cooked up in my private kitchen. Maybe it’s about Otherness. About the struggle between the Stranger and his Conceptualization, a struggle the O stranger cannot win.

See what I am heading at? The world is the best therapy. Take my word for it. She can show you so much, you can feel big, you can feel small, you can see how big we are, you can see how small we are. Laughing. Smiling. Trying to live with an everlasting smile on my face that will not annoy anyone – that’s harder than it seems. A smile nobody wants to smash off your face. I don’t think it’s possible. What do you think? You never say anything back. A person that always smiles, she will inevitably become a pain in the ass won’t she? I am really wondering. And hoping.

The woman who was not Sara left yesterday.

March 31. The Stranger cannot win.

O The biggest poser might also be saying some true words. I play this. This is a first-person novel but as a person I want to put you first. It is an experimental thing I think should be done and it costs me less time doing it myself than looking up in the records of the surrealist writers who have already done it. It’s not about O understanding or even communicating some ideas I cooked up in my private kitchen. Maybe it’s about Otherness. About the struggle between the Stranger and his Conceptualization, a struggle the O stranger cannot win.

See what I am heading at? The world is the best therapy. Take my word for it. She can show you so much, you can feel big, you can feel small, you can see how big we are, you can see how small we are. Laughing. Smiling. Trying to live with an everlasting smile on my face that will not annoy anyone – that’s harder than it seems. A smile nobody wants to smash off your face. I don’t think it’s possible. What do you think? You never say anything back. A person that always smiles, she will inevitably become a pain in the ass won’t she? I am really wondering. And hoping.

The woman who was not Sara left yesterday.

March 31. The Stranger cannot win.

O The biggest poser might also be saying some true words. I play this. This is a first-person novel but as a person I want to put you first. It is an experimental thing I think should be done and it costs me less time doing it myself than looking up in the records of the surrealist writers who have already done it. It’s not about O understanding or even communicating some ideas I cooked up in my private kitchen. Maybe it’s about Otherness. About the struggle between the Stranger and his Conceptualization, a struggle the O stranger cannot win.

See what I am heading at? The world is the best therapy. Take my word for it. She can show you so much, you can feel big, you can feel small, you can see how big we are, you can see how small we are. Laughing. Smiling. Trying to live with an everlasting smile on my face that will not annoy anyone – that’s harder than it seems. A smile nobody wants to smash off your face. I don’t think it’s possible. What do you think? You never say anything back. A person that always smiles, she will inevitably become a pain in the ass won’t she? I am really wondering. And hoping.

The woman who was not Sara left yesterday.

March 31. The Stranger cannot win. was originally published on Meandering home

March 31. The Stranger cannot win.

O The biggest poser might also be saying some true words. I play this. This is a first-person novel but as a person I want to put you first. It is an experimental thing I think should be done and it costs me less time doing it myself than looking up in the records of the surrealist writers who have already done it. It’s not about O understanding or even communicating some ideas I cooked up in my private kitchen. Maybe it’s about Otherness. About the struggle between the Stranger and his Conceptualization, a struggle the O stranger cannot win.

See what I am heading at? The world is the best therapy. Take my word for it. She can show you so much, you can feel big, you can feel small, you can see how big we are, you can see how small we are. Laughing. Smiling. Trying to live with an everlasting smile on my face that will not annoy anyone – that’s harder than it seems. A smile nobody wants to smash off your face. I don’t think it’s possible. What do you think? You never say anything back. A person that always smiles, she will inevitably become a pain in the ass won’t she? I am really wondering. And hoping.

The woman who was not Sara left yesterday.