I practically drooled over Russell Baker’s piece (free, print-length) in the New York Review of Books on the new book Conversation: A History of a Declining Art. An excellent conversation can often be elusive when everyone seems so short on time, so full of one-liners from talk radio. We must keep searching…For a good conversation is among the greatest pleasures in life.
Both participants listen attentively to each other; neither tries to promote himself by pleasing the other; both are obviously enjoying an intellectual workout; neither spoils the evening’s peaceable air by making a speech or letting disagreement flare into anger; they do not make tedious attempts to be witty….
Typically, Michael Oakeshott, the late British philosopher, thought conversation should have a distinctive lack of purpose. Conversation "has no determined course, we do not ask what it is ‘for,’" he said. It is "an unrehearsed intellectual adventure." As with gambling, "its significance lies neither in winning nor in losing, but in wagering."
…Montaigne finds a sharp conversational exchange physically and mentally exhilarating. Conversation, says Swift, is the "greatest, the most lasting, and the most innocent, as well as useful Pleasure of Life." Dr. Johnson thinks "there is in this world no real delight (excepting those of sensuality), but exchange of ideas in conversation."Montaigne speaks like a man for whom conversation is an exhilarating workout at the intellectual gym. Conversation, he said, was "the most fruitful and natural exercise of our mind" and "the most delightful activity in our lives."