The philosopher Bernard Williams writes scathingly about the “fetish of assertion”, that impulse to ram home your case as though its content is all that counts. Listening skills don’t figure much in this kind of verbal joust; the interlocuter is meant to admire and so to agree, or to counter with equal assertiveness – the familiar dialogue of the deaf in political debate.Richard Sennett, Together (Allen Lane, 2012)
The rebuke in this passage isn’t aimed only at readers: it’s for writers too, when their craft turns away from the discursive and conversational. (Does this rule out polemics and broadsides? I don’t think so, though I certainly think it’s a strike against a default literary mode of blunt rage and low sniping.) Attending is an art that authors and audience owe to each other.
Image © Marc Wathieu, used under Creative Commons