Years ago a dear friend of mine postulated there are four topics of conversation: sex, gossip, bodily functions and shopping. When I questioned him about sex being a sub-set of bodily functions he dismissed it out of hand. He insisted upon the preservation of the two. It shouldn’t have surprised me. He was notoriously licentious and derived huge comic gratification from rude noises. Likewise he refined the etiquette of gossip (which he had elevated to the rank of Zena Cherry in the society pages of the Globe & Mail) to exclude the strictly functional purpose of shopping. The four topics nicely captured the natural and fervent inclinations of my friend.
While there is admittedly something compelling about the reduction of human conversation to those four subjects, one mustn’t overlook the obvious limitation. They all have a decidedly visceral tone to them. As clever as he was, my friend’s intellectual capacities were invariably overshadowed by his affection for the less cerebral elements of life. And there is no doubt that he was hopelessly dedicated to pleasure. The unfortunate corollary of such hopeless dedication is the risk of trivializing whatever else transpires. Hedonism tends by extension to preclude anything that interferes with it. It also sanctions whatever it takes to get it.
I think my friend would have been disappointed to learn that in spite of the amused tolerance which others had of his focus in life, he wasn’t considered someone of much personal depth. In fact everything about him was superficial. After he had had enough to drink (which was regularly) he adopted an almost stage-like appearance albeit an entertaining one. This however did little to promote his more intellectual side. Normally this transparency was unimportant as the highly social environment contributed to the general levity of communication. But if you were by chance separated from the herd with him alone, the conversation rapidly deteriorated; as always, it was a matter of sex, gossip, bodily functions or shopping.
In the examination of social conventions one must of necessity dwell upon abstract concepts. It isn’t after all the detail of personalities which is on the table; rather the broad strokes of human conduct. The context therefore mandates a degree of removal from the personal elements of communication. Mastering theoretical discourse of sex, gossip, bodily functions and shopping is as such a talent worth possessing. There was for example no question that my friend was a prime candidate for almost any social convention. He was guaranteed to contribute to the proceedings and not sit on a chair in the corner for the entire evening. This naturally leads me to conclude that the motivations of my friend were not to be diminished. He may even have reasonably suffered a degree of shyness and introversion which he sought to compensate by such overtly brash behaviour.
There is generally enough about life that is serious without having to add purposively to its weight. Here my friend unquestionably excelled. By restricting the conversation to his chosen subjects he ensured the maintenance of what may be categorized as a level playing field for all involved. There are after all very few people who, when they ask “How are you?”, really want to know. It is both less mucky and far more assured of buoyancy to keep the conversation to sex, gossip, bodily functions and shopping. If one insists upon going deep down into life and pulling everyone with you into the abyss, there are likely more appropriate venues for doing so such as your analyst’s office.