So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?
By way of Arts and Letters Daily, I enjoyed Mark Edmundson's reflections in The American Scholar on his great personal aversion to the bore, that dreaded figure who--oblivious to his hapless auditor--expatiates endlessly on his personal doings or philosophy of life. He memorably invokes the helpless frustration of having to listen to someone drone on for ten minutes about himself without even a polite inquiry in return.
Edmundson speculates about the psychology of the bore--about whether he is actually lonely and particularly needy for the adoration of others--without mentioning what should be obvious, that the bore and the narcissist, if not always the same creature, have a great deal in common. Describing the feeling one gets with the bore, he quotes Robert Greene: "There is no more infuriating feeling than having your individuality ignored, your own psychology unacknowleged. It makes you feel lifeless and resentful." That is exactly how one feels with a narcissist, who is by definition unable to fully acknowledge another's personhood.
Undergoing psychotherapy is such a peculiar experience because, among other things, it requires that one simulate being a bore, that is, to talk about oneself for fifty minutes without the inquiry of the other that non-bores take for granted in social exchange. Most people find this awkward at some level, and endure it only in the hope of eventual self-knowledge. However, some patients take to this so much like a fish to water that the therapist, feeling both talked at and ignored for an hour, may find the n-word come spontaneously to mind as diagnosis.
In his essay Edmundson wonders that while he is exquisitely sensitive to the bore in person, it may be puzzling that he himself is an indefatigable reader. For the book--and one may emphatically add, the blog--is the venue in which the writing bore is able to indulge his worst impulses. And yet in the deliciously available option of putting down the book in disgust, one is able to accomplish the otherwise impossible: to walk away from the bore in mid-sentence.
Inasmuch as I have long abhorred the prospect of the bore, I see in Edmundson a kindred spirit. I rarely attend lectures unless the subject is so interesting to me that it can hardly go wrong. Some professions, like academia and medicine, seem to attract more than their share of bores and narcissists. So over the years there have been a lot of talks to avoid.
Yet I am a passionate reader, because reading affords the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, true authority from the pseudo-authority of the bore. Edmundson touches on the fact of our actual ambivalence with the bore, whether in person or in print--in his glib self-assurance, the bore evokes in us the hope that he may actually have access to a Truth that we crave. That is, the bore awakens an aspiration for the human prophet. Edmundson describes this experience wonderfully:
Perhaps my allergy to bores--along with an attraction to reading that can border on addiction (hell for me is being caught in a strange place with nothing to read)--is at the center of a paradox: we want to be told authoritatively, once and for all, what's what--and we want nothing of the kind. We love the character that therapists call the Subject Who Is Supposed to Know--he (and it almost always is a he) promises Truth. But we're sickened at the thought of taking our truth from another--it's belittling. And maybe we're dismayed, too, at the idea that the world, so rich in appearances, with its strangeness, beauty, horror, and the rest, should give way and open to one golden key. What a shrinking of the manifold! What a bringing down of the angels to dance minuets on the head of a pin.
In other words, as part of our normal, as opposed to pathological, narcissism, we feel a need to idealize an authoritative other, but an authority that also mirrors--and thereby accepts and validates--our own complicated imperfection. I remember reading somewhere in Harold Bloom's vast oeuvre that we do not read Shakespeare--he reads us. That is the experience one is always looking for in the next book: an experience of understanding in which one also feels understood.
The greatest reading experiences I have had have involved a kind of pleasurable paranoia--this writer, centuries before I was born perhaps, knew me. There is no escaping his or her gaze of recognition. But before the bore, I am invisible, as nothing.
The bore does not--cannot--understand his auditor or reader. That is why, as one grows older and time grows more precious, few things are more urgent than the need for real prophets--the wise--as opposed to the false prophets--the bores.