The schmoozers are still here, along with the chatterers, emailers, tweeters, texters, bloggers, Facebook likers, celebrity interviewers and right wing talk show hosts.
But the talkers are gone.
The last two left within the same year, when Christopher Hitchens and Gore Vidal left this plane of existence and took their tongues with them.
The talker tradition stretches vastly back into the primordial pre-digital ooze, when being interesting was an art form. When speech was the province of a brain marinated for a lifetime in literature, thought, and debate. Thomas DeQuincey described it best, speaking of poet Samuel Coleridge. “His conversation was like some great river, swept at once into a continuous strain of eloquent dissertation, the most novel, the most finely illustrated, and traversing the most spacious fields of thought it was possible to conceive.”
From opposite sides of the Atlantic, Christopher Hitchens and Gore Vidal held forth in this tradition. Both relished the music of their own voices, sonorous and aristocratic, as if a Stradivarius resided in their throats and utterance was more of a concert than a conversation. Both enlisted those sonorities in the service of a dizzying encyclopedia of subjects, with a through line of haughty disdain for cliché, mediocrity and accepted wisdom. A lifelong repudiation of bourgeois pieties and politics. They represented raconteur as provocateur, eschewing all higher powers except that of language.
And now, that art of talk is gone.
Perhaps it’s because the world has simply become less interesting. A young Bob Dylan “heard the sound of the poet who cried in the alley,” but the alley in Greenwich Village where he heard those sobs is now a condominium with Sub Zero refrigerators.
You may regale friends of a winter’s evening with your adventures in Zanzibar, but these days adventures in Zanzibar probably involve a Starbucks and an H & M.
You can wax poetic about secret movements gleaned at the foot of a master in the Himalayas, but those secret movements are now taught Wednesdays and Fridays at Equinox.
Once, writers like Henry Miller could spin tales of the zany prostitutes and bohemian oddballs who scrounged croissants and laughed together in the cafes of Paris in the 1930s. But the espresso sippers today in Café Deux Magots and Café Flore are discussing their Internet startups.
Call it The Great Homogenization, The End of Idiosyncrasy and The Swissification of the world. The Digital Melange spews out more words per square kilobyte than ever before, but it has left talk in its wake.