Friday, June 10, 2011

Conversation Sketch: Xavier and Jonnathan after the Symposium

Now that I've shared sketches of pieces of two of my characters, I thought I'd put up a draft of a conversation between the two.  This exchange takes place after a seminar on Plato's Symposium.

After seminar that evening, Quinn and Xavier made their way back to the latter's dorm room, talking solemnly about problems other than those of the class, and yet somehow the same. As they entered the cramped room, the Xavier took a dignified seat on his chair, while Quinn leaned idly against a wall.

“I guess I don't get it. Why all this talk about love in a book about philosophy? It just seems... weird.”

Xavier shifted uneasily, unsure whether he wanted to talk about the subject, “What do you mean by that, Quinn?”

“I mean I wouldn't expect Plato to talk about love.” After a pause, he went on, “It's not that it's that surprising, I guess, since he talks about just about anything else. It's just, the Symposium is whole book that he's dedicated to the subject, and I don't see what's so profound about it.”

“Perhaps that's the point, Quinn.”

“Oh, I understand, I can see how that might be the point. I don't think it's Plato's point, but I can see how it might be yours anyway.” He shot a sly grin at Xavier, but received only a typical dignified, cold stare in return. “Anyway, I certainly don't buy Ms. Forsyth's argument that love is essential to thinking philosophically.”

Xavier declined to respond to this observation, instead seizing on one of Quinn's earlier thoughts. How easily do people jump around in their ideas, Xavier thought. “Well what isn't profound about love? Love has, without a question, been one of the most important words in the history of mankind, the subject of more arguments and duels, poems and songs, and even philosophies than just about anything else I can think of. Why shouldn't Plato dedicate a whole book... Two whole books, if you count the Phaedrus, to the subject.”

“Oh,” Jonnathan replied, “the Phaedrus is about writing. I thought our seminar was pretty well-decided on that.” Xavier waited for him to continue, not wanting to pursue this new strain. “Anyway, I see what you're saying, and that's why I said it makes sense to me that Plato goes there. But he does it in such a weird way. I mean, the conversation is so implausible.”

Xavier couldn't help but laugh, “You've been to seminar. What's so implausible about a conversation like the one in the Symposium?”

“Good point,” Quinn offered a bemused smile. “Oh well, I guess I just don't understand.”

“Ah,” said Xavier, “Now you're getting there. That's the key to surviving Plato: a healthy dose of confused resignation. Trying to 'get it' is futile, because, I think, there's really not that much to get. Like so much philosophy, it's just trying to confuse you more than anything.”

“I'm not sure I agree with that, but then again you may be right.” Quinn stepped away from the wall, taking a seat on the edge of Xavier's bed and puzzling over whether philosophy had any meaning or purpose at all, other than to confuse people. If Xavier felt that way, he thought, why did he stay here at Barr? If there's really no way to read and think about important questions and, maybe, get to some answers, what's the point of thinking at all? Quinn struggled, to his frustration, to even pose these questions, instead asking Xavier a pale shadow of his deeper concerns: “Xavier, what's the point of seminar?”

“You might as well ask what's the purpose of life,” responded Xavier, sensing the deeper intent of his companion's question.

“Ah, well, I would like to know that too. But I'm content to start small.”

“I'm afraid,” said Xavier, “That there is no 'small' when it comes to questions like that. In fact, they're probably not even good questions for that reason. If you ask me about the purpose of seminar, there's not really anything I can say. The point is to have a conversation, to try to understand, to think, to read a book with other people instead of alone. And the point, I suspect, is much deeper than all of those things. Or, maybe, there's not a point at all. I feel that way sometimes. But does there have to be one?”

Quinn mistook this last question as rhetorical, instead responding with what he thought was a clever insight: “Xavier, are you talking about seminar or life?”

“Seminar,” Xavier responded without hesitation. “Life is much more complicated than seminar, anyway, and I don't think the point of life is to have a conversation.” Just as Jonnathan was about to respond, Xavier jumped in again, “Nor do I feel as though there's not a point to life. I may not know what it is, but I've never felt it was meaningless.”

“Never?” Quinn was surprised. He had become friends with Xavier, true, but he did not yet understand the young man. He had assumed, like so many others, that his arcane and, frankly, bleak dress implied a certain depressed, gothic outlook on life. He was puzzled to discover that, at least in word, Xavier was not actually as lugubrious as he seemed, even if he was very much still intense and more than a little strange.

“No, never,” said Xavier, perceiving the same confusion that marked his more intimate interactions with, well, just about everyone. He did not, however, try to clarify his position, choosing to remain an enigma. Instead he simply sat quietly, peering out the window through squinting eyes, trying to make out the shapes of the other students passing through the courtyard below.

Quinn sat quietly as well, unsure as to whether he had offended Xavier, and unwilling to push the issue further. He was confused, by the just-concluded seminar, by the intense, visceral reaction to it that had lead him to speak with Xavier, and by the conversation that ensued. He needed to walk, to think, to clear his head. He looked at – and noticed for the first time – Xavier's mini-grandfather clock, wondering where he had gotten it, but wondering more how he was going to finish his reading for tomorrow's classes in time to go to bed at a reasonable hour. “Well, Xavier,” he said, “It's been good talking to you, but I need to get to work and to bed. See you next seminar.”

“Indeed,” was all that Xavier said in response, shaking Quinn's hand firmly once it was awkwardly offered. Quinn then shuffled to the door, leaving without another glance at his former interlocutor.


  1. Awesome idea! I really like Xavier. I see how you're trying to make Quinn a sympathetic character by giving insights into his thought process, but I'm not convinced by the vague inkling of dialect you tried to include in his actual words. I can't hear him speaking when I read this. Instead, when he talks he sounds like a flat mask you're feeding standard St. John's questions through.

  2. I think I agree with Jericha about Quinn. Also, is Xavier older than Quinn? I know Xavier is the smartest dude around Barr, but how is it that he so confidently and completely has all the answers while Quinn is so lost (or so it seems in this conversation). And finally, maybe some part of this conversation could give a hint as to why Xavier even wants to be friends with Quinn at all when Quinn comes off as the kind of intellectually immature student that Xavier usually eschews.

    Enjoying reading the novel sketches!