Blog Post

Huddling Together, Nervously Loquacious

Tags: 
Film, style

Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change (1935): “[Men] build their cultures by huddling together, nervously loquacious, at the edge of an abyss" (272). What was behind the distinctive style of loquaciousness which was once so popular for actors — and most strikingly female ones — in the Hollywood comedies of the 1930s?

What is the meaning of rapid talking at that particular moment, and the meaning of its disappearance thereafter? Is it the existential one Burke notes, that of “talking over” the “preposterous fact that both existence and nothingness are equally unthinkable”? Or is there a social meaning as well? What is the relation, in fact, between the social activity of “huddling” — assembling, gathering— and symptomatic garrulousness, beyond that of somehow adding up to “culture” when they get mixed together? And are these meanings different than the ones we might ascribe to the same style when it resurfaces at the end of the 20th century, in a dark film like Naked (1992) – but now as monologue rather than a dialogue? Is the shift in the gender and genre of the fast/nervous talker significant?

Blogging itself could be described as a form of loquacious huddling. It thus seems fitting to begin thinking about this aesthetic here.

Sianne Ngai is Professor of English at Stanford University. She is the author of Ugly Feelings (Harvard UP, 2005) and Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Harvard UP, 2012).