An Analysis of a Taped Conversation About a Taped Conversation
In what follows I should like to illustrate and further elaborate on the claims made above by way of an analysis of a taped conversation (Tape 2) of a taped conversation (Tape 1). The conversation in Tape 2 was made at the apartment of Frank, a Humanities professor at a Midwestern university who, at the time of the taping, was in his mid-thirties. It involves Frank, his girlfriend Laura, and their married couple friends Dave and Jean. The identities of the conversants have been disguised so as to protect their anonymity. My relationship to the recorder of Tape 2 must also remain confidential.
The tape concerns an alleged violation of trust in the relationship between Frank and Laura, who had been living together off and on for six months and were considering getting married. Unbeknownst to Laura, Frank had the previous week recorded an intimate conversation between Laura and himself. On hearing the tape played back to her, Laura had become furious.
Dave and Jean were close friends of Frank's and had met Laura some six months earlier, shortly after Frank and Laura began dating. Laura was in her late twenties and had been Frank's student. On the evening of Tape 2, the four of them went to a movie and then returned to Frank's apartment for late night conversation. While Jean and Laura were talking in the kitchen, Frank, in plaintive tones, told Dave about Laura's anger over Tape 1 and Dave proposed that they tape their discussion of it as grist for his research interests. Having overheard Dave's proposal and much of the ensuing conversation, Laura and Jean decided to join the conversation at about midpoint.
Unlike Tape 1, then, Tape 2 was made with the full knowledge and consent of the conversants. They also provided permission to transcribe Tape 2 and to use it for research purposes. I note these agreements in recognition that this study has a recursive character, and that it is subject to many of the same ethical questions as were applied in Tape 2 to Tape 1. No doubt a covertly recorded discussion would have been more natural, but then it would have been subject to the same ethical objections as were raised about Tape 1. This problem nothwithstanding, the conversation on Tape 2 seems to me to be exemplary in several interesting respects, and it is these that shall be highlighted here.
The analysis that follows will return us, then, to the themes of rhetorical rationality and narrative, friendship and dialogue that were featured in the "theory" section of this essay. I hope to show that this friendship circle advanced consideration of the questions they confronted, notwithstanding their failure ultimately to arrive at a consensus resolution of the conflict between Laura and Frank. They were able, for example, to test proposed analogies, clarify points of continuing disagreement, and better understand the ambiguities attendant upon their attempted application of a key precept. These accomplishments were at once interpersonal and intellectual, a consequence of their ability to overcome defensiveness and to engage communally in dialogue. Given the normal degree of defensiveness which conflicts of this sort normally occasion, I would judge their conversation quite reasonable. This judgment also takes as a given the assumptive logic with which all four conversants entered the conversation. It assumes, for example, that we humans are capable of acting responsibly, that we are not mere fictive selves inscribed by language, culture, or convention, however much our attitudes and actions have been influenced by language. culture, or convention; hence, that there is point and purpose in rendering ethical judgments.
The excerpts to be analyzed are provided here in the order in which they appeared in the conversation. Following each excerpt I offer a commentary. In a concluding section I offer a self-reflexive meta-commentary on my theory and case analysis, with a view toward addressing anticipated questions and objections as well as raising a few questions of my own.