What is called ‘silence’ in walking is, in the first place, the abolishment of chatter, of that permanent noise that blanks and fogs everything, invading the vast prairies of our consciousness like couch-grass. Chatter deafens: it turns everything into nonsense, intoxicates you, makes you lose your head. It is always there on all sides, overflowing, running everywhere, in all directions.

— Fréderic Gros, A Philosophy of Walking


And of course what goes for presidents goes too, by a sort of hypostasis, for the culture in general. Take any public figure currently active in American “Discourse” and plug their name into the same Onion headline: “Matt Yglesias Regales Dinner Guests with Impromptu Oratory on Virgil’s Minor Works”; “Nikole Hannah Jones Regales Dinner Guests with…” It sounds just as implausible as with W., but it’s not nearly as funny, again, because no one even thinks to expect such an ability among what passes for the American intelligentsia today. Instead we see Yglesias and Noah Smith and Nathan J. Robinson and other people whose names I can never remember waging the great YIMBY-vs.-NIMBY debates of 2022, we see endless play-by-plays of the supreme court’s every move or of the Pennsylvania senate race or the Georgia board of elections, all of which seem entirely derivative of a style of engagement that evolved out of professional spectator sports. I mean, I suppose someone has to be thinking about housing policy and gerrymandering and so on, but when such topics exhaust our sense of the life of participatory discursive culture, it means that culture is in deep, deep crisis — and, most tragic of all, the discourse, such as it is, is too droningly loud to permit any of us a moment of calm in which we might hear, and regret, the disappearance of Latin bucolic poetry from our shared universe of things to know about and to value.

Justin E.H. Smith