Skip to main content

The Chattering Mind

A Conceptual History of Everyday Talk

From Plato’s contempt for “the madness of the multitude” to Kant’s lament for “the great unthinking mass,” the history of Western thought is riddled with disdain for ordinary collective life. But it was not until Kierkegaard developed the term chatter that this disdain began to focus on the ordinary communicative practices that sustain this form of human togetherness. 

The Chattering Mind explores the intellectual tradition inaugurated by Kierkegaard’s work, tracing the conceptual history of everyday talk from his formative account of chatter to Heidegger’s recuperative discussion of “idle talk” to Lacan’s culminating treatment of “empty speech”—and ultimately into our digital present, where small talk on various social media platforms now yields big data for tech-savvy entrepreneurs.

In this sense, The Chattering Mind is less a history of ideas than a book in search of a usable past. It is a study of how the modern world became anxious about everyday talk, figured in terms of the intellectual elites who piqued this anxiety, and written with an eye toward recent dilemmas of digital communication and culture. By explaining how a quintessentially unproblematic form of human communication became a communication problem in itself, McCormick shows how its conceptual history is essential to our understanding of media and communication today.

336 pages | 5 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2020

History: History of Ideas

Philosophy: Philosophy of Society

Rhetoric and Communication

Sociology: Theory and Sociology of Knowledge


"This book review can’t get into the subtleties or the close readings that substantiate what is, in the end, an argument about what possibilities remain in everyday talk. To judge whether McCormick makes his case for a new and radical way of 'being with others' . . . you’ll have to read the book yourself. Indisputable, however, is the power of McCormick’s method and his definitive reading of a key concept in modern rhetoric and communication."


“Ambitious, absorbing, and continually delighting, The Chattering Mind is gleamingly argued and studded with arresting insights. McCormick beautifully makes a case for seeing the history of attitudes toward chatter as essential to the understanding of media and communication. His readings of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Lacan show that, far from being identifiable with alienation and vacuity, speech that is poor in information turns out to be rich in the communication of a sense of community. McCormick’s tact, brio, and assurance are hugely impressive and highly engaging.”

Steven Connor, University of Cambridge



"All in all, this is an intriguing and very well-written book, which is definitely worth a read."

European Journal of Communication

“McCormick’s excellent work beckons us to consider such things anew and attend: 'The range of modernity’s chattering mind'. . . In beautifully written and deeply thoughtful reconstructions, McCormick orchestrates the philosophy of communication into resonances with the conceptual play of the human sciences.”

Philosophy & Rhetoric

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations in Text Citations


Part One: Chatter

1 Barbers and Philosophers
2 Fuzzy Math
3 Preacher-Prattle

Part Two: Idle Talk

4 Beginning More than Halfway There
5 Ancient Figures of Speech
6 The World Persuaded

Part Three: Empty Speech

7 The Writing on the Wall
8 First and Final Words
9 A Play of Props



Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press