Abstract Saul Albert 7th February 2013

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On doing "being contemplative"

Silent contemplation is often thought of as the canonical form of aesthetic appreciation, a process of solitary reflection during which the qualities of an artwork are absorbed and explored. The ostensibly private, ineffable nature of such moments naturally suggests an analysis of aesthetic responses in terms of an individual's cognitive, physiological or neural processes. However, one of the earliest achievements of Conversation Analysis (CA) was to show that silences can also be a public conversational move that accomplish a variety of specific interactional actions. This paper explores the detailed pattern of contemplative silences observed in naturally occurring conversations about works of art. Focussing on a corpus of conversations captured at a contemporary art exhibition we argue that contemplative silences have a distinct character of being actively designed and defended as attributable pauses during which a speaker can do "being contemplative" as a social action.

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