Sunday, March 13, 2016

`The Face of Familiarity'

We deceive ourselves into certainty. It’s a form of solace, as is so much thinking. How comforting to know we understand something beyond our comprehension. No one wants to be reminded of his ignorance. In particular, writers are audacious in proclaiming what they think they know or want others to believe they know. C.H. Sisson--royalist, Anglican, arch-Modernist in a postmodern age, a man who questions even the reality of self—thinks otherwise in his foreword to In the Trojan Ditch (1974):

“There is no question, as it has come to me, of filling note-books with what one knows already. Indeed as the inevitable facility comes, the conscious task becomes the rejection of whatever appears with the face of familiarity.”

Sisson’s is an admirable goal, ridding himself of the automatic and effortless. For a writer, this begins with language. Our reflexive minds are lazy of necessity. When not writing, we rely on clichés (of language, of thought, of behavior) for the sake of convenience and courtesy. Clichés are conventions for those times when originality is unnecessary and even narcissistic. Thomas Hardy on this date, March 13, in 1883 (ed. Michael Millgate, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, 1989), noted in his journal:

“Our servant Ann brings us a report, which has been verified, that the carpenter who made a coffin for Mr W. who died the other day, made it too short. A bystander said satirically, `Anybody would think you’d made it for yourself, John!’ (the carpenter was a short man).  The maker said, `Ah--they would!’ and fell dead instantly.”

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