Sunday, June 5, 2011

Demanding words

And why should one call oneself anything?
One only deprives other people of their
dearest occupation.

But if you go in for shades, you must
also go in for names. You must distinguish.

From the moment it's the convenience of others,
the signs have to be grosser, the shades begin
to go. That's a deplorable hour ..

Henry James
The Tragic Muse
1890, rev. 1908
Penguin Books, 1978©


  1. oh! that reminds me of something i've read somewhere about someone famous but very old-fashion-mannered when it comes to speaking French as he keeps saying "Vous" (very formal) to some of his friends instead of "tu" (familiar) [the translations of "You" as I expect you might know]... He explained that it permits to keep the mystery and respect between people... some kind of distance... And I connect that with the "deplorable hour...", .... when it comes to love, we never know where the comfortable area is... but for sure, the moment it is fading is the moment when we have found a name for anything.... the little mysteries and magic of everything has vanished.

  2. Thank you for this contribution, Joss. You consider two subjects at the same time - distance, something linear; and the comfortable area, something in two dimensions, or potentially three. In regard to the first, your 'very old fashion' man could also have been the American, Henry David Thoreau, who drew fame for failing to pay his taxes in support of the war for California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Passages in Thoreau's "Walden" on respectful distances are burned into every resident-schoolboy's mind. But, as you do, he draws the link between respect and perception of the other, linking the optical and the emotional.

    But your proposal of the "comfortable area" is a step beyond the linear standard, is less optical than intuitive, and is contingent upon personality. In mountaineering, the rope between us and the next climber will establish it; in the pursuit you mention, countless permutations of contingency renew the question of the comfortable area more or less endlessly, I agree, or that pursuit has ended.