Thursday, 15 October 2009

“Pure ignorance, Madam”

In my post of 7 October I referred to "our resident Fertile Crescent guru" who had told us about the quasi-autobiographies of "Sinuhe the Egyptian … and Darius the Assyrian". At our tutorial she queried my use of guru, which word to her carries connotations of charlatanism. This highlights one of the central problems of blogging, how to describe people who are likely read what you have written. This, of course, is not normally a problem with writers of offline diaries.

There is no simple solution to this. Avoid any attempt at personal description? The result would be colourless. Use a circumlocution, like "a colleague who knows a lot about …"? Result, longwinded blandness. Rely on the Humpty Dumpty defence ("`When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less")? Unacceptably arrogant. Hide behind the dictionary definition ("more generally, a person who is respected for their knowledge of a particular subject" [CIDE])? Yes, but … Meanings change, some subtly and slightly (as in this case) or dramatically: I could not write, as I could have when I was first a student, "I threw off my clothes with gay abandon and plunged into the river". So, there is no simple solution.

She also corrected me about Darius. I could rely on the Doctor Johnson defence, as described by Boswell: A lady once asked him how he came to define Pastern the KNEE of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once answered, 'Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.'

Boswell actually offers one another Johnsonian defence. He describes how Johnson frequently would against a deadline dash off an essay for The Rambler and despatch it to the printer without checking it over. This is the defence I now invoke. Of course I know that Darius was a Persian and not an Assyrian, but I was careless, rushing to post something to Blogspot so that it would bear that day's date. I am also aware that by invoking Johnson I am trying to magnify my fig leaf into a magnificent suit. But I know that you, dear reader, will be like the little child in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes and see me and my defence for what it really is.

This incident does however raise the question about whether one should edit previous posts, since so doing is changing the authenticity of the text. I have decided that it is permissible, provided that one clearly highlights the changes. This I am doing by showing the change in red and dating it. Click here to see how the post now looks.

1 comment:

  1. very good posting. i must bear it in mind. i am always polishing.