At last, another very welcome contribution from my brother Ron. His slant on the link between writer and reader is perceptive although, in the final two paragraphs, disturbingly lubricious . (By the way, if I did, as he claims, use the expression ‘inferential perception’, I should be (and am) ashamed of myself. I shall, however, use it frequently in the future .) All yours, Ron.
Here’s Bill, at the family dinner table, some fifty odd years ago. Out from the usual competitive banter, which centres on topics as diverse as the colour of Manchester United’s away strip or weighing up the desire for the last roast potato against winning the race to finish eating first, comes this:
“What it’s really all about is inferential perception.”
He might have gone on to unpack the concept and quote his sources…I don’t recall but, evidently, I remember those words. They stayed with me because they had an allure, promising access to something that might feed my empty teenage mind.
I’m still just as impressionable, a sucker for a well-turned phrase. For instance, I’m washing the dishes and wondering if I’ll remember to reload the bird feeder I can see when, out of the thousands of words on the radio news, an interviewer says to some middle eastern diplomat,
“So, you condemn this act unreservedly,” and the diplomat answers, “I’m going to have to give you an answer of constructive ambiguity.”
And the birds are going to have to go hungry because I go straight for my pen and note that answer down, firstly so I can relish it as a seductive piece of avoidance and secondly to commit it to memory in the hope of being stopped in the street one day and asked to comment on some major issue:
“Excuse me sir, what do you think of the colour of Manchester United’s away strip?”
“I’m going to have to give you an answer of constructive ambiguity, innit.”
My admiration for this diplomat shrank when I later learned he hadn’t plucked those words from his creative intellect to meet the context but had stolen them from Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, who was describing the ‘art’ of appearing to say something about the financial markets but in such a way that traders would not over-react and set prices rising or falling in response. Never mind, the words still carry a lot of power.
And here’s Will Self on the radio recently, being asked what Psycho Geography is and, seemingly without taking a breath or consulting his notes, answering:
“Psycho Geography is the idea of purposeless transits across the urban context in order to deconstruct the commercial and political imperatives of contemporary space.”
Another emaciated sparrow drops from the bird table as I reach for the pad again. Of course Self’s words are pretentious and sound like one of Bill’s examples of jargon intended to screen the ignorance of the speaker but I don’t care: I want to talk like that. (Incidentally, I suspect it’s that word, ‘purposeless’ which really attracts me. After a career in education, with its aims and objectives and targets and goals, I am drawn to the notion of aimless meandering).
For different reasons, I was struck by these words, written to an online chat room, in response to Google’s new sorting system in its Gmail service.
‘You fulfilled my desire which I am feeling for the last few months and gave immense joy when I saw it after opening my inbox.’
These words don’t promise the illumination of Will Self or Alan Greenspan but they are so inappropriately gushing that I find myself admiring the intention of the writer, whilst at the same time wondering if he might benefit from getting out a bit more.
What you writers and readers need to know is that there are people like me out here who are susceptible to the bon mot or the mot juste and who will swoon and buckle if you can find those combinations of words that press our buttons. I wonder if it might be useful or even inspiring to sit at your desks in the knowledge that your audience is gagging for it.