Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Peter Ackroyd once remarked to me that the older he got, the more ignorant he realised he was. True, I thought. This must have been at least fifteen years ago, so we must both now be labouring under the burden of an awareness of more or less total ignorance. Well, I am anyway. I say this because my matutinal urge to blog has, today, been stalled by an oppressive sense that I don't know anything. I am staring at a series of thoughts of the day from my preferred sources - that we are in a bear market (don't know), that estate agents will go out of business (don't know but I do think we could do with far fewer), that there's a lot of sadomasochism around (don't know and don't care), that Cameron and Obama will fix our broken societies (really don't know but feel it is unlikely) and so on. Dismayed, I fell back on something I do know - that these really were the worst aircraft of all time. Or were they? Journalists are required to conceal their ignorance. This is fair enough to the extent that, within limits, we probably do know slightly more than most. It is not fair enough to the extent that it supports the blustering and preening of columnists or sustains the comfort zone of public discourse. But, of course, everybody pretends to know more than they do or to be more certain than they actually are. I suppose we must, otherwise, like me this morning, we'd spend our entire time in a condition of slack-jawed immobility and indecision. The way to avoid this is to, as it were, sweat the small stuff, in my case to suppress my tendency to generalise or to race too quickly to the big picture, which is, of course, the prime source of all error. Nige has always been much better than me at sticking with the small stuff; he remembers the names of butterflies, I don't. God really is in the details (Mies). In fact, now I think of it, my crisis was probably brought on by Lawrence Durrell's Prospero's Cell, which I was reading last night. Durrell - now largely unread, I think, but, of course, I don't know - was a great descriptive stylist. His sentences are loaded with close-ups because, to him, what matters is the sensuously exact detail. I was impressed and, I hope, influenced because, in the midst of such lovely precision, ignorance of the big picture might turn out to be bliss.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:19 am