Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Metalocution Office

The Office of Circumlocution, rendered by Dickens in all its fine print, is a chamber of endless frustration. With Barnacles bound to it, Tite lipped and fast, it serves its old Ship of State well, making just enough breeze between passings of papers to ensure a continuing motion and with just that right number of short, aimless tracks to head off the thought and the verve of its public, too focused and tired out for choppy revolt. Just think of the strangeness of Clennam, arriving and wanting to KNOW!, you know, and, stranger, demanding it DONE!, you hear? Well, he met with short shrift, and endless lined forms, and learned of the roundabout circles of life that kept his Queen safe on her Throne and his Government safe from Reform. It had its full stops, no doubt, this place, and was not all industrious rounds; the spiralling staircase down which Clennam walked in the BBC version last year gives sinister sense of the madness induced by too constant attendance on forms and submissions. But Meagles, for all his despair at the circus, regains his good humour outside; and Doyce, whose life's work is wrapped up in its coils, is not broken down by its ways. For at least it has papers for one who would claim, and a next step to take after this one. So, if one forgoes the hope of completion, of absolute knowledge and positive action, Circumlocution will do.

But Metalocution: now that is a quite different story. For its office has no ways at all by which a man might set to moving his case, not even the Barnacles' roundabout routes, not even the tracks that go nowhere. In Circumlocution, one submits one's claim on a form that will go to the next place, at which place it will be translated to code to render it fit for the next place; at the place after that, or the place after that, one may meet with one's claim once again, for the purpose of ticking another ten boxes, of changing one's mind or of logging one's hopes. All going nowhere, of course, as we said, but all at least full up with purpose. In Metalocution, one submits just once, and never one's own claims and never one's own words. This office is concerned with only its archives, with nought but the ways it reports and it files. In this place, no concession is made to one's ends; it hears only that which it sets up as Good, as Transparent, Impartial, Progressive. One talks in it, writes in it, thinks in it too, in only the ways that are Public; one meets in it, not to say what's to be done but to say that which, archived, will fit with what's Public. One speaks to the minutes, and minutes Public-speak, and the frustrated ends of the Circumlocution begin to seem all very well; at least they would leave to a man his endeavours, and give him ways to set about them. Metalocution is deaf to all labours and keeps men to headless ventriloquy.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Common Room

It is (Quite a beginning, for one seated in the common sitting room, road side and wood panelled, quick to put pen down for the common woman's work of domestic meetings and greetings, of tea to be served and talk to be made; a phrase full of poise, a stake driven deep in a world that was scarcely hers to claim.) a truth (But claim it she does, with both hands, eyes fixed on that age old concern that beauty and truth might ally, that art might not simply please, but, in pleasing, reveal what is real; this old hope is worn here, not quite on the sleeve but in the first line that was written and read.) universally acknowledged (Trumpets of Enlightenment: truth is proclaimed as that which implies the agreement of all humankind. Out with the changing, the local, the brief, and in with the lasting and true. Out of the common room, too close, too ad hoc, and into the light of all reason. But already a cloud: this phrase goes to qualify truth and in doing so shows there are truths (not in heaven, but on earth) undreamt of by all those philosophies. And already a blind spot: for what force can the act of acknowledgement have for the absolute nature of truth? If the true is the true, or is taken as true, only once it's acknowledged as true, then the universality claimed by the true is reliant once more on mere common consent...) that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (Pure Austen, this cool undercutting of grandeur with the small ins and outs of real life. But so much more subtly done than the simple reversal it seems; for critique of pretensions to grand, lasting truth is implied, not exclusively on her own terms of homely concerns and polite social scenes but also within the short opening clause that comes, word for word, from that ivory tower for which novels, and women, and the common rooms in which they were written and sat, are exemplars of all that's untrue.)

Jane takes a small piece of that ivory - two inches wide, that is all - and brings it indoors, to her common sitting room, where its truth must make talk and make tea, and respond to the meetings and greetings that give substance to commonplace life, whose business it is to get five daughters wed and whose solace is visits and news.