Jottings Logo - John Fraser



Saying Simply



Some afterthoughts apropos of suspiciousness, a word that I don't really care for much here:

It's occurred to me that what I was trying to talk about when I said that you should read those poems of Mallarmé’s suspiciously might be compared to the state of mind in which one drives a car in city traffic.


If one's done a reasonable amount of driving, one presumably isn't in a chronic state of wheel-gripping fear that every other car in a position to do so is about to run into one's own, or that one's brakes are going to fail.

By and large, as one knows from experience, other drivers respect stop-lights and the conventions of four-way signs, don't tailgate, don't fall asleep at the wheel, and one's car slows down when one presses on the appropriate pedal.

At the same time, one doesn't, or shouldn't, entirely forget the possibility that things can go wrong at almost any point--that there is no certainty that another driver will know who has the right of way at an intersection or that one's brakes will always work perfectly. (Mine failed completely on me a couple of years ago.)


Moreover, unless there is no other traffic at all and no pedestrians around, one will never be in the "same" situation each time one comes to a familiar intersection, such as the one by the Holiday Inn at Robie and Quinpool. One has to focus each time on the specific configuration that is there at that point--this car here, that bus there, those pedestrians.

Nor is a "street" always the same sort of thing, any more than a "text" is. Spring Garden by the Lord Nelson is not the same sort of thing as Oakland Road outside my house, and both are very different again from the Bicentennial Highway.

And the conventions governing how one is supposed to drive have no innate underpinnings.

Posted speed limits can and do alter (50 here, 60, 80, or 100 there), and are totally human constructions. There is no divine law by virtue of which the speed limit on a particular stretch of road has to be 50 rather than 70 or 47 or 29.35.

And road signs may be hard to interpret (where is one meant to turn off for Lawrencetown), and maps may be hard to read, and guide-books may be (or so one finds) unreliable.

And deciding when it is safe to overtake on a narrow two-lane highway may be a difficult matter, requiring the rapid processing of a number of variables in one's mental computer.


Types of drivers may vary too. For some, rules are simply there to be broken if he or she can get away with it. (Might one call them romantics?) For others, the rules must be followed exactly, even at three in the morning on deserted streets, or when there is a line-up of angrily honking cars behind one's own.

All this is very different from "driving" as it may appear to a comfortably inattentive non-driver, I mean someone who doesn't know how to drive, who sits chatting in the passenger seat as if he were sitting in a train seat, borne effortlessly along in a seemingly immutable and infallible system.

But it is in fact how things are, and recognizing how those things are, which is to say the real rules of the game, does not entail any metaphysical doubting or result in any kind of paralysis with regard to getting expeditiously from one end of the city to the other at rush hour.


Driving, like reading, is a whole lot of things, a whole lot of transactions in which one deploys a variety of skills and mentally fits a succession of present configurations in among past ones.

Driving, like reading, is possible.

And it may even be possible, at times, to recognize when one has made a mistake oneself, and to say confidently that someone else is a good driver, or a very good driver, or a bad one.


Return To Top
Saying Simply Verlaine Mallarme Suspiciousness Referentiality Holderlin Yeats Hopkins Hopkins2 Woolf