The great Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye once decorated a work of his with the following epigraph: “Teaching literature is impossible; that is why it’s difficult.” This delicious aporia, this classic philosophical impasse, is just one of the myriad reasons for venerating Frye and his elegant tweed jackets. Quotations, alas, must always be taken out of context, for such is their sad, kitschy purpose in our soundbite-infested world. We slap them into university papers to help reach the required word count, we stick them into high-octane business presentations in order to sound like that proverbial Renaissance man so many of us cross-disciplinarian Millennial narcissists strive to hatch into.
Anyway, to situate the poor grandfatherly Northrop Frye in our context, things indeed often appear impossible because, in their nature, they are difficult, be it literature or any other realm of human endeavour. Reducing individual carbon footprint, overthrowing crackpot dictators, or meeting the Millenium Development Goals, all these noble, shiny orbs of our idealism, too impossible because they’re difficult, hurl, at frightful speeds, toward some ghastly interstellar archive for cataloging. This is it, this is human thought at its best, divorced from the miasmic underbelly of its physicality. We’re all brilliant when we’re kids, in love, asleep, or dead. The intervals in between, all those hours and years of living, ageing, and scurrying to and fro, all this Hobbesian solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short quadrille; ALL THAT is the fateful semi-colon in Frye’s quotation, the breather between IMPOSSIBLE and DIFFICULT, the macabre tightrope we stupidly choose to walk whenever we’re not kids, in love, asleep, or dead. Perhaps, if instead of religiously treading that painful path, we just dived (in some Nietzschean pirouette) into that void of treacherous punctuation, that cosmic slit between the IMPOSSIBLE and the DIFFICULT. Well then…if that were to happen the disciplines of philosophy, psychology, and strategic management would fade into obscurity. As such, we still meander the curvatures of that blasted semi-colon, marinating in doubt, assessing risk, fiddling with predictive models and market-sizing exercises, looking for reassurances that our projects are not overly embarrassing. All that activity is called the hustle and it’s just as fun as it’s exhausting.
This blog isn’t about the hustle. It’s about that irritating semi-colon in that nifty little epigraph of Northrop Fry. We’ll poke and prod at it, seeing just how sturdy is that dear old binary of the IMPOSSIBLE and the DIFFICULT. Nothing Freudian, I promise.