Surplus Surplus

From the collector of definitions.

Flâneur: dandy, stroller, person at ease in a kaleidoscope of turns.

From the philosopher-poet.

In the paradise of ceaseless commerce and consumption, where nothing can ever be lacking, some things are nonetheless impossible to find. One of them is cumulative thought; another is the unhurried privacy on which all thought depends. It is curious that mental independence should wither away in the face of constant surplus — but in the shopping mall, that is what occurs.

Robert Bringhurst. “A Poet and A War” in Everywhere Being Is Dancing

From the satirist, two anecdotes. Related here in reverse order of their appearance. Both hilariously funny.

But I really think this has gone too far, this worship of choice. I take my mum out for a cup of coffee and I say, “What would you like?” and I get quite impatient if she says, with surprise, “Um, a cup of coffee?” I want her to specify what size, what type, whipped cream or no whipped cream, choice of sprinkle, type of receptacle, type of milk, type of sugar — not because either of us cares about how such stuff, but because I’m expecting all these questions at the counter, and you look daff if you dither.

“I would have whole-heartedly agreed with you, Ms Truss, if you had not fatally undermined your authority by committing a howler of considerable dimensions quite early in the book, on page 19. I refer, of course, to the phrase ‘bow of elfin gold’. Were you to consult The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), you would find in letter 236 that Professor Tolkien preferred the term ‘elven’ to ‘elfin’, but was persuaded by his editors to change it. Also, it was the dwarves who worked with gold, of course; not the elves. Finally as any student of metallurgy would instantly confirm, gold is not a suitable element from which to fashion a bow, being at once too heavy and too malleable. With all good wishes, enjoyed your book immensely, keep up the good work, your fan.”

Lynne Truss. Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door

For me Bringhurst’s images bring to mind the figure of the forager who also encounters a cornucopia and makes a judicious choice in harvesting: it is not so much that the surplus is the cause of all the trouble but our attitude to the surplus.

Truss is splendid when these disparate passages are connected to bring to mind the relation between abundant offerings and the art of the connoisseur. The link between choices on offer and the making of choices is tenuous. Imagine if you will riffling through pages of a book (sadly missing an index: no “Tolkien”, no “coffee”) to track down the appropriate anecdote and compare that to a leisurely amble through its pages. Different ways of consuming.

In both of these instances, I am reminded of the work of Jane Jacobs and the evolution of city neighbourhoods and would like to emphasize that the choices on offer may disappear.

And so for day 1332

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