Wednesday, 19 October 2011


I was at work chatting with my friend and colleage, Bob, the other day, about this and that. In the course of conversation he mentioned an idea he'd had, to do with the naming conventions in the Harry Potter novels, that unpacked into a reading of the whole Potter phenomenon. It was very clever and, I think, perceptive; but here's the thing. I don't know if he intends to write this up as a full paper (he should), but sitting in my office he sketched it very briefly: just enough of the idea so that I -- an individual also in the profession of going for clever and, hopefully, insightful things about literature and culture -- could see (a) what he was suggesting, and (b) that it was clever and insightful. He was able to communicate this to me so efficiently because we share many points of cultural and theoretical reference, and we're both familiar with those rhetorical and textual conventions by which ideas get elaborated into academic papers and the like. It's a function of a degree of specialisation, of course; like one chess player who can communicate a whole block of many moves to another by saying 'it was a two-knights defence opening countered by a Benko gambit', such that the other can go 'ah! I see -- how clever!' But having thought this, and starting to wonder about the relationship between professional shorthand and conceptually content-ful shorthand, I suddenly thought: 'uh-oh. Mornington Crescent...'

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