19 October 2010

Why So Commonplace?

Naming things can be incomprehensibly difficult, as anyone with a new pet, child, garage band, or blog can attest.  A quality name, we believe, can be that small but vital push towards glory, laud, and honor —while a poor name can doom the recipient to failure or even worse: outright mediocrity.  (Freakonomics contains a fascinating chapter on literally “poor” names. Excerpt.)

I have decided to rename this blog The Commonplace.  Three notes on why I chose this title:

1.)  When I was teaching high school, I was introduced to the concept of commonplace books.  I quickly became a staunch believer.  From Wikipedia:
Commonplace books (or commonplaces) were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and humanists as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator's particular interests.

And a further description from Robert Darnton’s article "Extraordinary Commonplaces:"
Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life.… [Ordinary readers as well as famous writers like Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Milton, and John Locke] broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality. (The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2000)
 The modern blog is simply the commonplace book revisited.
2.)  I think there is value in telling the story of the small, everyday moments and interactions that make up the bulk of our existence.  A few quotes about taking commonplace events and making them unusual, and unusual events commonplace:
"In my plays I want to look at life - at the commonplace of existence-as if we had just turned a corner and run into it for the first time.
Christopher Fry
"Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet's job."
Jean Cocteau
"I'm saying look, here they come, pay attention. Let your eyes transform what appears ordinary, commonplace, into what it is, a moment in time, an observed fragment of eternity."
Philip Levine
"Let us dig our furrow in the fields of the commonplace."
Jean Henri Fabre

3.) Finally, I would like to think that this blog will eventually become a forum where people gather; a virtual commons.  And in our discourse, when we disagree, it is my hope that we do so from a common place.

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