Monday, May 5, 2008


Used as a noun, a clue is a guideline bit of information that will lead to understanding of a concept or the solution of a mystery or puzzle.

Working as a verb, clue informs someone or some ones with information that will allow participation with the same equipment as everyone else. Having a clue is of a piece with tossing in an ante in a poker game; it means you will be dealt cards with which to effect the strongest possible hand or, to stretch the analogy, to maximize the potential for achieving the goal.

The ultimate destiny of a clue is to provide access to information, as in Get a clue! Armed with a clue, one might experience the power of having the solution to an enigma, as indeed Edward Elgar experienced toward the end of the nineteenth century when he followed through on the clues allowing him to complete his opus 36 for orchestra, The Enigma Variations.

Having no clue--being clueless--suggests an extreme naif, abroad in a landscape where many if not all others have a clue, a sense of direction, purpose, a vector of information to pursue, possibly even an American flag lapel pin.

Accordingly, you might ask, should the writer begin a journey with no clue, setting forth with no clear destination in mind? Should the writer begin with some hypothesis, some propellant, some what if, or should the writer step off the edge of the dock, not only expecting but in fact inviting wet feet for his troubles?

Dangers and paradoxes, also lovely words, abound. Should the writer eschew the clueless narrator? This would mean no Mr. Stevens, the butler in The Remains of the Day, and what a pity that would be, in no small measure because, pity him though we do, we also like him to the point of seeing the armies of clueless about us. We would also have to come to terms with Bartelby, of scrivener fame, wondering if he were merely intransigent, passive, devious, manipulative, or clued in entirely, a splendid representative of Melville's vision of man in an urbanized setting.

Is the naive narrator to be trusted any more than the narrator we recognize as unreliable? Is cluelessness acceptable? Should we make a grail of The Clue and seek it with all our passionate heart?

Does the clue trump the detail in our ongoing quest to find our way through the textures of thought, experience and regret that form the landscape of or daily life? Or is clue the key to the recognition of which details to cherish and follow?

1 comment:

R.L. Bourges said...

sometimes, the writing starts with nothing but a clue, no? A word, an image, a bit of dialog that won't go away. Sometimes it is like writing in the dark.