Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Secrets of Casa Jocasta

In the examination spirit of a few of your favorite essayists--Hazlitt, for example, or Emerson, and of course Montaigne--you pose yourself the rhetorical questions: What is certainty? and What troubles has believing yourself certain about a person, place or thing caused you?


Certainty is the assured sense of error-free inevitability, a circumstance in which no proof or documentation is necessary. The sun will rise in the east and set in the west. Water will boil at 212 Fahrenheit degrees at sea level.

So far as the answer to the second question is concerned, there have been some misjudgments about human responses (including your own) and your ability to do things you were certain you could do (but eventually did not or could not). Adding a note of perplexity, there is the aspect of retrospect, a down-the-road awareness that something you were certain you understood or know or anticipated was in whole or large part wrong, thus the thrust of this essay, which turns out to be about humor. What is funnier than a person, yourself for instance, discovering something he thought to be so was, in contemporary vernacular, so not so?

Your answer to this question addresses the way you see yourself and the world about you, in the frequent, after the fact condition of being told by your present day self that your earlier self was at best naive, at worst delusional. Individuals who present themselves to you as certain or who behave in ways you associate with certainty are thus suspicious. This extends to the extremes of conspiracy theorists, with whom, you might think, you'd find some sympathy, but the escape hatch there is the certainty the conspiracy theorist brings to the table and the imaginative ability of such individuals to extend the reach of the alleged conspiracy.

Perhaps Heraclitus was right about our not being able to bathe in the same river twice. Would this by extension mean we cannot be certain of the same certainty twice?

Following this line of thinking about certainty leads you to a kind of certainty in which you look back at the intent and texture of your earlier stories and longform work, a pattern emerging in which characters are living with a foot in the real world and another in the world of revisiting what seemed so certain in the past. This may be of considerable help as you are currently wanting to reenter the realm of fiction, of invented story, where a thematic tenet is the buried treasure to be discovered. Indeed, one of the projects carries the word Secrets in its title, The Secrets of Casa Jocasta. In Spanish, Casa Jocasta is about as close as one can come to the title Edith Wharton used with such great effect, The House of Mirth. In your plan, Casa Jocasta is the name of a retirement campus for the affluent, speaking with an ironic bite to your belief that what you have already decided is "Act Three of Life's Drama," (how's that for a little parody?)is undercut with the clanks and shuffles of the consequences of Act One and Act Two, the machine shows signs of wear and needs frequent maintenance.

In keeping with the theme of this mini-essay, you've been certain since the idea came to you that The Secrets of Casa Jocasta was a mystery. Certain, do you hear?

If you are correct in your other, more generic certainly, that the novel and short story are voyages on the sea of discovery, what will you discover that will cause you to laugh at yourself?

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