The Obvious: A Brief Disquisition

Before I posted about the Clinton tapes, I paused to wonder whether it was too obvious. And then I paused to consider the nature of, and perceived trouble with, obviousness.

I used to hate obviousness. In particular, I was outraged that entire academic careers could be built on a single, simple, obvious assertion. For example: that language collapses under scrutiny. (See Derrida, Jacques.) Of course, the real problem with literary theory, if I may humbly take down the entire endeavor in a single swipe, is that it complicates the obvious.

At least as I experienced it in college, literary theory seemed designed to take ideas that were common-sensical and render them impossible. Admittedly, Derrida had more than one idea, and I seem to remember liking Lacan, if only because, after having made it through even a sentence of his without surrendering to a) sleep or b) suicide, I felt like a genius.

Back to obviousness. I still tend to get rankled by it. The small, bitter person who lives inside of me often feels that people get too much credit for being clever when they say something that anyone else (specifically, me) could have come up with just as easily, and didn’t, only because it was so obvious.* But recently, I’ve begun to see that stating the obvious is a good thing to do. And here’s why:

1) One person’s obvious is another person’s revelatory.

2) “Stating the obvious” is sometimes another name for naming something that was previously unnamed. And naming is very useful. Once something has a name, we can wrangle with it. Which brings me to . . .

3) It’s a good idea to get the obvious out on the table. Because it’s a place to start. And it’s really good to have a place to start.

In other news, I’m not as small and bitter as I used to be. Just so you know.

* Never mind that jockeying for “credit” based on cleverness is both dumb and a recipe for unhappiness.

One Response to “The Obvious: A Brief Disquisition”

  1. Liza says:

    So obvious, yet so helpful. Thanks!

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