When Worlds Collide


Our brains like to label things and categorise them neatly. We can ‘unsee’ things we’ve seen if they don’t fit our categories. But we vary in how much we do this: at one end of the spectrum is the rigid labeling that leads to racism and xenophobia, at the other end lies an inability to learn because everything is seen as unique.

I’m not sure where that leaves me: I do categorise and label things but I seem nigh on incapable of making categories that others can see but make perfect sense to me. Things collide in my head in odd ways. It took me some years to understand that. And it’s okay, it works for me. Well, apart from the tendency for other people to look at me with arched eyebrows and narrowed eyes.

Example: somehow Chaucer’s Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale and Maurer’s The Big Con collided in my head and so I’ll be giving a paper at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds next summer on alchemy called ‘Chaucer and the Art of the Grift’ which should be fun.

Here’s the precis:

‘Of all the grifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat’, David Maurer wrote in his linguistic study _The Big Con_. Chaucer’s _Canon’s Yeoman’s  Tale_ offers a narrative of crime. As in his fabliaux there’s a delight in the spinning of the yarn even  while he deplores the deception. Nonetheless, I will argue that Chaucer reveals a grifter’s appreciation for the aristocratic con because he recognises it shares the same engine as his poetry: the power of a good story.

Am I having fun researching into the world of grifters and con artists? Yes, I am. I’ve always had a fascination with that art, probably at least since my brothers and I saw Harry in Your Pocket and spent the next few weeks perfecting our technique (only on each other, I should clarify). Of course there’s also the glory of The Sting, which sprang from Maurer’s study directly. Just something in the air in 1973, eh? It was the year that Watergate broke (though it took much longer to unravel…)


  1. realthog says:

    “When World Collide”

    Is that kind of like the sound of one hand clapping? 🙂

    1. katelaity says:

      Actually that’s the concept for a non-fiction book I’m working on! It’s focused on the explosion of writing in the digital age — and whether anyone is reading.

      1. realthog says:

        Er, I was trying to draw your attention to what I thought was a typo, ma’am.

        *user goes to stick his head down nearest lavatory*

        1. katelaity says:

          >_< that song 'Oblivious' was written about me #trufax

  2. Beautiful short piece – for some reason, this makes me think of Rimbaud, who was a street poet, a bit of a grifter and a man who had a strong appreciation for the tricksier sides of life.

    1. katelaity says:

      I think most creative folk are not that far from tricksier sides.

  3. I saw the movie version of THE GRIFTERS and ended up reading the source material, the Jim Thompson novel. Very dark and deep inside the minds and behaviors of con men (and women) working any and all versions of the con, often against each other. Not a lot of Chaucer to be seen but a brilliant evocation of a specific kind of mind-set.

    1. katelaity says:

      I love Jim Thompson. He’s got a great view of the dark insides. I think Chaucer does too, but there’s a delight in the idea of out-thinking folks that really appeals to him and I might just expand this paper to a longer work.

      1. katelaity says:

        In my abundant free time…

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