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…)