I’ve been enjoying a book of essays on poetry, Madness, Rack, and Honey, an excellent read for literary-minded. I’ve mentioned the author, Mary Ruefle, before. There are many thought-provoking ideas interlaced in her very conversational, deceptively rambling style. Here’s one I like, from “Someone Reading a Book is a Sign of Order in the World”:
“Once this thought crossed my mind: every time an author dies, out of respect a word should also pass out of being. A word the author loved and used repeatedly in writing–that word should be theirs and die with them. Nabokov: quiddity. But who should decide? The one who passes or the one who is left bereft? And who is the real widow? It is language herself, and her decision is clear: she does not want one of her children to throw herself in to the grave pit of an old man. Quiddity: the essence of a thing; also a trifling point, a trivial, inessential thing.”
Although, before Nabokov, George Herbert titled a short poem about poetry, “The Quiddity,” You can look it up if you’re interested… What would happen to that if we threw the word into Nabokov’s grave? And I like that Ruefle has the compassion to define quiddity for us, as opposed to sending us to the dictionary. But isn’t it odd that the word also seems to mean its opposite?