Thursday, January 01, 2015

Just Looking for a New Direction in an Old Familiar Way

Name, though it seem but a superficial and outward manner, yet it carrieth much impression and enchantment.

— Francis Bacon

In the spirit of new beginnings, I've decided to change my pen name. Henceforth, I will sign my posts as Strix Cratylus. The new avatar comes from this painting by CJ Tanedo.

It's been a good six and a half years as The Vile Scribbler, but I feel like the name represents an attitude I've somewhat outgrown. You may recall that I initially chose the name thinking that I had once heard it applied to Voltaire by one of his critics. I never could find any confirmation of that supposed fact when I went looking for it, but I decided I liked the ironic self-depreciation regardless. And since I saw myself primarily as someone carrying on a similar campaign of provocation against the religious (or spiritual-not-religious) certainties of our age, I went with it.

Over the intervening years, I've exhausted my interest in some of the main subjects which originally motivated me to write. Atheism vs. religion doesn't strike me as anywhere near as compelling a subject now. Lefty politics holds no special attraction for me. "Rationality" is a much more complicated and ambiguous phenomenon than my younger, somewhat-Voltairean self would have conceded. And the medium in which all of this discussion takes place, the social media web, while in many ways a godsend, also has a corrosive effect on writing and thinking which requires constant vigilance itself.

So, I feel like enough has changed over my blogging career to deserve being symbolized by a new persona — and honestly, why not take advantage of the ability to play around a little with the fluid nature of identity in this environment? If you're going to have an alter ego, have some fun with it. On a more serious note, changing my name is also in some ways a prompt, a little incentive to strive toward being a better writer. I'm not so interested in stating my opinions like they matter; I'd rather get better at the prose surrounding them. "Starting over", even in a merely symbolic sense, makes me want to raise my game a bit.

Why this name? Well, I share the Heraclitean interest in the flux and flow of existence, as well as the distrust of language's ability to fundamentally capture the mysterious "is-ness" of existence (even though language is, at the same time, a passionate fascination of mine). Like Buddha twirling a flower in response to a question, I like the image of Cratylus wagging his finger as a silent corrective to people's tendency to get lost in their own cerebral abstractions. Also, I like owls.

Tanedo's description of the painting is obviously coming from a Christian perspective, but there's nothing exclusively Christian about the message — the fear of hubris and the corresponding valuing of humility was a prominent theme in ancient Greece, and there was a strong element of it among the Romantics more recently. And, of course, the gentle, skeptical shrug and "What do I know?" attitude were some of Montaigne's most endearing qualities.