A Strange Commonplace by Gilbert Sorrentino

By Gilbert Sorrentino


Borrowing its identify from a William Carlos Williams poem, A unusual Commonplace lays naked the secrets and techniques and goals of characters whose lives are intertwined via twist of fate and necessity, possessions and experience.

Ensnared in a jungle of urban streets and suburban bed room groups from the boozy Nineteen Fifties to the culturally vacuous current, traces blur among households and neighbors, violence and love, desire and depression. As fathers attempt to hook up with their kids, as writers fight for credibility, as other halves stroll out, and an outdated guy performs Russian roulette with a deck of playing cards, their tales resonate with poignancy and savage humor—familiar, tragic, and cathartic.

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Participants' concerns for what happened and how to describe it are subjugated not to the disinterested pursuit of truth, but to the contingencies of practical action. Put another way, the epistemologies of our everyday discourse are organized around adequacy and usefulness rather than validity and correctness. The consequence of starting to recognize this is that discourse becomes a topic of study in its own right (cf. Garfinkel, 1967; Zimmerman and Pollner, 1970). That is, conversational remembering ceases to be of interest merely because it might be a route to underlying cognitive processes; rather the organization and functions of such talk become the issue (Edwards and Middleton, 1986a).

The significance of this is that while cognition remains the central concern, it needs some kind of perceptual input to root it in reality. The perennial problem posed for cognitive theories, at least as far as the apprehension of reality is concerned, is how, for all the machinations of our cognitive apparatuses, we manage most of the time to see the world as it is, or to be effectively 'right' in our understandings of it, and of each other (Neisser, 1976). It is no use having mental operations which code, select, infer, transform and distort the world, if they leave us wallowing in fantasy and distortion, unable effectively to act, react and generally survive in the world.

Where a relationship exists, social psychology is the derivative element. Cognitive psychology occupies the mainstream, in its own histories having slain the behaviourist beast and taken its place as psychology's foundational enterprise (Gardner, 1985; Johnson-Laird, 1988). The central topics are perception, memory, language and mental representation, knowledge and reasoning. Social and developmental psychologies have generally followed in its wake, particularly in North America and Britain, defining their problems and issues as cognitive ones, while re-asserting their own older cognitive roots in the work of thinkers such as Jean Piaget and Fritz Heider.

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