Now here’s a thing. On the back cover of an old issue of his Rising poetry magazine, Mr Tim Wells assigned a phobia to each of the contributing writers. It’s a good gag. Every issue there’s a list of authors and their supposed equivalent in some new category. There have been puddings, Cary Grant movies, Nadsat slang, pick-up lines – sixty odd in all at the time of writing. If you’re lucky enough to be published therein, one of the great joys is checking to see what you’ve been allocated. My favourite was military engagements. Everyone else got El Alamein, or Blenheim, or some such; I was given ‘The Battle of the Herrings‘. This was made even better by the fact that he’d dragged me into a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road several weeks earlier, found an encyclopedia of military history on the shelves, and showed me the entry for said action.
Anyway, on this phobias issue back cover, I got allodoxaphobia. I had to look it it up. It is, apparently, the fear of opinions. It gave me a shiver. How well he knows me, I thought: Battle of the Herrings, then this. There’s nothing quite so likely to give me the gripes as someone’s heartfelt, long-held, fervent, or even (though admittedly less likely) considered opinion reverberating round a full East Coast carriage when I’ve forgotten my head phones. The convictions of a saloon-bar sage can drive me to forgo drink. It’s gotten so bad that I try not to have any of my own.
According to some websites, this phobia’s a real one, and is a sort of social anxiety relating to conflict and argument; or that’s the prevailing medical/psychological view (Some Websites, 2014). On reflection, I’m not so sure. I’m pretty certain my vertigo evaporated when the only paid work available was stripping the roof off a four storey Hackney townhouse. Maybe I’m confusing a neurosis with just not liking something.
Whether it’s real or only in my head, though, is immaterial: it would seem to make me constitutionally unfit for this place and this activity – namely the internet and blogging. I’m told, by someone whose judgement I, more or less, trust, that whenever I set about writing prose, it ends up being an exercise in avoiding the subject; of failing to get to the point; of trying not to state what’s actually on my mind. Each near-assertion is qualified and re-qualified until it tips into a maelstrom of reservation, hesitancy and misgiving.
That’s not generally the case for the happy denizens of the world wide web. I’ve been to the wilds of the Telegraph comments section. The doxaphiles there are quite happy to trumpet their opinions. In fact, many seem only to have one, which they express, in more or less the same terms, over and over and over. It conjures a picture of great prehistoric beasts, at the brink of an extinction event, wailing their unanswered mating calls over a vast empty plain – except there a millions of them. On second thoughts, no: perhaps it’s more like the invisible horrors revealed by Crawford Tillinghast’s infernal electrical machine in Mr Lovecraft’s ‘From Beyond’: maybe you turn on the internet and all the opinions that had been hidden are revealed, flabbily quivering in their loathsome profusion, as the great man might have had it.
Current wisdom, however, holds it that one’s employment prospects may be enhanced in some way by making a contribution to the general merriment. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I’m game and I’m going to give it a bash and write about things that interest me – like the above-mentioned Lovecraft, weird fiction, art, or maybe even poetry. I’ll even do some drawings to make it interesting as well.