anagnorisis

There’s a popular “meme” going around on the internet lately, various phrases on the model of “That moment when [striking or unexpected thing X happens]” – often the striking or unexpected thing is a realization, such as “That moment when you realize that Trix are no longer for you,” or “That moment when you realize it was the voice of Darth Vader saying ‘This… is CNN,’” or “That moment when you realize that the guy you killed at the crossroads was your father, and the queen you married is your mother.”

Well, I guess not so much that last one, unless you’re Oedipus. But while tragic heroes often have sudden realizations that change everything, the rest of us have sudden realizations from time to time, too, and some of them can leave us pretty shaken up. There is something you can no longer ignore; you read the signs, and you face the facts with a groan. It’s recognition – or, to use the Greek word meaning the same thing, anagnorisis.

Should that be anignoresis? As in an ‘not’ plus ignore plus sis? No, it’s ana ‘back, again’ plus the gnor/gnos root referring to cognition plus isis, a nominalizing suffix. Re-cognition. It all comes back again – or something you had been trying not to see leaps before your eyes and you can ignore it no longer. You felt it in your organs and now you are all disorganized. You lose all your gains. It had a familiar ring, and that ring turns out to be around your finger, so to speak.

Anagnorisis. Two each of a, n, i, s, one each of g, o, r. Eleven letters, five syllables, tapping on the tip of the tongue except for that one /g/ that reaches back and disturbs the pattern. And then it ends deflating with hisses.

This word gains its currency from its use in Aristotle’s Poetics, where it names a moment in the agon such as Oedipus’s, the realization that leads to peripeteia (a turn of events) and catastrophe and, in short order, the end of the play. But it has extra effect because of its echoes of ignore and the various other words you can see circling in it when you look twice: signs, groan, again, organs, gains, ring, agon… All there if you were looking.

2 responses to “anagnorisis

  1. “…such as “That moment when you realize that Trix are no longer for you,” or “That moment when you realize it was the voice of Darth Vader saying ‘This… is CNN,’” or “That moment when you realize that the guy you killed at the crossroads was your father, and the queen you married is your mother.”

    Well, I guess not so much that second one, unless you’re Oedipus….”

    So, Oedipus watched CNN and recognized James Earl Jones? ;-}

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