Familiarity by Proxy

If I may assert so much familiarity with the problem at hand, I would say that it’s a familiar problem. When reading multiple works produced the same author, especially if such readings take place at a high frequency of, say, once or twice a week over a course of months or years and continue indefinitely, then at some point, the reader starts to feel a natural familiarity to the writer. Even if reader and writer have never met, even if the reader has no expectation of being invited to address the writer on familiar terms, at some point, she will feel like referring to him in a familiar manner. She will mention casually, “in his blog today, Kevin . . .” when, in fact, “Kevin” is not only a stranger, but a stranger in a position of authority (which is how the reader came to his writing in the first place), and so if reader and writer were ever to meet, the professional setting would dictate that she address him as . . .

As what? As the voice in the reader’s head, the writer has spoken so frequently as to become a well-known acquaintance. Unlike real acquaintances, the reader has never heard of the writer being referred to by others except by either his full name or his first name; the first being strangely stilted if the reader mentions the writer more than once and the second being the subject under discussion to begin with, the reader has no peg on which to hang her hat in this prickly matter. Perhaps the best course of action is to revert to that old form of identification — first name followed by a geographic destination, e.g. Catherine of Aragon, Blanche of Castile, Marguerite of Navarre. In our digital age, the equivalent includes example like Kevin of Scholarly Communications at Duke, Nancy of the Copyright Librarian, and the whimsy, folks over at Ars Technica, standing in for the burghers of Calais of yore.

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