Dropping a Line into the Unknown

From Robert Hughes, A Jerk on One End: Reflections of a Mediocre Fisherman (London, 1999), pg. 17.

The fundamental experience of fishing consists of dropping a line into the unknown. You can guess what is down there; you can make your best estimates based on tide, habitat, feeding patterns and so forth; but you do not really know. Whatever takes your hook therefore has a character of revelation, even if it’s only a flounder. It may be edible or not; thorny, spiny or beautifully sleek; equipped with gnashing jaws or relatively passive; but there is always, assuming that you aren’t sight-fishing, the magic moment when the thing struggling on you line down there could be anything. The similarities between the writer’s work and the angler’s need not be laboured, but they exist. The writer lets down his or her hook into the deposit of memory and experience, the semiconscious fluid – not the dark, abyssal unconscious, which is out of reach, but the tidal zone where word, phrase, idea and memory circulate in a kind of half-light, forming their unpredicted patterns. With luck, you bring something up. If it is undersize, you toss it back.

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