Anagnorisis and Peripeteia

Mike Rowe was the host of “Dirty Jobs”, a show on the Discovery Channel for many years. I was recently watching his TED talk about the big ideas and life lessons he learned from doing manual, skilled, and dirty work. There is one particular moment in his story that has stuck with me; he recalls a lesson from his classics professor in college:

OK, I’m still in “Poetics,” in Aristotle, and I’m thinking — out of nowhere, two terms come crashing into my head that I haven’t heard since my classics professor in college drilled them there. And they are anagnorisis and peripeteia. Anagnorisis and peripeteia. Anagnorisis is the Greek word for discovery. Literally, the transition from ignorance to knowledge is anagnorisis. It’s what our network does; it’s what “Dirty Jobs” is. And I’m up to my neck in anagnorises every single day. Great. The other word, peripeteia, that’s the moment in the great tragedies, you know — Euripides and Sophocles — the moment where Oedipus has his moment, where he suddenly realizes that hot chick he’s been sleeping with and having babies with is his mother. OK. That’s peripety or peripeteia.

I’ve been fascinated with the thought of inflection points for at least a couple of years, but I had always been waiting to learn how to define these moments beyond the vanilla term “discovery”. I learned about a similar word through the documentary Life In A Day two years ago, “Mamihlapinatapai”, which is a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start. However, this word is limited to in-person inflection points in the physical world.

As you can tell, the word anagnorisis self-describes the realization that I had while listening to Mike Rowe, which makes it even more ironic and incredible. It’s a moment of clarity and change in our intuition. We can never tell when these moments will occur, but when they do happen we are able derive greater significance from our world. On the flip side, peripeteia happens nearly daily. Perhaps it’s the feeling that you won’t make it through the green traffic light, or that you don’t have enough time to make something work.

And peripetia reveals itself again, right now, when I realize that I should write a grandiose summation statement. Res ipsa loquitur.

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John Marbach

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11 2013
  • The real Carlo$ Danger

    Truly, it was a deep message.