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I was recently invited to give a keynote address for a small academic conference whose advertised theme was "Near Misses, Contingencies, and Histories." I have a rough and ready understanding of the near miss, the same kind of understanding we have of most words and phrases that spill out effortlessly in normal conversation. I use it and have heard it used by myriad others to describe a certain style of disappointment and regret. It is a concept generally available to us all, but when coupled with contingencies and histories, as in the title of the conference with its vague suggestions of Foucault and Lacan, then I began to worry that the usual sense of "near miss" might not have been meant to govern at all. I feared death by drowning in a sea of gibberish.