Sunday, April 3, 2011

After Sterne, what have we been writing about?


Not so many hours ago, pondering the matter of "boys and their stuff," we quite absent-mindedly omitted to invoke Tristram Shandy, probably (or so we shall pretend) because we'd done so, before. But the matter had been left hanging, as problems in Sterne so often are, so we shall assuredly return to it, as it is at least as important as the Battle of Namur (Uncle Toby's - uh - métier, you will recall). In this omission, we also unwittingly drew too much of our presentation from the author's perspective, and too little from the politician's, as we now set aright:

In mentioning the word, gay, it puts an author in mind of the word, spleen - especially if he has anything to say upon it: not that by any analysis - or that by any table of interest or genealogy, there appears much more ground of alliance betwixt them, than twixt light and darkness, or any two of the most unfriendly opposites in nature - only 'tis an undercraft of authors to keep up a good understanding amongst words, as politicians do amongst men - not knowing how near they may be under a necessity of placing them to each other ..

Well, there you have it, dear Reader. Our resort to pictorial dramatisation as an author only set too light a demand upon the sensibility for society characterised above. How soon we forget, one can only intone, the ancient particulars of each person's nature. Still, not to hoist too high the cup of remorse and regret, which our better nature strove fallibly to put behind us, the underlying Shandyian problem deserves its own second statement, too.

One does think, the matter of "boys and their stuff" is not necessarily a sentimental or neurotic knock in the back of their mind. Kane had his "Rosebud," and as we learn from Orson Welles, it stayed with him. What of the things that stay, what of the things that don't; what of those we part with freely, what of those we do not. What happens to their weight over time, what comes later to occupy or to close off their place? We pursue these questions not merely because they are profound, but because they are open, worthy of our time. Since Sterne, what have we been left to pursue, but die fröhliche Wissenschaft? Nietzsche for pleasure, Sterne for compass.  

Andrew Cooper and 28

Laurence Sterne
The Life and Opinions of
  Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

  Chapter XIX 
Everyman's Library,
J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1912©

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