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Sunday 29 August 2010

Crux (A Bumpersticker)


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Ankh -- Weiterleben im Jenseits: wall relief, Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt, Ptolemaic Dynasty, 1st/2nd c. B.C.: photo by Hedwig Storch, 2009


if you believe in the Paranormal

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Temple of Kom Ombo, 16 November, 1838
: David Roberts, illustration in Egypt & Nubia, from drawings made on the spot by David Roberts, lithography by Louis Haghe, London, 1845-1848

Weiterleben im Jenseits

Continue in the Afterlife (Beyond, Next World, Other Side, Hereafter)

File:Ankh-Royal Ontario Museum.jpg

The Ankh, reign of Hatshepsut, 1508-1438 B.C.
: Royal Ontario Museum, photo by Pasitigris1, 2010


Loop amulet of the snake goddess
double edged ax
sacral knot

gods, lock my mummy into another life

along with three hundred crocodiles

File:Kom Ombo-David Roberts.jpg

Temple of Kom Ombo: David Roberts, 1848, in David Roberts' Egypt and Nubia, with drawings made on the spot, lithography by Louis Haghe, London, 1845-1848


The belt buckle of Isis
in gold
beaten to an airy thinness
as in a mirror
on the wall, multiple

the images
this one
with that one

what words can't get a handle on
some physical tool or key
may be needed

File:Codex Glazier 2.JPG

Illuminated crux ansata (handled cross) on manuscript of New Testament (Acts 1:1-15:3) in Middle Egyptian dialect of Coptic, Codex Glazier, 4th/5th c. A.D.
.: photo by Leszek Janczuk, 2010

Camera Obscura

crux ansata
a peek around a corner into another world

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Wall relief, Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt, Ptolemaic Dynasty, 1st/2nd c. B.C.: photo by Hedwig Storch, 2009

The Day of the Giants


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Diplodocus rearing
: Charles Robert Knight, 1911: image by Funk Monk, 2009

"...and then, in the hothouse Jurassic Age," continues the Professor, knocking his pipe against the arm of his chair, so that the ash scatters, and drifts across the room in a light haze, "the greatest of all land giants have their day...

"These benign monsters are lords of the earth for perhaps a hundred million years. Their ancestors have never experienced a blood temperature higher than that of the sea. They emerge in the blaze of the Triassic and mature in the moist heat of the Jurassic and Cretaceous Ages...


Apatosaurus: Charles Robert Knight, 1902: image by Funk Monk, 2009

"But conditions change. Because of their size they have special problems. It is wiser not to think of them as people tend to do, in terms of their sluggishness and stupidity, but, as when one is considering the defects of any species, in terms of the causes of those defects. On cool nights, the speed of messages in their nervous system slows down. To travel from the tail to the brain a neural messenger must as it were change horses at intervals along the way, it is a long and complicated voyage...

"On a cold morning in a dry volcanic valley any sufficiently audacious -- and hungry -- creature can bite off the Diplodocus' tail before the mutilated beast, only belatedly aware, has a thought to look around..."


Diplodocus hallorum ("Seismosaurus"): image by Dinoguy2, 2007

The Professor pauses a moment, gazing thoughtfully into the flickering firelight.

"In the before time things are good indeed. They are peaceful vegetarians. The male carefully observes the huge eggs his mate produces. For millennia they have been unchallenged heirs to the riches of the planet. Their young disport themselves like Olympian kittens, chasing their tails in slow motion...

"But then, the climate alters...

File:Knight hadrosaurs.jpg

Hadrosaurs by a lake
: Charles Robert Knight, 1897: image by Funk Monk, 2009

"They are subject to periods of excessive excitement, not months but millennia. Lacking a biological mechanism for temperature control, they develop a condition similar to schizophrenia...

"In the heat of the noonday they copulate without cease...

"In the night, as the globe continues to cool, they are gripped by increasing degrees of motor paralysis, and concurrently their vulnerability to attacks by smaller but less pacific saurians increases as well...

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Two Laelaps (Dryptosaurus) fighting: Charles Robert Knight, 1897: image by Funk Monk, 2009

"Having your tail bitten off by a ravening archeopteryx is only the insult that precedes the actual injury, as the more serious adversaries begin to arrive..."

The dry crackling of the fire in the depth of the night was for a while the only sound...

File:C diplodocus.jpg

Diplodocus: Charles Robert Knight, c. 1900: image by Dudo, via Early Image Website

Saturday 28 August 2010

Unwinding the Clock: Time in Tristram Shandy



Horloge republicaine: clock dial of the French Revolution, from The Republican Calendar, late 18th c.: image by Kama, 2005

Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?

Laurence Sterne: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume I (1760), Chapter I

1 Beating the Clock

"Laurence Sterne's great invention was the novel that is completely comprised of digressions, an example followed by Diderot. The digression is a strategy for putting off the ending, a multiplying of time within the work, a perpetual evasion in flight. But flight from what? From death, of course, says Carlo Levi, in an introduction he wrote to an Italian edition of Tristram Shandy:

"'The clock is Shandy's first signal. Under its influence he is conceived and his misfortunes begin, which are one and the same with this emblem of time. Death is hidden in clocks, as Belli said; and the unhappiness of an individual life, of this fragment, this divided, disunited thing, divorced of wholeness: death, which is time, the time of individuation, of separation, the abstract time that rolls toward its end. Tristram Shandy does not want to be born, because he does not want want to die. Every means and every weapon is valid to save oneself from death and time. If a straight line is the shortest distance between two fated and inevitable points, digressions will lengthen it; and if these digressions become so complex, so tangled and tortuous, so rapid as to hide their own tracks, who knows -- perhaps death may not find us, perhaps time will lose its way, and perhaps we ourselves can remain concealed in our shifting hiding places.'"

Italo Calvino: from Quickness, in Six Proposals for the Next Millennium, 1985 (published posthumously, 1988)

2 "...a metaphysical dissertation upon the subject of duration"

Like Locke's doctrine of the association of ideas, at once foregrounded at the narrative surface of the novel and yet made the butt of endless gentle mockery, abstractions like Time and Space are treated in Tristram Shandy as ridiculous bubbles, idle play-things of the dull mind, their pseudo-serious deployment in the text repeatedly undermined by irony and a highly civilized form of wit.

It is two hours, and ten minutes,---and no more,-----cried my father, looking at his watch, since Dr. Slop and Obadiah arrived,-----and I know not how it happens, Brother Toby,-----but to my imagination it seems almost an age.

-----Here-----pray, Sir, take hold of my cap---nay, take the bell along with it, and my pantoufles too.-----

Now, Sir, they are all at your service; and I freely make you a present of 'em, on condition you give me all your attention to this chapter.

Though my father said, 'he knew not how it happen'd,'-----yet he knew very well how it happen'd;-----and at the instant he spoke it, was pre-determined in his mind to give my uncle Toby a clear account of the matter by a metaphysical dissertation upon the subject of duration and its simple modes, in order to shew my uncle Toby by what mechanism and mensurations in the brain it came to pass, that the rapid succession of their ideas, and the eternal scampering of the discourse from one thing to another, since Dr. Slop had come into the room, had lengthened out so short a period to so inconceivable an extent.-----"I know not how it happens,"-----cried my father,-----"but it seems an age.'

—---Tis owing, entirely, quoth my uncle Toby, to the succession of our ideas.

My father, who had an itch, in common with all philosophers, of reasoning upon every thing which happened, and accounting for it too-----proposed infinite pleasure to himself in this, of the succession of ideas, and had not the least apprehension of having it snatch'd out of his hands by my uncle Toby, who (honest man!) generally took every thing as it happened;-----and who, of all things in the world, troubled his brain the least with abstruse thinking;---the ideas of time and space,-----or how we came by those ideas,-----or of what stuff they were made,---or whether they were born with us,---or we picked them up afterwards as we went along,---or whether we did it in frocks,---or not till we had got into breeches,---with a thousand other inquiries and disputes about INFINITY, PRESCIENCE, LIBERTY, NECESSITY and so forth, upon whose desperate and unconquerable theories so many fine heads have been turned and cracked,---never did my uncle Toby's the least injury at all; my father knew it,---and was no less surprized than he was disappointed, with my uncle's fortuitous solution.

Do you understand the theory of that affair? replied my father.

Not I, quoth my uncle.

-----But you have some ideas, said my father, of what you talk about?-----

No more than my horse, replied my uncle Toby.


The central joke and symbol of Sterne's grand comic novel is the clock, which plays a role in his hero's fate from the literal moment of his conception -- an act interrupted by his mother's question to his father, "Pray, my dear,...have you not forgot to wind up the clock? (I.I)

In this initial scene, of course, as throughout his novel, Sterne is "winding up" his reader, who is habitually bound to a mortal finitude by the restrictive constraints of an iron temporality: " our computations of time [laments Tristram's father, a bit later on], we are so used to minutes, hours, weeks, and months-----and of clocks (I wish there was not a clock in the kingdom)…'' (III.XVIII)

Sterne contracted tuberculosis as a young man and struggled with the disease throughout his life. Though already in failing health in his mid-forties, when he began Tristram Shandy in 1658 he managed to complete the first sixteen chapters in six weeks and the first two volumes within two years, and resolved thereafter to write two volumes a year for the rest of his life. Despite the intermittent advances of his disease he kept approximately to this schedule, completing nine volumes before his death in 1768. The entire work was composed under the pressure of an acute consciousness of mortality.

The strategies of extension, elaboration, complication, equivocation, prolongation, procrastination, prevarication, teasing, lengthening, stretching-out -- the strategies, in short, which drive this most digressive of novels -- can be seen to have a common logical basis in the desire to retard an ending, not only of a novel but of its author's existence.

Here we find our author/narrator, after six weeks of composition, fourteen chapters into the affair of a character who has however not yet been born. Tongue securely in cheek, Sterne, through the voice of Tristram, supplies his impatient reader a kind of apology -- or better to say, perhaps, an apology of a very curious yet, already by this stage of the proceedings, familiar and characteristic kind.

Could a historiographer drive on his history, as a muleteer drives on his mule,—---straight forward;-----for instance, from Rome all the way to Loretto, without ever once turning his head aside, either to the right hand or to the left,---he might venture to foretell you to an hour when he should get to his journey's end;-----but the thing is, morally speaking, impossible: For, if he is a man of the least spirit, he will have fifty deviations from a straight line to make with this or that party as he goes along, which he can no ways avoid. He will have views and prospects to himself perpetually soliciting his eye, which he can no more help standing still to look at than he can fly; he will moreover have various
....Accounts to reconcile:
....Anecdotes to pick up:
... Inscriptions to make out:...
Stories to weave in:....
....Traditions to sift:....
Personages to call upon:
....Panegyricks to paste up at this door:

....Pasquinades at that:-----

All which both the man and his mule are quite exempt from. To sum up all; there are archives at every stage to be look'd into, and rolls, records, documents, and endless genealogies, which justice ever and anon calls him back to stay the reading of:---In short there is no end of it;-----for my own part, I declare I have been at it these six weeks, making all the speed I possibly could,—---and am not yet born:---I have just been able, and that's all, to tell you when it happen'd, but not how;---so that you see the thing is yet far from being accomplished.


By a typically Shandean irony, it is the very dilatoriness of Sterne's narrative procedure, with its seemingly infinite retardations and interruptions, pausings and turnings-aside to cast off in new directions -- “But there is a fatality attends the actions of some men: Order them as they will, they pass thro’ a certain medium which so twists and refracts them from their true directions..." (I.X) -- that seems to hold mortality at a safe remove as long as the story, through whatever ingenious trick or ruse or stratagem of suspension or delay, can be kept going.

… for I had left Death, the lord knows -----and He only---how far behind me-----"I have followed many a man thro’ France, quoth he---but never at this mettlesome rate"-----Still he followed,-----and still I fled him ----- but I fled him chearfully----still he pursued ---but like one who pursued his prey without hope-----as he lag’d, every step he lost, softened his looks-----why should I fly him at this rate?


As Time, however Death may seem to lag, remains a wasting force, and as such drives a wing'd chariot, the narrator must achieve his necessary slowness by moving at an ever swifter pace: “-----write as I will, and rush as I may into the middle of things, [...]---I shall never overtake myself.” (IV.XIII) “Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity Life follows my pen...” (IX.VIII)

The paradox of this unique Shandean rate of movement, a narrative development alternately almost maddeningly protracted, and then shockingly sudden and abrupt, begins to make sense when considered in light of Sterne's overall objective -- that is, never to complete things, by never coming to a full stop.

"Now I....think differently; and that so much of motion, is so much of life, and so much of joy---and that to stand still, or get on but slowly, is death and the devil-----"

And we are thus able to begin to understand that for the purposes of the writer the putting-off of tasks is not perhaps the vice it is generally regarded to be.
Take, for example, the case of the parlour-door hinge:

"Every day for at least ten years together did my father resolve to have it mended,-----tis not mended yet…

To mend the parlour-door hinge, in this typically good-natured Sternean metaphor, would be to resolve matters; and the ultimate resolution of the matter of life, of course, is its termination. An end to be escaped at practically any cost.

3 Method (The Serpentine, or Scriptural Indeterminism)


Volume IX, Chapter IX: "A thousand of my father's most subtle syllogisms could not have said more for celibacy."

4 Temporal Structure of the Work


Volume VI, Chapter XL: "I am now beginning to get fairly into my work."

5 White Pages (Time Passing)


Volume IX, Chapters XVIII/XIX:"---You shall see the very place, Madam; said my uncle Toby."

6 Black Page (The Passing of Yorick)


Volume I, Chapter XII: "Yorick followed Eugenius with his eyes to the door,---he then closed them,---and never opened them more."

7 The Score (Rhythm of the Work)


Volume IX, Chapter XX. Cf. Vol. I, Chapter XX: "My uncle Toby would never offer to answer this by any other kind of argument, than that of whistling half a dozen bars of Lillabullero."

8 "Nor marble monuments..."



Some unique marbled pages from copies of the first edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume III (1762). ("Nor marbled monuments": from Lucan's Pharsalia, trans. Nicholas Rowe, 1812)

(Marbled pages from copies in the National Library of Wales and Firestone Library, Princeton University: these and above images of pages from various editions of Tristram Shandy, via Tristram Shandy Web)

Tristram Shandy: The Overthrow of Dr. Slop

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The Overthrow of Dr. Slop: engraving by Henry Bunbury in The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published by J. Bretherton, London, 1773. Obadiah mounted on coach-horse at full gallop attempting to pull up his horse. On the ground is Dr. Slop's pony. Behind the pony is Dr. Slop lying on his back; a spotted dog prances over him. The doctor lies under a sign-post terminating in a hand pointing To Shandy Hall. (British Cartoon Collection, Library of Congress)

IMAGINE to yourself a little squat, uncourtly figure of a Doctor Slop, of about four feet and a half perpendicular height, with a breadth of back, and a sesquipedality of belly, which might have done honour to a serjeant in the horse-guards.

Such were the out-lines of Dr. Slop's figure, which-----if you have read Hogarth's analysis of beauty, and if you have not, I wish you would;---you must know, may as certainly be caricatured, and conveyed to the mind by three strokes as three hundred.

Imagine such a one,---for such, I say, were the outlines of Dr. Slop's figure, coming slowly along, foot by foot, waddling thro' the dirt upon the vertebrae of a little diminutive pony, of a pretty colour-----but of strength,-----alack!-----scarce able to have made an amble of it, under such a fardel, had the roads been in an ambling condition.-----They were not.------Imagine to yourself, Obadiah mounted upon a strong monster of a coach-horse, pricked into a full gallop, and making all practicable speed the adverse way.

Pray, Sir, let me interest you a moment in this description.

Had Dr. Slop beheld Obadiah a mile off, posting in a narrow lane directly towards him, at that monstrous rate,------splashing and plunging like a devil thro' thick and thin, as he approached, would not such a phaenomenon, with such a vortex of mud and water moving along with it, round its axis,-----have been a subject of juster apprehension to Dr. Slop in his situation, than the worst of Whiston's comets?---To say nothing of the NUCLEUS; that is, of Obadiah and the coach-horse.--------In my idea, the vortex alone of 'em was enough to have involved and carried, if not the doctor, at least the doctor's pony, quite away with it. What then do you think must the terror and hydrophobia of Dr. Slop have been, when you read (which you are just going to do) that he was advancing thus warily along towards Shandy-Hall, and had approached to within sixty yards of it, and within five yards of a sudden turn, made by an acute angle of the garden-wall,-----and in the dirtiest part of a dirty lane,-------when Obadiah and his coach-horse turned the corner, rapid, furious,-----pop,---full upon him!---Nothing, I think, in nature, can be supposed more terrible than such a rencounter,-----so imprompt! so ill prepared to stand the shock of it as Dr. Slop was.

What could Dr. Slop do?---he crossed himself +-----Pugh!-----but the doctor, Sir, was a Papist.---No matter; he had better have kept hold of the pummel.---He had so;---nay, as it happened, he had better have done nothing at all; for in crossing himself he let go his whip,-----and in attempting to save his whip betwixt his knee and his saddle's skirt, as it slipped, he lost his stirrup,---in losing which he lost his seat;-----and in the multitude of all these losses (which, by the bye, shews what little advantage there is in crossing) the unfortunate doctor lost his presence of mind. So that without waiting for Obadiah's onset, he left his pony to its destiny, tumbling off it diagonally, something in the stile and manner of a pack of wool, and without any other consequence from the fall, save that of being left (as it would have been) with the broadest part of him sunk about twelve inches deep in the mire.

Obadiah pull'd off his cap twice to Dr. Slop;------once as he was falling,---and then again when he saw him seated.---Ill-timed complaisance;-----had not the fellow better have stopped his horse, and got off and help'd him?-----Sir, he did all that his situation would allow;---but the Momentum of the coach-horse was so great, that Obadiah could not do it all at once;-----he rode in a circle three times round Dr. Slop, before he could fully accomplish it any how;---and at the last, when he did stop his beast, 'twas done with such an explosion of mud, that Obadiah had better have been a league off. In short, never was a Dr. Slop so beluted, and so transubstantiated, since that affair came into fashion.

Laurence Sterne: from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman: Volume II (1760), Chapter IX

Tristram Shandy: The Damnation of Obadiah


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The Damnation of Obadiah: engraving by Henry Bunbury in The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published by J. Bretherton, London, 1773. Dr. Slop holding book containing the form of excommunication, and pointing at Obadiah who is disappearing, one leg and his back alone being visible. Behind Dr. Slop stands Mr. Shandy and Uncle Toby, with crutch under his left arm, pointing at map of Flanders and speaking to Corporal Trim. (British Cartoon Collection, Library of Congress)

'BY the authority of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and of the holy canons, and of the undefiled Virgin Mary, mother and patroness of our Saviour.' I think there is no necessity, quoth Dr. Slop, dropping the paper down to his knee, and addressing himself to my father-----as you have read it over, Sir, so lately, to read it aloud---and as Captain Shandy seems to have no great inclination to hear it,-----I may as well read it to myself. That's contrary to treaty, replied my father,---besides, there is something so whimsical, especially in the latter part of it, I should grieve to lose the pleasure of a second reading. Dr. Slop did not altogether like it,---but my uncle Toby offering at that instant to give over whistling, and read it himself to them;-----Dr. Slop thought he might as well read it under the cover of my uncle Toby's whistling—as suffer my uncle Toby to read it alone;---so raising up the paper to his face, and holding it quite parallel to it, in order to hide his chagrin---he read it aloud as follows-----my uncle Toby whistling Lillabullero, though not quite so loud as before.

'By the authority of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and of the undefiled Virgin Mary, mother and patroness of our Saviour, and of all the celestial virtues, angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, powers, cherubins and seraphins, and of all the holy patriarchs, prophets, and of all the apostles and evangelists, and of the holy innocents, who in the sight of the Holy Lamb, are found worthy to sing the new song of the holy martyrs and holy confessors, and of the holy virgins, and of all the saints together, with the holy and elect of God,-----May he' (Obadiah) 'be damn'd' (for tying these knots.)-----'We excommunicate, and anathematize him, and from the thresholds of the holy church of God Almighty we sequester him, that he may be tormented, disposed, and delivered over with Dathan and Abiram, and with those who say unto the Lord God, Depart from us, we desire none of thy ways. And as fire is quenched with water, so let the light of him be put out for evermore, unless it shall repent him' (Obadiah, of the knots which he has tied) 'and make satisfaction' (for them) Amen.

'May the Father who created man, curse him.---May the Son who suffered for us curse him.-----May the Holy Ghost, who was given to us in baptism, curse him' (Obadiah)---'May the holy cross which Christ, for our salvation triumphing over his enemies, ascended, curse him.

'May the holy and eternal Virgin Mary, mother of God, curse him.---May St. Michael, the advocate of holy souls, curse him.---May all the angels and archangels, principalities and powers, and all the heavenly armies, curse him.' [Our armies swore terribly in Flanders, cried my uncle Toby,---but nothing to this.---For my own part I could not have a heart to curse my dog so.]

'May St. John the Prae-cursor, and St. John the Baptist, and St. Peter and St. Paul, and St. Andrew, and all other Christ's apostles, together curse him. And may the rest of his disciples and four evangelists, who by their preaching converted the universal world, and may the holy and wonderful company of martyrs and confessors who by their holy works are found pleasing to God Almighty, curse him' (Obadiah.)

'May the holy choir of the holy virgins, who for the honour of Christ have despised the things of the world, damn him---May all the saints, who from the beginning of the world to everlasting ages are found to be beloved of God, damn him---May the heavens and earth, and all the holy things remaining therein, damn him,' (Obadiah) 'or her,' (or whoever else had a hand in tying these knots.)

'May he" (Obadiah) "be damn'd wherever he be---whether in the house or the stables, the garden or the field, or the highway, or in the path, or in the wood, or in the water, or in the church.---May he be cursed in living, in dying.' [Here my uncle Toby, taking the advantage of a minim in the second bar of his tune, kept whistling one continued note to the end of the sentence.-----Dr. Slop, with his division of curses moving under him, like a running bass all the way.] 'May he be cursed in eating and drinking, in being hungry, in being thirsty, in fasting, in sleeping, in slumbering, in walking, in standing, in sitting, in lying, in working, in resting, in pissing, in shitting, and in blood-letting!

'May he' (Obadiah) 'be cursed in all the faculties of his body!

'May he be cursed inwardly and outwardly!---May he be cursed in the hair of his head!---May he be cursed in his brains, and in his vertex,' (that is a sad curse, quoth my father) 'in his temples, in his forehead, in his ears, in his eye-brows, in his cheeks, in his jaw-bones, in his nostrils, in his fore-teeth and grinders, in his lips, in his throat, in his shoulders, in his wrists, in his arms, in his hands, in his fingers!

'May he be damn'd in his mouth, in his breast, in his heart and purtenance, down to the very stomach!

'May he be cursed in his reins, and in his groin,' (God in heaven forbid! quoth my uncle Toby) 'in his thighs, in his genitals,' (my father shook his head) 'and in his hips, and in his knees, his legs, and feet, and toe-nails!

'May he be cursed in all the joints and articulations of the members, from the top of his head to the sole of his foot! May there be no soundness in him!

'May the son of the living God, with all the glory of his Majesty'—[Here my uncle Toby, throwing back his head, gave a monstrous, long, loud Whew---w---w----- something betwixt the interjectional whistle of Hey day! and the word itself.-----

---By the golden beard of Jupiter---(and of Juno, if her majesty wore one) and by the beards of the rest of your heathen worships, which by the bye was no small number, since what with the beards of your celestial gods, and gods aerial and aquatick---to say nothing of the beards of town-gods and country-gods, or of the celestial goddesses your wives, or of the infernal goddesses your whores and concubines (that is in case they wore 'em)-----all which beards, as Varro tells me, upon his word and honour, when mustered up together, made no less than thirty thousand effective beards upon the pagan establishment;-----every beard of which claimed the rights and privileges of being stroken and sworn by---by all these beards together then-----I vow and protest, that of the two bad cassocks I am worth in the world, I would have given the better of them, as freely as ever Cid Hamet offered his-----to have stood by, and heard my uncle Toby's accompanyment.]

-----'Curse him!'-----continued Dr. Slop,-----'and may heaven, with all the powers which move therein, rise up against him, curse and damn him' (Obadiah) 'unless he repent and make satisfaction! Amen. So be it,---so be it. Amen.'

I declare, quoth my uncle Toby, my heart would not let me curse the devil himself with so much bitterness.-----He is the father of curses, replied Dr. Slop.---So am not I, replied my uncle.-----But he is cursed, and damn'd already, to all eternity,-----replied Dr. Slop.

I am sorry for it, quoth my uncle Toby.

Dr. Slop drew up his mouth, and was just beginning to return my uncle Toby the compliment of his Whu---u---u-----or interjectional whistle,-----when the door hastily opening in the next chapter but one-----put an end to the affair.

Laurence Sterne: from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman: Volume III (176i), Chapter XI

Tristram Shandy: The Battle of the Cataplasm


File:The battle of the cataplasm.jpg

The Battle of the Cataplasm: engraving by Henry Bunbury in The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published by J. Bretherton, London, 1773. Dr. Slop and Susannah exchanging abuse; Dr. Slop stands, with his wig burning, about to throw cataplasm in Susannah's face. Susannah stands behind the cradle in which lies the infant Tristram, a plaster across his nose, as she holds her nose and a candle. (British Cartoon Collection, Library of Congress)

WHEN the cataplasm was ready, a scruple of decorum had unseasonably rose up in Susannah's conscience, about holding the candle, whilst Slop tied it on; Slop had not treated Susannah's distemper with anodines, ---and so a quarrel had ensued betwixt them.

-----Oh! oh!-----said Slop, casting a glance of undue freedom in Susannah's face, as she declined the office;-----then, I think I know you, madam-----You know me, Sir! cried Susannah fastidiously, and with a toss of her head, levelled evidently, not at his profession, but at the doctor himself,-----you know me! cried Susannah again.-----Doctor Slop clapped his finger and his thumb instantly upon his nostrils; -----Susannah's spleen was ready to burst at it ;-----Tis false, said Susannah.---Come, come, Mrs. Modesty, said Slop, not a little elated with the success of his last thrust,----- if you won't hold the candle, and look ---you may hold it and shut your eyes:---That's one of your popish shifts, cried Susannah:---'Tis better, said Slop, with a nod, than no shift at all, young
woman ;-----I defy you, Sir, cried Susannah, pulling her shift sleeve below her elbow.

It was almost impossible for two persons to assist each other in a surgical case with a more splenetic cordiality.

Slop snatched up the cataplasm,-----Susannah snatched up the candle ;-----A little this way, said Slop; Susannah looking one way, and rowing another, instantly set fire to Slop's wig, which being somewhat bushy and unctuous withal, was burnt out before it was well kindled.-----You impudent whore! cried Slop, ---(for what is passion, but a wild beast)--- you impudent whore, cried Slop, getting upright, with the cataplasm in his hand ;-----I never was the destruction of any body's nose, said Susannah,---which is more than you can say:
---- Is it ? cried Slop, throwing the cataplasm in her face;-----Yes, it is, cried Susannah, returning the compliment with what was left in the pan.-----

Laurence Sterne: from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman: Volume VI (1762), Chapter III

Tristram Shandy: The Siege of Namur by Captain Shandy and Corporal Trim


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The Siege of Namur by Captain Shandy and Corporal Trim: engraving by Henry Bunbury in The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published by J. Bretherton, London, 1773. Uncle Toby marching, with crutch under his left arm, pointing with his right crutch towards the fortifications built on the bowling green, where the gate of St. Nicolas is flanked on each side by a jack-boot. In his left hand he holds the London Gazette. Trim, holding up a pickaxe, marches in front of his master. Shandy Hall appears behind the Gate of St. Nicolas. (British cartoon Collection, Library of Congress)

WHEN the town, with its works, was finished, my uncle Toby and the corporal began to run their first
parallel-----not at random, or any how-----but from the same points and distances the allies had begun to run theirs; and regulating their approaches and attacks, by the accounts my uncle Toby received from the daily papers,---they went on, during the whole siege, step by step with the allies.

When the duke of Marlborough made a lodgment,-----my uncle Toby made a lodgment too.-----And when the face of a bastion was battered down, or a defence ruined,---the corporal took his mattock and did as much.---and so on;-----gaining ground, and making themselves masters of the works one after another, till the town fell into their hands.

To one who took pleasure in the happy state of others,--- there could not have been a greater sight in the world, than, on a post-morning, in which a practicable breach had been made by the duke of Marlborough, in the main body of the place,-----to have stood behind the horn beam hedge, and observed the spirit with which my uncle Toby, with Trim behind him, sallied forth;---the one with the Gazette in his hand,---the other with a spade on his shoulder to execute the contents.-----What an honest triumph in my uncle Toby's looks as he marched up to the ramparts! What intense pleasure swimming in his eye as he stood over the corporal, reading the paragraph ten times over to him, as he was at work, lest, peradventure, he should make the breach an inch too wide,--- or leave it an inch too narrow-----But when the chamade was beat, and the corporal helped my uncle up it, and followed with the colours in his hand, to fix them upon the ramparts---Heaven! Earth! Sea!-----but what avails apostrophe ?-----with all your elements, wet or dry, ye never compounded so intoxicating a draught.

Laurence Sterne: from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman: Volume VI (1762), Chapter XXII

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Sterne: A White Bear


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Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus), Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska: photo by Alan D. Wilson, 2007

My father took a single turn across the room, then sat down and finished the chapter.
The verbs auxiliary we are concerned in here, continued my father, are, am; was; have; had; do; did; make; made; suffer; shall; should; will; would; can; could; owe; ought; used; or is wont.---And these varied with tenses, present, past, future, and conjugated with the verb see,--- or with these questions added to them;---Is it? Was it? Will it be? Would it be? May it be? And these again put negatively, Is it not? Was it not? Ought it not?---Or affirmatively,---It is; It was; It ought to be. Or chronologically, Has it been always? Lately? How long ago? Or hypothetically,---If it was? If it was not? What would follow?---If the French should beat the English? If the Sun go out of the Zodiac?
Now, by the right use and application of these, continued my father, in which a child's memory should be exercised, there is no one idea can enter his brain how barren soever but a magazine of conceptions and conclusions may be drawn forth from it.----Didst thou ever see a white bear? cried my father, turning his head round to Trim, who stood at the back of his chair:---No, an'please your honour, replied the corporal.-----But thou could'st discourse about one, Trim, said my father, in case of need?----How is it possible, brother, quoth my uncle Toby, if the corporal never saw one?-----'Tis the fact I want; replied my father,---and the possibility of it, is as follows:
A WHITE BEAR! Very well. Have I ever seen one? Might I ever have seen one? Am I ever to see one?
Ought I ever to see one? Or can I ever see one?
Would I had seen a white bear! (for how can I imagine it?)
If I should see a white bear, what should I say? If I should never see a white bear, what then?
If I never have, can, must or shall see a white bear alive; have I ever seen the skin of one? Did I ever seen one painted?---described? Have I ever dreamed of one?
Did my father, mother, brothers or sisters, ever see a white bear? What would they give? How would they behave? How would the white bear have behaved? Is he wild? Tame? Terrible? Rough? Smooth?
---Is the white bear worth seeing?---
---Is there no sin in it?---
---Is it better than a BLACK ONE?
Laurence Sterne: from The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume V, 1762 (Chapter XLIII)

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The Importance of Knowing Perspective (Absurdities of False Perspective): William Hogarth, 1754

Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;---they are the life, the soul of reading!---take them out of this book, for instance,---you might as well take the book along with them;---one cold eternal winter would reign in every page of it; restore them to the writer;---he steps forth like a bridegroom,---bids All-hail; brings in variety, and forbids the appetite to fail.
Laurence Sterne: from The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume I, 1760 (Chapter XXII)

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Laurence Sterne: Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, c. 1762 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Sterne was a radical revolutionary as far as form is concerned. It was typical of him to lay bare the device. The aesthetic form is presented without any motivation whatsoever, simply as is. The difference between the conventional novel and that of Sterne is analogous to the difference between a conventional poem with sonorous instrumentation and a Futurist poem composed in transrational language...
Upon first picking up Sterne’s Tristam Shandy, we are overwhelmed by a sense of chaos.
The action constantly breaks off, the author constantly returns to the beginning or leaps forward. The main plot, not immediately accessible, is constantly interrupted by dozens of pages filled with whimsical deliberations on the influence of a person’s nose or name on his character or else with discussions of fortifications.
The book opens, as it were, in the spirit of autobiography, but soon it is deflected from its course by a description of the hero’s birth. Nevertheless, our hero, pushed aside by material interpolated into the novel, cannot, it appears, get born.
Tristram Shandy turns into a description of one day. Let me quote Sterne himself:
I will not finish that sentence till I have made an observation upon the strange state of affairs between the reader and myself, just as things stand at present—an observation never applicable before to any one biographical writer since the creation of the world; but to myself—and I believe will never hold good to any other, until its final destruction—and therefore, for the very novelty of it alone, it must be worth your worships attending to.
I am this month one whole year older than I was this time twelve-month; and having got, as you perceive, almost into the middle of my fourth volume—and no farther than to my first day’s life—’tis demonstrative that I have three hundred and sixty-four days more life to write just now, than when I first set out; so that instead of advancing, as a common writer, in my work with what I have been doing at it—on the contrary, I am just thrown so many volumes back—
But when you examine the structure of the book more closely, you perceive first of all that this disorder is intentional. There is method to Sterne’s madness. It is as regular as a painting by Picasso.
Everything in the novel has been displaced and rearranged...
It is common practice to assert that Tristram Shandy is not a novel. Those who speak in this way regard opera alone as true music, while a symphony for them is mere chaos.
Tristram Shandy is the most typical novel in world literature.
Viktor Shklovsky: from Laurence Sterne: The Novel as Parody, 1925

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Wittgenstein: Is Understanding Possible?


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Asiatic Lions (Panthera leo persica), male, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali, Mumbai: photo by supersujit, 2008

I.286. But isn't it absurd to say of a body that it has pain?-------And why does one feel an absurdity in that? In what sense is it true that my hand does not feel pain, but I in my hand?

What sort of issue is: Is it the body that feels pain?---How is it to be decided? What makes it possible to say that it is not the body?---Well, something like this: If someone has a pain in his hand, then the hand does not say so (unless it writes it) and one does not comfort the hand, but the sufferer: one looks into his face.

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Lion (Panthera leo), West Midlands Safari Park: photo by Robek, 2006

I. 300. It is -- we should like to say -- not merely the picture of the behaviour that plays a part in the language-game with the words "he is in pain", but also the picture of the pain. Or, not merely the paradigm of the behaviour, but also that of the pain.---It is a misunderstanding to say "The picture of pain enters into the language-game with the word 'pain'." The image of pain is not a picture and this image is not replaceable in the language-game by anything that we should call a picture.---The image of pain certainly enters into the language-game in a sense; only not as a picture.

I.301. An image is not a picture, but a picture can correspond to it.

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Lion (Panthera leo), Ngorongoro Crater
: photo by Rob Qld, 2007

I.303. "I can only believe that someone else is in pain, but I know it if I am."---Yes, one can make the decision to say "I believe he is in pain" instead of "he is in pain". But that is all.------What looks like an explanation here, or like a statement about a mental process, is in truth an exchange of one expression for another which, while we are doing philosophy, seems the more appropriate one.

Just try -- in a real case -- to doubt someone else's fear or pain.

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Lioness (Panthera leo): photo by Mila Zinkova, 2006

I.350. "But if I suppose that someone has a pain, then I am simply supposing that he has just the same as I have so often had."...

I.351. Yet we go on wanting to say: "Pain is pain -- whether he has it, or I have it; and however I come to know whether he has a pain or not."---I might agree.---And when you ask me "Don't you know, then, what I mean when I say that the stove is in pain?---I can reply: These words lead me to have all sorts of images; but their usefulness goes no further.

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Lion (Panthera leo), Tanzania
: photo by John Storr, 1997

II.xi. ...What is internal is hidden from us."---The future is hidden from us. But does the astronomer think like this when he calculates an eclipse of the sun?

If I see someone writhing in pain with evident cause I do not think: all the same, his feelings are hidden from me.

We also say of some people that they are transparent to us. It is, however, important as regards this observation that one human being can be a complete enigma to another. We learn this when we come into a strange country with entirely strange traditions; and, what is more, even given a mastery of the country's language, we do not understand the people. (And not because of not knowing what they are saying to themselves.) We cannot find our feet with them.

"I cannot know what goes on in him" is above all a picture. It is the convincing expression of a conviction. They are not readily accessible.

If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.

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Lion (Panthera leo), Olomouc Zoo
: photo by SonNy cZ, 2007

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations, c. 1945-1949