Not your normal Shandydandy

The audio-book I recommend for Sterne’s Tristram Shandy—-Life and Opinions of etc. is the audible.com version read by Anton Lesser, which covers about 20 hours of one’s listening life, counting shutting down periodically the audible app and taking it up or booting it to the spot where you left off.

Of course, it is not a bad idea to have available the paperbook version, some with copious notes explaining the odd Latin and the peculiar English, and for noticing the many interesting typographic games that Sterne played with in his time–and still plays with in our time if the typographer followed his rules–for the entertainment of the actual visual reader. As of now, for my selection of this most Shandean of books, I have gratefully received some responses from several wet-to-the-breeches perusers: the first was dismayed by the excessive length of sentences–if a grammarian can call them such–some meandering or staggering down one page and then, by gum, slipping half-way down t’other before reaching a full stop. My advice is to stop whenever the last meaningful colon or clausula comes to an end, whether following an elongated dash or some other inconsequential punctuation is admitted–or not. Take a deep breath, sigh a while, and then proceed whether the words elicit sense or nonsense. In Sterne’s writing much is nonsense, which in the 18th century was a refreshing and decent break from the extenuated legal or philosophical dissertations that passed for sense. The second, by the by, was a gentleman who had long desired to study such acclaimed experimental literary fripperies as Tristram is trigged in, but he had never the idle time, because of mowing in other meadows of verbiage from which harvest he could feed his kin. Periodically he has made mention of making headway and of good pleasure in the march through the chapters of volumes or books. Another, the third, has squealed with delight at the break from stern mathematick and tomes of logick, of our numerick selections of late, though he warns me there is as much good logick to be had in Tristram’s longish disquisitions and we all should be on our guard to carefully calculate the occurrences and note the formulas that lack equations. Yes, to be sure, Mr. Sterne had a sincere interest to inform and persuade the reader, or listener, as the high-minded author, or his narrator,–who knows which is in charge– encountered an opinion to wax rhetorical upon, usually at a point of digression that he he was tiresomely waning from, catching the nodding reader unawares and usually advising at the conclusion of the waxing that the reader return to catch up on what he or she or they had just mused insufficiently over.

Which now brings me to the point: get a good run at the story, leap the stiles, rush past the station–don’t stop there–and don’t dilly-dally over every phrase and clause you do not comprehend. As you puff and pant along the uneven,and circuitous course the Irishman’s blather had lead you to expect a coming-upon-a-meaning or steady stage of, realize that Monty Python’s Flying Circus was eventually making its way to perform, to present something completely different. How can a story told by a foetal narrator for a half the many leagues of its overall telling be given credence to? The author talks intimately at times to you, dear reader, then to a “madam,” even to a company of “Sirs” and “magistrates.” Who does he think is reading his comick epick? O, but you watch out,— he will–the author or the narrator–seduce you into careful attention of passages by telling you to skip them if you wish. Naturally you–the gentleman, madam, girl, sir or magistrate–will want to inspect any passage for clues of subtle meanings whenever you are told what the author absolutely doesn’t mean by such and such a term, phrase, metaphor or expression, and that upon reading you find the passage marvelously comical, licentious, or meaningful in just the way the narrator says he doesn’t mean it. Watch for such tricks. Actually, Tristram Shandy is nothing but trickery, the tricks of words and the way the mind conceives of impossible pictures from them, except for the pages which are typeset pictures–black, marbled or blank–that take the words right out of your mind. Be glad you are pleasantly tricked into finding meaning from the word play because your succumbing will allow all later prolix readings and lectures–any kind of balderdash, as a matter of fact–to be much more accessible.

The only pedantickal question I pose is what exactly is the nature of uncle Toby’s war wound. The definitions of such repetitious symbols of a crevice or a nose are as meaningless as the rounded lemniscate forms that fascinated Mathias the Voyeur. Be in good health and from time to time in your cups. I.e.enjoy a shandy when you’re parched. –David , .

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