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THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF TRISTRAM SHANDY, GENT. (1759-1767) by Laurence Sterne

MY REVIEW (CONTINUED FROM HERE) TAKES PLACE IN THE COMMENT STREAM BELOW:-

11 responses to “*

  1. Having slept on the concept, ‘life interruptus’ or ‘coitus interruptus’ in the context of this book — I fitfully dozed and dreamt of an ohm resistor (a kadath?) in the vital circuit of life, pain, regeneration, hope, despair, fear of death, death itself, in the context of the books I have been recently reviewing as a gestalt: Tristram Shandy’s resistor conveying a digressing from this onward and backward circuit so as to maintain it forever without pain (doomed to failure, ironic or not?) – and Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness never reaching beyond Q in the alphabet of this circuit and Joyce’s stream of consciousness in Finnegans Wake, riverrun to riverrun, is indeed a pure circuit with the ending becoming its beginning, sown with many resistors in the form of words as captcha codes, Lovecraft’s ‘Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ indeed being my own dream quest last night, sown in its turn with resistors of indescribability, unwhispered-of myths, things we should not know, leading to a dilemma of not between truth and fiction, but between both sides of the truth in this novella’s remarkable last dozen pages (please also see my recent review of ‘Letters from Oblivion’ by Andrew Condous).

  2. Chapters XXIII – XXV
    ;——–but, in a word, I will draw my uncle Toby’s character from his HOBBY-HORSE.
    It seems somehow significant in the light of the book’s context so far, adumbrated loosely by this review, that this HOBBY-HORSE of his was concerned with the old injury in his groin from a stone fallen from a parapet, an injury happier, if not in pain, but in that it was due to gravity rather than someone having thrown it, I infer! And his nephew Tristram, not yet born, but who is our continuing first person singular narrator, implies that he’d rather tear out the next page in his eponymous book than let us glimpse the exact embarrassing symptoms of his uncle’s injury!

  3. BOOK II
    Chapters I – V
    “Pray, Sir, in all the reading which you have ever read, did you ever read such a book as Locke’s Essay upon the Human Understanding?—Don’t answer me rashly—because many, I know, quote the book, who have not read it—and many have read it who understand it not:—If either of these is your case, as I write to instruct, I will tell you in three words what the book is.—It is a history.—A history! of who? what? where? when? Don’t hurry yourself—It is a history-book, Sir, (which may possibly recommend it to the world) of what passes in a man’s own mind; and if you will say so much of the book, and no more, believe me, you will cut no contemptible figure in a metaphysick circle.”
    I have now found out here that the Uncle Toby digression-now-become-tantamount-to-a-subplot about his groin injury – involving a real siege history where it happened – and his servant Corporal Trim – is far more complicated than I earlier assumed or remembered, concerning, as it does, mathematical geometry as well as post-fabrication models of historical events such as that siege, and as this is also concerning a vital groin injury that he would have to explain, I guess, to any future wife before any marriage, I am reminded of the Euclidean geometry of anti-natalist sex and sex organs and sexual reproduction in ‘Finnegans Wake’ that I mention in my review here
    “‘Twas not by ideas,–by Heaven; his life was put in jeopardy by words.”

  4. Chapters VI – XI
    —’My sister, mayhap,’ quoth my uncle Toby, ‘does not choose to let a man come so near her ****.’ Make this dash,—’tis an Aposiopesis,—Take the dash away, and write Backside,—’tis Bawdy.—Scratch Backside out, and put Cover’d way in, ’tis a Metaphor;—and, I dare say, as fortification ran so much in my uncle Toby’s head, that if he had been left to have added one word to the sentence,—that word was it.”

    There seems some dispute between Tristram’s future father and mother about the midwife being a man or a woman, but his father seems to be getting his way as Dr Slop is called as his chosen man-midwife for Tristram’s birth. And in any anti-natalist novel, someone who helps birth a baby seems aptly to be called Slop, I guess. Slop who is now to be let near a woman’s ****, the fount of all human slop? Well, in this section of the book, you the readers are now explicitly called on, by the yet unborn Tristram as narrator, to use your powers of imagination regarding the nature of the Lovecraftian Dr Slop… And I, for one, have used my vivid imagination to imagine Dr Slop, off my own back, with only this passage* from the text to go on, to be in reality a creature of unholy slime from the bubbling centre of infinite Azathoth!

    * “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,…”

  5. Chapters XII – XVII
    “Behold this helpless victim delivered up to his tormentors,—his body so wasted with sorrow and confinement, you will see every nerve and muscle as it suffers.”
    I have mentioned before in my blogs the problem of the human condition and our being what I call a life-insider and, as far as I can tell by trying (impossibly) to see things from the outside of life as an objective observer, we are all such life-insiders and we can’t judge inter alia our own CONSCIENCE. Corporal Trim surprisingly finds a sermon on this subject (and more) inside a book and is asked to read it aloud AT LENGTH with digressive interruptions or Kadath-resistors from the listeners (at the presumed behest of the yet unborn narrator), these listeners being Tristram’s future father, his Uncle Toby and a fitfully dozing SLOP (presumably while Tristram’s future mother is still in the beginnings of her confinement labour, with the future baby called Tristram, elsewhere in the house) and I hope it is not a spoiler to reveal that this sermon turns out to be one that Parson Yorick wrote and lost. Trim’s posture in delivering this sermon – sight unseen – seems related to the aforementioned sexual geometry of Toby’s HOBBY-HORSE of a post-fabricated historical siege (capture, confinement, confessional), to the ‘fortifications’ of ‘gravity’ – a gravity that, in my establishing the coded Joycean stream of consciousness as well as of CONSCIENCE and its anti-natalist grooming theme of this book, seems the ultimate captcha by planetary weight as well as gloomy seriousness?

  6. Chapters XVIII and XIX
    “Knowledge, like matter, he would affirm, was divisible in infinitum;—that the grains and scruples were as much a part of it, as the gravitation of the whole world.—In a word, he would say, error was error,—no matter where it fell,—whether in a fraction,—or a pound,—’twas alike fatal to truth, and she was kept down at the bottom of her well, as inevitably by a mistake in the dust of a butterfly’s wing,—as in the disk of the sun, the moon, and all the stars of heaven put together.”
    A significant passage about the views of Tristram’s future father upon the brink of the birth of Tristram, regarding his wish for the male SLOP to deliver the baby (that is to be Tristram) not the female midwife holding the fort upstairs at this very moment, all such considerations related, as I understand it, to the actual physical geometry of the birth itself, whether head first or not, or Caesarian or even Cartesian! Tristram, like the good anti-natalist I believe him to be, is meanwhile still resisting his own birth or KA-death by bringing to a close this discrete two-book volume within the birth of the overall eventual novel, and for us readers (certainly for 18th century readers if not for readers like me today in 2014) to wait for a year or so before resuming the next volume of tandem ‘books’ to learn some really interesting or worrying things we currently can’t fathom!

  7. BOOK III
    Chapters I – X
    When I mentioned earlier in this review another word for ‘knots’ or ‘knot’ as LIGOTTI or LIGOTTUS / LIGOTTUM, I genuinely had no memory whatsoever that later I would encounter so many passages about the knots of SLOP’s bag he’s brought for Mrs Shandy’s confinement at the beginning of this new volume which was published I think a year after the previous one – including this KNOTTY passage:

    “In the case of knots,—by which, in the first place, I would not be understood to mean slip-knots—because in the course of my life and opinions—my opinions concerning them will come in more properly when I mention the catastrophe of my great uncle Mr. Hammond Shandy,—a little man,—but of high fancy:—he rushed into the duke of Monmouth’s affair:—nor, secondly, in this place, do I mean that particular species of knots called bow-knots;—there is so little address, or skill, or patience required in the unloosing them, that they are below my giving any opinion at all about them.—But by the knots I am speaking of, may it please your reverences to believe, that I mean good, honest, devilish tight, hard knots, made bona fide, as Obadiah made his;—in which there is no quibbling provision made by the duplication and return of the two ends of the strings thro’ the annulus or noose made by the second implication of them—to get them slipp’d and undone by.—I hope you apprehend me.
    In the case of these knots then, and of the several obstructions, which, may it please your reverences, such knots cast in our way in getting through life—every hasty man can whip out his pen-knife and cut through them.—’Tis wrong. Believe me, Sirs, the most virtuous way, and which both reason and conscience dictate—is to take our teeth or our fingers to them.—Dr. Slop had lost his teeth—his favourite instrument, by extracting in a wrong direction, or by some misapplication of it, unfortunately slipping, he had formerly, in a hard labour, knock’d out three of the best of them with the handle of it:—he tried his fingers—alas; the nails of his fingers and thumbs were cut close.—The duce take it! I can make nothing of it either way, cried Dr. Slop.—The trampling over head near my mother’s bed-side increased.—Pox take the fellow! I shall never get the knots untied as long as I live.—My mother gave a groan.—Lend me your penknife—I must e’en cut the knots at last—pugh!—psha!—Lord! I have cut my thumb quite across to the very bone—curse the fellow—if there was not another man-midwife within fifty miles—I am undone for this bout—I wish the scoundrel hang’d—I wish he was shot—I wish all the devils in hell had him for a blockhead—!”

    I infer there is due to follow in the next chapter the reading aloud of a document (shown in the text with large white gaps) about allowable forms of swearing and cursing – while Uncle Toby whistles, as he often does, LILLABULLERO … a habit that reminds me of Leland Palmer’s habit of breaking into MAIRZY DOATS in ‘Twin Peaks’.

    • “…like all the knotted events of the past and the unraveling of those knots in the future, like birthdays and funerals,…” — Thomas Ligotti (My Work Is Not Yet Done)

  8. Chapter XI
    SLOP’s cursing at Obadiah for the way he had tied the KNOTS (ligotti) of SLOP’s bag…

    “‘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 Praecursor, 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 Hay-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 them)—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.'”

  9. This real-time review now continues HERE

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