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"Alternating Current" by Octavio Paz A scintillating thinker and a prescient voice on emerging world culture, Paz reveals himself here as “a man of electrical passions, paradoxical visions, alternating currents of thoughts, and feeling that runs hot but never cold. Learn more | See related books
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At the end of Volume 6 of this work, Mr. Shandy as the teller of his own life story provides a drawing of his narrative line over the previous volumes. Each one is twisted beyond all recognition, of course, since he has been doubling back, digressing, and indeed doing pretty much everything except getting a move on. He promises faithfully that in Volume 7 his narrative will resemble nothing but the very straightest of lines - he's reached the hour of his own birth (in six books) and will proceed from that moment in strict chronology, utterly without interruption. At the beginning of the next volume, however, he suddenly tells us that the Devil is after him and races off to France in an attempt to outrun the old fox - he doesn't get back to his own story until Volume 8.
This gives you an idea of what you're in for. "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy" consists primarily of the author's attempt to not tell a story - indeed, it's about practically everything in the world except its ostensible subject. While the narrator's interruptions and digressions are generally funny in themselves, there's an additional level of humor in the lengths to which he goes to get in his own way. It's a great read, but it makes things rather difficult when it comes to telling the story itself.
There's a plotline of sorts, to be sure, which has to do with the night of Tristram's birth and what a complicated project that turns out to be. In addition to that, Tristram amuses himself with chapters on the nature of obsessions (or hobby-horses, as he calls them), chapters on how to argue with your wife, chapters on sermon-making, chapters on chapters and even a chapter on digressions.Read more ›
In the hundred years before this book some of the worst of English literature was written: Wycherly, Defoe, Richardson. Sure, we had Swift and Fielding, but I would argue against any of their works as masterpieces. Tristram Shandy comes out of nowhere. It's as though Joyce's soul, slumming in the eighteenth century, decided to have fun. It's one of the greatest comic novels of our language. And it is soooo weird. You have to read this before you die. Note: although it's told in first person, for the first hundred pages he's not born yet.
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A line from the movie "adaptation" put it best: this was a postmodern novel before there was any modernism to be post to.
Simply put, Laurence Sterne threw out all the literary conventions of what a novel should be and how it should be arranged, a few hundred years before more recent writers like Calvino, Joyce and Danielewski did. The result is "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman," a gloriously rambling, richly entertaining sort-of-novel.
"I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me." So begins Tristram, who starts his life story with his "begetting," and attempts to tell the story of his birth and life, as well as the descriptions of relatives -- his lovable uncle Toby, his eccentric dad, his patient mother (who's in labor for most of the book).
But as he tries to tell us about his life, Tristram keeps getting sidetracked by all the stories that surround him -- his uncle's romance with the Widow Wadman and the war in which he received a nasty wound in a sensitive spot, the French, the doctor who delivered him, letters in multiple languages, the parson, the personal history of the midwife, and what curses are appropriate for what occasions.
Most novels are pretty straightforward -- they have a beginning, a middle and an end. But "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" totally ignores that, by having a beginning that lasts for the whole book, dozens of "middles," and no real end (it just stops at a suitable spot). All of this is without a real structure.Read more ›
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Tristram Shandy is all too often dismissed as rambling or merely eccentric--and many of the reviews posted here thus far prove no exception. First, let me address some common objections to the novel. Q: It's not about anything. A: That's because it's about everything: body and sensorium, knotting and mapping, blankness and plenum, apocryphal origins, the dangers of solipsism, a crisis in historical continuity. It's also about noses, petticoats, breeches, love, wounds, and auxiliary verbs. Perhaps above all it is a novel about pain--where language fails. Q: It's too long and erratic. A: Be patient. The prose takes some getting used to, but past the first 50 pages or so the reading experience can become incredibly addictive, offering many immediate pleasures. The narrator's digressions, staccatos, elisions are of the essence; he is grappling honestly with problems of narration and temporality. Q: It's incomprehensible without historical background. A: Actually, what amazed me about the book was how timeless its interests and insights are. It's entirely possible to read through without any footnotes and still get everything out of it Sterne had intended to put in.
That being said, I'd also like to note for the record that this book is not simply some forerunner to "postmodernism." Yes--it's clearly the ideal 18th-century example for talking about hypertext, reflexivity, bricolage, metonymic slippage, etc., but to take the text as a merely textual experiment is certainly not the most interesting way to read it. Sterne is not reveling in play so much as he deeply understands the affinity between the tragic and the absurd. I sincerely encourage everyone to try this novel. It's really one of the most original and poignant fictions I have ever read--right up there with Shakespeare, George Eliot, Joyce, Beckett, and Nabokov.
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