Monday, 19 December 2011

David Sedaris' "Next of Kin"

Recently, Lady Ariella Tyrold lent me David Sedaris' Naked. A collection of witty and slightly disconcerting  short stories of an allegedly autobiographical nature, it is dripping with black humour. Unsettling like Poe's Lionizing (see earlier post) but with the anecdotal and brash humour Poe lacks the following short story really made my month. If you like this short story too, you can enjoy the many others by buying the book.

Paperback Cover
Next of Kin
by David Sedaris

I found the book hidden in the woods beneath a sheet of plywood, its cover torn away and the pages damp with mildew. I read, "Brock and Bonnie Rivers stood in their driveway, waving goodbye to the Reverend Hassleback. 'Goodbye,' they said, waving. 'Goodbye,' the reverend responded. 'Tell those two teens of yours, Josh and Sandi, that they'll make an excellent addition to our young persons' ministry. They're fine kids,' he said with a wink. 'Almost as fine and foxy as their parents.' The Rivers chuckled, raising their hands in another wave. When the reverend's car finally left the driveway, they stood for a moment in the bright sunshine before descending into the basement dungeon to unshackle the children."

The theme of the book was that people are not always what they seem. Highly respected in their upper-middleclass community, the Rivers family practiced a literal interpretation of the phrase "Love thy neighbor." Limber as gymnasts, these people were both shameless and insatiable. Father and daughter, brother and sister, mother and son, after exhausting every possible combination, they widened their circle to include horny sea captains and door-to-door knife salesmen. Yes, these people were naughty, but at the age of 13, I couldn't help but admire their infectious energy and spirited enjoyment of life.

The first few times I read the book, I came away shocked, not by the characters' behavior, but by the innumerable typos. Had nobody bothered to proofread this book before sending it to print? In the opening chapter, the daughter is caught with her brother's ceck in her pissy, calling out "feck me hard, hardir". On page 33, the son has sex with his mother, who we are told possesses a fond par of tots. I showed the book to my sister Lisa, who tore it from my hands, saying, let me hold on to this for a while.

She and I often swapped babysitting jobs and considered ourselves fairly well read in the field of literary pornography. "Look in the parents' bedroom beneath the sweaters in the second drawer of the white dresser," she'd say. We'd each read The Story of O and the collected writings of the Marquis de Sade with one eye on the front door, fearful that the homeowners might walk in and torture us with barbed whips and hot oils. We know you, our looks would say as the parents checked on their sleeping children. We know all about you.

The book went from Lisa to our 11-year-old sister, Gretchen, who interpreted it as a startling nonfiction expose on the American middle class. "I'm pretty sure this exact same thing is going on right here in North Hills," she whispered, tucking the book beneath the artificial grass of her Easter basket. "Take the Sherman family, for example. Just last week, I saw Heidi sticking her hands down Steve Junior's pants." "The guy has two broken arms," I said. "She was probably just tucking in his shirt." "Would you ask one of us to tuck in your shirt?" she asked. She had a point. A careful study suggested that the Shermans were not the people they pretended to be. The father was often seen tugging at his crotch, and the wife had a disturbing habit of looking you straight in the eye while sniffing her fingers. A veil had been lifted, especially for Gretchen, who now saw the world as a steaming pit of unbridled sexuality.

Seated on a lounge chair at the country club, she would narrow her eyes, speculating on the children crowding the shallow end of the pool. "I have a sneaking suspicion Christina Youngblood might be our half sister," she said. "She's got her father's chin, but the eyes and mouth are pure Mom." I felt uneasy implicating our parents, but Gretchen provided a wealth of frightening evidence. She noted the way our mother applied lipstick at the approach of the potato chip delivery man, whom she addressed by first name and often invited in to use the bathroom. Our father referred to the bank tellers as "doll" and "sweetheart," and their responses suggested that he had taken advantage of them one time too many.

The Greek Orthodox church, the gaily dressed couples at the country club, even our elderly collie, Duchess, they were all in on it according to Gretchen, who took to piling furniture against her bedroom door before going to sleep at night. The book wound up in the hands of our 10-year-old sister, Amy, who used it as a textbook in the make-believe class she held after school each day. Dressed in a wig and high heels, she passed her late afternoons standing before a blackboard and imitating her teachers.

"I'm very sorry, Candice, but I'm going to have to fail you," she'd say, addressing one of the empty folding chairs arranged before her. "The problem is not that you don't try. The problem is that you're stupid, very, very stupid. Isn't Candice stupid, class? She's ugly, too. Am I wrong? Very well, Candice, you can sit back down now. And for god's sakes, please stop crying. OK, class. Now I'm going to read to you from this week's new book. It's a story about a California family and it's called Next of Kin."

If Amy had read the book, then surely it had been seen by eight-year-old Tiffany, who shared her bedroom, and possibly by our brother, Paul, who at the age of two might have sucked on the binding, which was even more dangerous than reading it. Clearly, this had to stop before it got out of hand. The phrase "Tight willin' gasshole" was growing more popular by the day, and even our ancient Greek grandmother was arriving at the breakfast table with suspicious-looking circles beneath her eyes.

Gretchen took the book and hid it under the carpet of her bedroom, where it was discovered by our housekeeper, Lena, who eventually handed it over to our mother. "I'll make sure this is properly disposed of," my mother said, hurrying down the hallway to her bedroom. "Panetration," she laughed, reading out loud from a randomly selected page. "Oh, this ought to be good."

Weeks later, Gretchen and I found the book hidden between the mattress and box springs of my parents' bed, the pages stained with coffee rings and cigarette ash. The discovery seemed to validate all of Gretchen's suspicions. "They'll be coming for us any day now," she warned. "Be prepared, my friend, because this time they'll be playing for keeps." We waited. I'd always made it a point to kiss my mother before going to bed, but not anymore. The feel of her hand on my shoulder now made my flesh crawl.

She was hemming a pair of my pants one afternoon when, standing before her on a kitchen chair, I felt her hands grace my butt. "I-- I just want to be friends," I stammered. "Nothing more, nothing less." She took the pins out of her mouth and studied me for a moment before sighing. "Damn, and here you've been leading me on all this time."

I read the book once more, hoping to recapture my earlier pleasure, but it was too late now. I couldn't read the phrase, "He paunched his daughter's rock-hard nopples," without thinking of Gretchen barricading herself in the bedroom. I thought I might throw the book away, or maybe even burn it, but like a perfectly good outgrown sweater, it seemed a shame to destroy it when the world was full of people who might get some use out of it.

With this in mind, I carried the book to the grocery store parking lot, and tossed it into the back of a shiny new pickup truck. I then took up my post beside the store's outdoor vending machines, waiting until the truck's owner returned, pushing a cart full of groceries. He was a wiry man, with fashionable mutton-chop sideburns and a half-cast on his arm.

As he placed his bags into the back of the truck, his eyes narrowed upon the book. I watched as he picked it up and leafed through the first few pages, before raising his head to search the parking lot. He took a cigarette from his pocket and tapped it against the roof of the truck before lighting it. Then he slipped the book into his pocket and drove away.

What do you think? 

Is this your cup of tea? Have you read anything else by David Sedaris and if so, are there short stories or collections you think are better than this? If this is the case, why? Are you aware of any similar authors in terms of content, tone or use of language? Naked conludes my sojourn through the Sedaris bibliography and I am on the lookout for more like it, so...
Comments on The Tale of Sir Bob are, as always, welcome!

Sources: Text, Pic.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Stephen Fry on Teaching

In Stephen Fry's Live in Sydney monologues, he tells of his brief job as a teacher and comments as quoted below. It should give teachers everywhere solace to see that even a brainbox such as Stephen Fry (it must be all that fish he eats) shares their impression.

I have never, in all my life, done anything as hard, just in terms of being tiring, exhausting and mind- and body consuming, as teaching.  it is one of the most extraordinarily har jobs you could ever do. Somehow your body gets used to it, but after the first three days I was very, very minded to run away.

I didn't. I stayed the course and, in fact, I continued to go back to that school to teach while I was at university.
Sources: As given + pic.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Alice in Time

I am always fascinated by the overlap between literature and other scholarly and scientific fields. My last article combined Vivaldi's Gloria with Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape and in June, I combined Christina Rossetti's In an Artist's Studio with Botticelli paintings. In this post, you can read an article written by Gillian Beer, professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Cambridge UK. Here, she looks at the role of time and space in Lewis Carroll's Alice books. Charles Dodgson was a prominent mathematician and logician at Oxford and was known to let these scientific areas colour his literary output.

To read the article, click each page and enjoy. Below the article is Beer's lecture on the topic at Harvard University.

Sources: Text, Lecture

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Vivaldi and Beckett Brought Together

Last night, there was a storm. A chaotic rumble of branches flying about, windows and doors slamming and gusts of wind hammering my abode. Today, the wind is all but gone and a cold, greyblue silence has taken its place. One which calls for subdued reflection.

It is under these conditions that two works of art appear to me as profoundly appropriate. The first is the second movement from Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria (RV589), Et in Terra Pax. This peaceful piece of music beautifully complements a scene from Samuel Beckett's one-act, one-character play Krapp's Last Tape. A melancholy and disillusioned old man, Krapp, sits by himself listening to diary-like tapes he recorded when he was younger remembering episodes with joy, but also regret. The scene included here is one of those episodes.

My suggested method for reading this is allowing Et in Terra Pax to run in the background while reading the scene. If you would like to read Beckett's complete play, you can find it here.



--Back on the year that is gone, with what I hope is perhaps a glint of the old eye to come, there is of course the house on the canal where mother lay a-dying, in the late autumn, after her long viduity (Krapp gives a start), and the--(Krapp switches off, winds back tape a little, bends his ear closer to the machine, switches on)--a-dying, after her long viduity, and the--

Krapp switches off, raises his head, stares blankly before him. His lips move in the syllables of "viduity." No sound. He gets up, goes back stage into darkness, comes back with an enormous dictionary, lays it on table, sits down and looks up the word.


(reading from dictionary). State--or condition of being--or remaining--a widow--or widower. (Looks up. Puzzled.) Being--or remaining? . . . (Pause. He peers again at dictionary. Reading.) "Deep weeds of viduity" . . . Also of an animal, especially a bird . . . the vidua or weaver bird . . . Black plumage of male . . . (He looks up. With relish.) The vidualbird!

Pause. He closes dictionary, switches on, resumes listening posture.


--bench by the weir from where I could see her window. There I sat, in the biting wind, wishing she were gone. (Pause.) Hardly a soul, just a few regulars, nursemaids, infants, old men, dogs. I got to know them quite well--oh by appearance of course I mean! One dark young beauty I recall particularly, all white and starch, incomparable bosom, with a big black hooded perambulator, most funereal thing. Whenever I looked in her direction she had her eyes on me. And yet when I was bold enough to speak to her--not having been introduced--she threatened to call a policeman. As if I had designs on her virtue! (Laugh. Pause.) The face she had! The eyes! Like . . . (hesitates) . . . chrysolite! (Pause.) Ah well . . . (Pause.) I was there when--(Krapp switches off, broods, switches on again)--the blind went down, one of those dirty brown roller affairs, throwing a ball for a little white dog, as chance would have it. I happened to look up and there it was. All over and done with, at last. I sat on for a few moments with the ball in my hand and the dog yelping and pawing at me. (Pause.) Moments. Her moments, my moments. (Pause.) The dog's moments. (Pause.) In the end I held it out to him and he took it in his mouth, gently, gently. A small, old, black, hard, solid rubber ball. (Pause.) I shall feel it, in my hand, until my dying day. (Pause.) I might have kept it. (Pause.) But I gave it to the dog.



Friday, 18 November 2011

Wodehouse for Medical Purposes

This article from The Times explains the healing powers of Wodehouse-induced laughter. It also goes a long way in exemplifying the distinction between author and person. Enjoy the enlightenment!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Another Song for the Exhausted

My Fridays are always harrowing. If you were to say; "Look at that fellow, Sir Bunbury, he is a nervous wreck" you wouldn't be far off. Giving lectures for hours on end can really take it out of a poor blighter. In these situations, T Rex' We Love to Boogie and particularly this youtube rendition is like ointment to the wearly limb.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Naked Woman in Dead Horse: Played Star Wars

This "man bites dog"-type story is too amazing not to post here. Words can hardy suffice, but The Seattle Weekly has tried.


Jasha Lottin, Portland Nudist, Broke No Laws by Killing, Gutting Horse, then Posing Naked Inside Carcass

Jasha Lottin says she can't understand why people are so interested in why she bought a horse, killed it, gutted it, then posed naked for photos inside the carcass and posted them on the Internet.

Lottin, a 21-year-old and nudist from Portland was questioned at length by Washington County Sheriff's Deputies recently after she posted on the Internet gory photos of herself naked inside a horse that she bought, shot, gutted, posed naked inside of, and ultimately ate.

Joshua Washburn, a North Carolina man, had come across the pics online at the website 4chan and reported them to deputies.

Those sheriff's deputies recently concluded that no animal abuse had been committed and therefore no laws had been broken.

Regardless, since Lottin wanted to publish the photos herself anyway, here they are uncensored as provided by the WCSO.

We'd recommend people not look at them while eating.

Via Washington County Sheriff's Office

According to a police report Lottin and her friend John Frost had purchased a 32-year-old dying horse in Richfield, Wash. Shortly after buying the animal Frost shot it in the head with a .300 Winchester Magnum hunting rifle (the horse had apparently been scheduled to be euthanized already), then the two skinned and gutted it before finally beginning their photo shoot.

 The reason for climbing inside the animal was later explained to deputies as Lottin's desire to "be one with the animal."

That and her love of Star Wars.

From the police report:
Lottin said in the movie Star Wars the character Han Solo cut open and animal with his light saber and placed Luke Skywalker inside the animal. This was due to Luke freezing to death in cold weather. Lottin said there was nothing religious about what she did and didn't intend to offend anyone.
Washington County Sheriff's Office Sgt. David Thompson tells Seattle Weekly that while the case is "truly bizarre", deputies aren't interested in telling people what weird stuff to put or not put on the Internet.

"We've definitely never seen anything like that," Thompson says. "People do bad stuff to people and animals, but in this case it appears that animal was put down humanely, so there's really nothing to compare it to. It's just bizarre."

After posting the photos online, angry readers at 4chan apparently started harassing Lottin and Frost to the point where they pulled their Facebook profiles offline.

Reached by phone yesterday Lottin refused to comment other than saying she doesn't understand what all the fuss is about and that the reason she did what she did was "just spontaneous."

What do you think?

Is this perverted, horrid, deviant, original or just plain colourful? This is one of those stories you could not make up if you tried. It is stranger than fiction. In that light, do you know any equally absurd news stories? If so, feel free to post them or links to them in the comment field below!
Comments on The Tale of Sir Bob are always welcome!


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"You may rrree-moof your gloves!" - Roald Dahl's "The Witches"

On a recent visit to Cambridge, I found a marvel in a local antiquarian booksellers'. I have always been very fond of Roald Dahl's books and almost had a seizure when I found the American first edition of Roald Dahl's The Witches. With shaky hands I opened the front cover and had to go for a breath of fresh air. This was what greeted me:

Signed by Roald Dahl (author)
and Quentin Blake (illustrator)

The tale revolves around a seven year old boy who, when visiting a seaside hotel which happens to host a witches convention at the same time, discovers a sinister plot to get rid of all children. Wiches look like ordinary women but they wear wigs and gloves to cover their bald heads and claws, hence the quote in the title, and they have no toes. Most importantly, they hate children. Filled with Dahls customary gruesome thrills, the novel is a marvel and it even has the ominous number 86 thrown in everywhere for superstitious nuts.

Whether I am one of them, I could not say. Suffice to tell, I dearly wanted that book, gloriously sporting the signatures of both author and illustrator as it was. However, the price tag was a bit on the steep side and the lady behind the her messy desk would not budge. In fact, budging did not seem to be very high up on the list of popular pastimes for this portly proprietor. As she wanted a whooping £300 for the book, I had to go for another stoll.

Detail from the front cover

They say walking is good for you. Good exercise and beneficial to the heart just about sums it up. Under the circs, I was inclined to applaud the notion as my heart was about to make a formidable leap. I checked the ilab web pages where I discovered a British first edition, signed by Dahl but not by Blake to the exhilarating sum of £1250!

I am not much of a mathematician, but I fear my strained, squeaky voice gave my conclusions away as I feebly tried to negotiate the price. It was, of course, to no avail. However, the woman's sedentary business style had surprisingly ceased to trouble me and it was with a song on my lips I parted with the stated.

Dahl drawn by Blake

Having been on display at my abode for a month now, I will have to turn my attention to redecorating the old den to accomodate its entry into my shelves. I might even take Roald Dahl's advice, sung by the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory upon the fate of Mike Teavee...

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
go throw your TV set away,
and in its place you can install
a lovely bookcase on the wall

Sources: Dahl, Roald: The Witches, New York 1983, Dahl, Roald: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl by Blake

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A More Sensible Approach to Journalism?

On Monday, the Guardian presented their new angle on journalism. Every day, they will  publish a newslist including upcoming articles, events and speeches and the twitter page of the journalist in charge of that particular element.

The new system is an experiment meant to last for a fortnight but which might become a permanent fixture. The idea is not only to provide insight into the inner life of the newspaper but also to preempt complains after publication. Readers will be able to tell the journalist about what to include or not include and even point out stories the newspaper might want to cover. This system is based on the paper's earlier, positive experiences with twitter.

The Newslist

Of course, not all stories will figure in the list. Some, which the paper might want to keep exclusive or which need to be kept unpublished due to source concerns, will be kept from the list. The national news editor of the Guardian, Dan Roberts, said that the risk of news leakage to competitors would be far outweighed by the benefits of reader opinion.

The scheme is known to have worked well in newspapers such as The Atlantic Wire and the Swedish Norran. Hopefully, this makes for the open, more transparent form of journalism needed after the News of the World debacle.

To visit the Guardian's newslist, click here.

Sources: The Guardian Online, last visited 12.10.2011, Pic.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Get Back to Work! - Get all the mindless youtube surfing done in 20 minutes

You have more important and pressing things to do, you just need a short break. However, as soon as you start watching videos on youtube you end up moving to the next video over and over again. Suddenly, you've lost hours.

This post will take you through the most famous viral videos of all time saving you time and bother.

Have a look at these:

Psycho Girl Can't Sing, 10,124,744 views

Star Wars Kid, 23,486,877 views

LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!, 40,986,188 views

Numa Numa, 43,491,538 views

Charlie The Unicorn, 60,024,126 views

Chocolate Rain, 72,306,793 views

David After Dentist, 100,174,287 views

Sneezing Baby Panda, 118,257,336 views

Charlie Bit My Finger - Again, 376,293,596

Now get back to work. There's nothing more for you out there just now.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

"Calcium Made Interesting" by Graham Chapman

This is an essay written by the late Dr. Graham Chapman of Monty Python. It is superb for teaching both chemistry and English.

Calcium Made Interesting

Calcium, an alkaline belonging to the group 2A of the periodic table, has large breasts. Its metallic form is readily oxidized and releases hydrogen from water. It occurs naturally as the carbonate CaCO3 in limestone, chalk, marble, and in brothels. This element makes up 3.4 percent of the earth’s crust and has wild parties 3.4 times a week round at its place. When Calcium Carbonate gets a bit heated it gives off CO2, and when it drinks claret it gets so sloshed it forms Calcium Hydroxide a.k.a. Ca(OH)2. The reaction of CaO and H2O to form Ca(OH)2 (a process which is called slaking, by the way) is very naughty indeed and can only be compared to sexual intercourse! At the climax of the reaction a white precipitate called Calcium Hydroxide appears and stains the sheets.

Calcium also occurs as the phosphate in Apatite and forms a large part of many silicate minerals which, if you’re really stoned, is a great scene to get zonked on, man. How about CaSO4 and 2H2O as a mantra? Or more simply just repeat “Gypsum” to yourself. But take care because on a bad trip, if things get a bit hot, it turns to Plaster of Paris (Where there are many prostitutes and a great gay scene—see ‘Ferrous Sulphate’). If Apatite, when finely ground and taken from between the thighs of a young school girl with blue knickers and white socks, is treated with Sulphuric Acid it produces super-phosphates which are used as fertilizers, if that’s anybody’s bag.

To sum up, Calcium is an aphrodisiac. In fact, just reading about it gives you both an orgasm and a high that you’ll really phone home about! Try this excerpt on for size:

Meeting the hard calcareous rock he thought how Calcium is involved in almost every biological function. As his hand came ever closer, up until it reached that place… Oh, the relief… Oh! The ecstasy… He reflected upon how this amazing mineral provides the electrical energy for the heart to beat and for all his muscle movement. Slowly, as his hand fell to his zip and he eased his fingers, slowly inserting them into his flies and, groping, he pondered upon how Calcium is responsible for feeding every cell. To his surprise he was not embarrassed as he…and then he…
Wow! But if you want a real buzz, then get into other Calcium compounds like Calcium Carbide (CaC2) which is produced when it is heated with ‘coke.’ It’s something else, man, way out! It will not only stimulate your erogenous zones but increase your vital statistics. (If you’re interested it can be delivered to your home in a plain brown wrapper. Details in the next chapter.)

Sources: Chapman, Graham; Calcium Made Interesting, Pic1,  Pic2

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Mad Hatter Day

Today is Mad Hatter Day, a 25 year old holiday where we celebrate silliness. We see the madness in what is considered sane and the sanity in what is considered madness.

The day is named after Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter, a character appearing in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass. Thoroughtly nonsensical, he is stuck in an endless tea party with a dormouse and the March Hare. The date was chosen as a result of John Tenniel's drawings of the Hatter where he has a note with the notation "in this style 10/6" stuck in his hat.

Alice, the March Hare, the Dormouse and the Hatter wrapping some tea in a pot
 So, what to do?

How about taking a small box out of your pocket and then talk to your mother without making a sound, pressing a number of buttons with numbers on them and then send?

Or how about dressing up to look less like yourself in order to attract a mate?

Why don't you go to the store and buy a piece of meat you do not know where came from? Perhaps it came from the hind leg of a sheep called Alan on the brink of inventing a cure for itchy wool? Or perhaps it is your neighbours rump. You sleep 20 cm from his head but haven't seen or spoken to him for ages.

Or, find inspiration in Ari Rapkin of the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science's view of the fundamental madness of the world:


We travel around by taking the juice from hundred-million-year-old rotten dinosaur food and exploding it in a metal can.

A "sports fanatic" is not someone who participates in sports, but someone who sits indoors on a beautiful day, drinking beer while yelling at the picture on a little box. (Throw the ultimate football party: Forget the TV; just sit around eating and drinking with friends.)

As much as we say we like to "get away from it all", the more successful we are, the more we take it all with us when we go. (Take a vacation with all the comforts of home: Just stay home!)

We're so well-fed that we're getting food with intentionally reduced nutritional content--so we can take the trouble to eat without getting the benefit of doing so. (Enjoy the ultimate in fast-diet-food: Skip lunch.)

We've saved so much gift-giving for the Christmas season that it has entirely unbalanced the flow of cash and consu mer goods through the year. So merchants decided to start the season early to have something to do the rest of the year. (There's now only one major gift-giving holiday -- but it lasts for five months. Surprise someone with a MadHatterDay present.)


And, after all, why is a raven like a writing desk?

Sources: Pic, Ari Rapkin

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Literal Versions of Songs You Know

Whereas most types of film show scenes connected by some form of plot, music videos stand apart. In these, the song which they accompany fills the same adhesive role which means that this visual presentation can be read in quite a different way than the song itself. Just watch:

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Samuel Jackson Reads a Bedtime Book

In March I published a post on James Earl Jones reading out the numbers and the alphabet. This one is quite similar. The earnest children's book for adults, Go the f#ck to sleep by Adam Mansbach, is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. Enjoy!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Genotext and Phenotext

Lately I've been concerned with the dynamics of literature and the context in which it figures. Elements of a hypertext may resemble elements of a hypotext (Genette's terms) but the issue on my mind is which of these elements are specific to the cultural context of the hypotext and which are specific only to the hypotext. Literature enters into a contemporary cultural discourse in which several elements, be it motifs, plot structures, issues or conflicts to name a few, are pervasive. Based in this, I wondered what in a hypertext would be elements of direct literary intertextuality and what would be a result of inherited cultural norms, principles and perspectives.

To state it blatantly, is Kurtz in Coppola's Apocalypse Now an echo of Conrad's Kurtz or is he a representation of the cultural stereotype of the brilliant but misguided outcast inherent in Western culture? Is Nick Hornby's socially challenged and alienated protagonists representative of a cultural type or do they hark back to earlier literary social outcasts (Frankenstein, Heathcliff, Dorian Gray etc.)? The main issue is, succinctly stated, whether there is a real, direct intertextual connection between hyper- and hypo-text or whether both are in fact echoes of the same cultural signified.

One approach to resolving this issue which I found helpful was distinction between the semiotic and the symbolic mode of language in Julia Kristeva's split subject, especially as represented through the terms genotext and phenotext. Building on the work of Jaques Lacan's dichotomy of the imaginary and the symbolic and Freud's work on primary processes, Kristeva's split subject concerns concepts of symbolic representation and infancy. The semiotic mode prevails is the infant state where the subject, unable to distinguish himself from the significant other (the mother), understands his environs without the use of language. This state comes to an end as the subject interacts and has to make sense of the world. This can only be done through the language logic inherent in society and thus represents the onset of the symbolic mode of language.

Transferring the focus to texts, Kristeva offers the terms genotext and phenotext. Genotext refers to those elements in a text which appeal to the psychological processes from the semiotic mode, be they love, despair, alienation or other drives. Phenotext, on the other hand, is those elements which tie in with the symbolic mode of language, i.e. those dependent on language, presentation, logic and which try to convey meaning.

This distinction, then, might assist somewhat in the above intertextuality problem area. If we assume a connection between genotext and those latent values, principles etc. in the culture with which hypo- and hypertext engages, phenotext would then be those elements specific to the text. This cojunction, of course, requires an understanding of culture as a form of socially shared psychology and it also represents the extremes of a sliding scale but taking this into account it might assist the researcher of intertextual dynamics in establishing the nature of relevant elements. Thus, when reapproaching an issue such as that of the Kurtz character, we might find that while the elements of character confidence and resistance might be products of culture, Kurtz's situation, action- and reaction patterns are specific to Conrad's hypertext. The social alienation felt by Hornby's protagonists would appear to be an echo of culture, while their interaction with that society could be an echo of earlier literature.

Source: Allen, Graham: Intertextuality, New York 2001

Saturday, 3 September 2011

A Literary Love Song

Here is Justin Edvards from The Consultants' literary love song with my best transcription of the lyrics underneath. If you should happen to know the author in the third verse, please tell me e.g. in a comment.

Too Jane Austentatious

One wet Wednesday afternoon
I saw my lending library lovely.
Raven haired she stamped my Raymond Chandler,
my heart dissolved

So I stayed ‘till closing time,
I reckoned that to make her mine
I’d have to woo her bookishly;
I Danielle Steeled my resolve.

Oh, library lady, would you care to join me for a cup of T.
S. Eliot or perhaps a glass of Barbara Pyms and lemonade?
Harper Lee she gazed at me then locked the door
I took her Wilkie Collins in my hand and we began to promenade.

This was certainly a Mills & Boon,
had I been too Thomas Fool-Hardy?
But she shared my feeling
I was pretty damn Bernard Shaw.

So I told her how I felt,
she dimmed the lights I dropped my Orwells,
she grasped my dictionaries,
we fell J.K. Rowling to the floor

But the library hall is no place to seduce
it’s too Jane Austentatious.
It would be Rudyard Kipling there
we might get seen, Tom Clancy that

So we crept into the reference
section out of view
and there I lay down with my library lady
on the coconut mat

Oh, she said, this itchy floor
is bound to give me a thesaurus.
I built a bed of Mary Wesleys
upon which we could uncoil

With the photo copier light on,
for a pillow, Michael Crichton,
tenderly she placed her hands
upon my Conan Doyle.

She was Oscar Wilde in bed,
like a leaping Salman Rushdie head-
long into passion, personally I was
a bit too Jonathan Swift.

I could have done with a hardback edition
rather than my floppy old paperback Grisham,
but I gave her the full Brontë
And she didn’t seem too miffed.

But our affair had never lasted.
Something went Kingsley Amis.
She found another lover
with a larger print than mine

I was Graham Greene with envy
I was Somerset Maugham and I felt empty,
but my Philip Roth soon passed,
one day I ceased this futile cry.

Now I stand here feeling sorry,
grasping my Daphne du Mauri-
er a Dewey Decimal teardrop
on my cheek once more.

Occasionally I reminisce
and an Evelyn Waugh escapes my lips
remembering by Dickens
our lending library floor.

Friday, 2 September 2011

More Singing Heads of State

I have previously blogged about Putin singing Blueberry Hill. As it turns out, most heads of state like to sing, and some more publicly than others. Here are my favourites:

Clinton Sings "Imagine" by John Lennon

Silvio Berlusconi Sings Some Unclear Songs

And another one, with the song starting at 0:55

Hugo Chavez Sings While Playing the Maracas, Then Sings Some More

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Barry Lyndon Plot Summary, Chapter 19

  • Barry declares that this final chapter shows how his fall is brought on by what he calls ungrateful scoundrels.
  • He buys Bryan a horse. In contrast to Bullington, Bryan's rebelliousness is described in a favourable light. The horse turns out to be quite wild, and when Bryan disobeys his father and rides the horse, he falls off and dies. The sorrow brings Barry and Lady Lyndon together for a few months.
  • Barry sells the ancient oaks of Hackton Castle for a pittance to raise money, then loses it gambling.
  • Barry confines Lady Lyndon to the Castle under the watch of his mother. Now, close to destitution, he describes his mother in a more positive tone than at the height of his career. He intercepts letters written in lemon juice from Lady Lyndon to her former lover Sir George Poynings. Through Barry's secretary, Redmond Quin (the son of Nora and Captain Quin), she plans to escape but Barry finds them out.
  • In constant need of money, Barry is given an offer on his mines from a London firm. They need Lady Lyndon to approve in person at their offices, and so Barry and Lady Lyndon goes to London in spite of Bell Brady's misgivings.
  • The meeting turns out to be another scheme of Quin's. Barry is, after some roamings, thrown in the Fleet Prison where he lives out his days under the care of his mother.
Thackeray's commentator, G.M. Fitz-Boodle wraps up the narrative as follows.
  • After an unsuccessful gambling career on the continent, Barry tries to blackmail Lord George but fails. He tries to get Lady Lyndon to flee with him, but is thwarted in this endeavour by Bullington, the rumor of whose death was false: "Bullington assaulted his step-father [...] and administered to him a tremendous castigation in the Pump-room" (OUP 2008, 308).
  • After this encounter, Barry is sent from prison to prison, living on an annuity through Lady Lyndon. When she dies, this annuity is discontinued. Bullington dies in the Napoleonic Wars and all the Lyndon property passes on to Lord George, heir of the Tiptoffs.
  • Barry dies from delirium tremens brought on by alcohol abuse.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Barry Lyndon Plot Summary, Chapters 16, 17 and 18

Chapter 16
  • Through Lady Lyndon's porter, Barry gains access to all her correspondence and is thus able to stalk and pursue her while making it appear that she is pursuing him.
  • He kidnaps Lady Lyndon's lady in waiting, Miss Amalia Kiljoy, and marries her to Ulick. By this and through other threats he shows his determination to get Lady Lyndon.
  • She flees to England but Barry goes on ahead, making it seem like she is following him. Her family and society picks up in this, which further drives her towards Barry. By using this and bribing her servants, Barry is finally able to marry Lady Lyndon on 1773, taking the name Barry Lyndon.
Chapter 17
  • After a short introduction, the second part of the novel has Barry travel with Lady Lyndon to Hackton Castle where he spends his time abusing her and her assets by redecorating and gambling. Indirectly, he effectuates an old curse stating that when a certain rookery should fall, so should the castle.
  • He buys back the marshy lands of his ancestors but still takes a dim view of Ireland.
  • Barry and Lady Lyndon starts being apart. The latter is mistreated.
  • He has bad luck at gambling but consorts with Dr. Johnson, Boswell and other famous personages (as referred to in the opening chapters).
  • He enters politics and wins a seat in Parliament from Lord George of the neighbouring Tiptoffs, relatives of Lady Lyndon, who are exceedingly hostile towards him.
Chapter 18
  • Barry finds Lady Lyndon intolerable and troublesome and only manageable when her son is used as leverage or when coaxed.
  • His son by Lady Lyndon, Bryan, is portrayed with fondness and Barry tries to secure peerages for himself and his son. Bryan is fond of Bullington, who is sent to Ireland where he grows rebellious and embraces Catholicism. After two years he returns and is continually in conflict with Barry.
  • The Tiptoffs keep spreading stories of Barry's mistreatment of Lady Lyndon, Bullington and the estate, stories which Barry characterises as slander. However, more often than not, these stories seem to be true.
  • After having been beaten half to death by Barry, Bullington flees the house and volunteers for an English regiment in the American war of independence. This is pounced upon by the Tiptoffs, who thinks that Barry raised a regiment in order to have Bullington join it and be shot by a hired assassin. Later, he is said to die in just such a way.
  • Meanwhile, disgraced at court and increasingly poor, Barry and his family goes to Paris where he spends more money, gambles, pawns heirlooms and cheats on Lady Lyndon. When France declares war on Britain in 1778, he returns and moves on to Ireland for financial reasons.
  • News of Bullington's death are presented as one of the very few positive elements.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Barry Lyndon Plot Summary, Chapters 13, 14 and 15

Chapter 13
  • Barry meets Lady Lyndon, her husband Sir Charles and their son, Viscount Bullington.
  • He gambles with Sir Charles and befriends him. Sir Charles complains about Lady Lyndon, who is an intellectual and admired bluestocking whom he does not love and who does not love him.
  • Sir Charles is dying, so Barry decides to go for Lady Lyndon. His first step is to befriend her chaplain, Mr. Runt.
  • He gets an Irish priest to write letters on transubstantiation for him and in this manner gets into Lady Lyndon's circle.
  • Sir Charles realises what he is up to and is amused, though he tells Barry to marry for love. Barry, however, states that he is only after her money since she has no other charms.
  • Sir Charles takes his good time to die, but as Barry is about to marry another wealthy widow, he does so and Barry returns to Ireland to find Lady Lyndon.
Chapter 14
  • In Ireland, Barry visits all the places he had been to earlier and meets with several old acquaintances. He notes how everything seems to have diminished in quality and speaks slightignly of most things. Castle Brady has been abandoned, Tim, the servant has become tremendously fat, everyone has multiplied and Irish towns and society holds a lower standard than what he remembers from his youth.
  • He pursues Lady Lyndon, bit gets lukewarm response. He imitates the extortionist Captain Fireball and threatens to kill her other suitors.
  • He almost kills Lord George Poynings, her primary suitor in a duel over the pedigree of a horse and uses this to set an example for Lady Lyndon.
  • Having met Ulick, he formulates a plan for his advances on Lady Lyndon.
Chapter 15
  • Having been given advice by his uncle, he pays court to Lady Lyndon.
  • After having wounded Lord George, he finally goes to visit his mother after a year in Ireland.
  • He hints of his plan to his mother, then goes off to deal with Lord George, who maintains his suit from his sickbed.
  • He professes his love for her to him, threatens to murder him, boasts (lies) of his feats and finally shows him Lady Lyndon's letters to him.
  • The letters are almost similar to those sent to Lord George, who is disgusted and rejects Lady Lyndon. Barry meets her afterwards, follows her home, declares his love for her and threatens to publicise her letter if she does not agree to marry him.  Terror, he claims, "is not a bad ingredient of love" (OUP 2008, 218). Tipping the porter handsomely for his future business, he takes his leave.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Barry Lyndon Plot Summary, Chapters 10, 11 and 12

Chapter 10
  • Barry and his uncle leaves Mannheim for the Duchy of X__ where everyone gambles. He describes the Duke, his son Prince Victor and his wife Princess Olivia and moves on to the subject of marriage.
  • He sets his sights on (the estate of) Countess Ida. She wants to marry a sub-lieutenant but the princess does not allow it. It is thought that the young Chevalier de Magny is her intended husband.
  • In order to secure her hand, Barry amasses a considerable gambling credit from Magny. He then threatens to tell the Duke and Magny's grandfather, a respectable general whom he is to inherit. He also threatens to reveal that the princess has given him an heirloom, a famous emerald. He uses their liaison to break off the affair of Magny and Ida and effectively silences both the princess and Magny, using the latter as a pawn.
Chapter 11
  • Barry ingratiates himself with the Duke and the Prince and gets betrothed to the Countess, much against her will.
  • Meanwhile, the affair between the Princess and Magny continues. Barry gives Magny the emerald and he pawns it to a Jew who blackmails the lovers for money. Later, Magny is arrested for the attempted murder of this Jew.
  • Being held in house arrest for six weeks, Barry and his Uncle learns of the events as they unfold.
Chapter 12
  • The story changes setting, to London 1790 where Barry meets the mistress of the old Duke who tells him how said events unfolded.
  • Monsieur de Geldern, the police minister, frames Magny for the attempted murder of the Jew. He is forced to commit suicide by poison in prison by Prince Victor, who has discovered the love affair.
  • The old general de Magny dies from paralysis and grief, the old Duke dies from apoplexy and a pie and the princess is removed to another castle where the Prince has her secretly beheaded. The Prince then recalls all military companies from foreign service. Countess Ida marries the sub-lieutenant and gambling, opera and ballet is forbidden.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Barry Lyndon Plot Summary, Chapters 7, 8 and 9

Chapter 7
  • Barry enters the service of Captain de Potsdorff, nephew and heir to the minister of police, as an ordinance. He brags about his former merits to the Captain and then tells of his slyness in his service.
  • He writes a letter to his mother. The answer makes him homesick.
  • He overhears the police minister advising the Captain to withhold any promotion of him, and when he is sent to spy in the Chevalier de Balibary, who turns out to be his Roman Catholic uncle (Balibary being a latinisation of Ballybarry), he gives himself away on purpose.
Chapter 8
  • Barry joins forces with his uncle and together they spend the days gambling. They work out small reports for the Captain.
  • The Uncle is on a spying mission for the Austrians.
  • They develop a gambling language and play several important personages.
  • Barry reports back a pre-planned story to the Captain. When he reports that Prussian officers had been gambling with his uncle, the captain plans to have him arrested and sent out of the country. Since any promotion is denied him from the Captain's hand, Barry resolves to swap places with his uncle, bringing two pistols.
Chapter 9
  • The scheme works and the Uncle soon joins Barry in Dresden, having caught the Captain trying to burglarise his red box of intelligence and had him sent off to Spandau prison.
  • Barry decides to abandon military life and take up a full time gambling career with his uncle.
  • He discusses whether gambling is disreputable and claims it is no more so than other professions.
  • He tells many stories of success and failure, about the nobility they played and claims that women likes "to play [...] but not to pay" (OUP 2008, 130-131)
  • An associate of theirs, the impostor Count Alessandro Pippi, drugs them and makes off with their funds. They pawn their clothes and jewellery and continue gambling.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Mark Knopfler's Songs About War

There are many ways to write songs about war. Some songs are angry, some are eager but fortunately most can be understood as anti-war songs. Of these, Mark Knopfler is one of those who in my opinion is most successful in describing the powerlessness of those who suffers because of war; soldiers, civilians and those left behind. This is a collection of his best anti-war songs with a reference to the war in question where applicable.

Brothers in Arms
from the album with the same name, one dedicated to an anti-war agenda.

The Man's Too Strong
from the same album. Who is the man? A father would be an authority figure. So might a dictator. In a family, there might be no distinction.

Done With Bonaparte
from the solo album Golden Heart. This clearly refers to the Napoleonic wars, but notice how the last verse foreshadows the Second World War.

Remembrance Day
from his most recent album, Get Lucky. This is about the First World War as indicated through the title and specific topical wording. This song beautifully concludes the list, showing how small the individual becomes in war and how great our obligation to the victims should be.

Barry Lyndon Plot Summary, Chapters 5 and 6

Chapter 5
  • An officer in Barry's regiment, Lieutenant Fakenham, is struck by a bullet. Barry and a private carry him to Warburg, but on returning he is struck unconscious and robbed of the reward by the private.
  • He is laid up in the same house as Fakenham and decides to go mad in order to stay there with nurse Lischen.
  • He steals Fakenham's identity and deserts, fleeing to Cassel. Here, he meets a Prussian officer, Monsieur de Galgenstein who accompanies him towards Düsseldorf.
  • On the way, Barry tells the story of Morgan Prussia, who joined Frederick the Great's "giant regiment". He pretended to have six brothers, left with money to enlist them and settled on a farm with the money.
  • That evening, in a guest house, Galgenstein blows his cover and forces him to enlist in the Prussian army. In an interpolated tale, Barry describes how Galgenstein was later hanged as a spy. Barry is taken off towards the army compound.
Chapter 6
  • In the transportation, Barry meets a pastor candidate who appears as an educated and morally clean version of himself. Upon arrival in a hospital, he tells his story and that of several of their travelling companions. Upon arrival he is drafted into a regiment in Pomerania.
  • In the prison dorm, Barry gets acquainted with Le Blondin, a blonde Frenchman who later stages a mutiny, bringing the soldiers' burden to the forefront.
  • He then meets Fakenham again and, having had a laugh at his expense, gives him a piece of advice which procures his liberty.
  • Barry gives some general notes on being a soldier in the Seven Years' War. He prefers the Prussian army to the English and is rewarded by General Bülow. He keeps out of harm's way through threats.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Barry Lyndon Plot Summary, Chapters 3 and 4

Chapter 3
  • On his way to Dublin, Barry first meets Captain Freeny, the highwayman, then Mrs. Fitzsimons, an impostor. The Fitzsimons invite him to stay with them and during his stay, Barry's financial reserves are nigh depleted. By the time Barry sees through their scheme, they see through his.
  • He is turned out of the house and debts and the threat of exposure forces him to join the army and thus flee Ireland.
Chapter 4
  • Barry, headed for Germany and the Seven Years' War, keeps getting into squabbles on the ship. Fortunately, Captain Fagan boards the ship and keeps him with money and protection. He reveals to Barry how the duel was arranged and after a while gets him promoted to the rank of corporal. Fagan also keeps him with money.
  • Barry narrates how the Seven Years' War would appear from the soldiers' point of view but confesses that he does not fully understand it. He doesn't have a high opinion of military life; he ponders desertion, gambles and gets into squabbles and speaks slightingly of British valour.
  • He tells of his killing of a French colonel and his young ensign, Fagan's death and how he and some other soldiers came to a house, drank the wine of an old woman and her daughters then burned their house down. All this is narrated surprisingly dispassionately.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Dangerous Rhetoric in David Cameron's Speech Outside No. 10

Yesterday, in a speech outside No. 10 Downing Street, David Cameron addressed the nation with regards to the riots. In his speech, he used words and phrases which were not only dangerous but also presenting viewpoints and solutions not necessarily of a constructive nature. His rhetoric did in no way adress the deeper, more complex causes of the disturbances but aimed rather to cure the symptoms in a tone of populist demagogery.

Dire times does to some extent call for stern measures and this is undoubtedly Cameron's greatest challenge so far in his PM career. It is, however, doubtful whether this way of addressing the issues at hand does not make for a widening of the chasm between the conflicting parties and makes later measures more challenging to implement.

To really understand the nature and wider connotations of Cameron's rhetoric, take an initial look at the excerpts below. They are taken out of context in order to show their dangerous implications more clearly. Then, read them in context.

it is quite clear that we need more, much more police on our streets and we need even more robust police action.

we will make sure that court procedures and processes are speeded up and people should expect to see more, many more arrests in the days to come.

You will feel the full force of the law


Cameron condemns scenes of violence

Tuesday, August 9 2011

The Prime Minister this morning announced that Parliament would be recalled on Thursday in order to respond to the violence and looting in London and other cities.

David Cameron condemned the scenes of violence. Speaking outside Downing Street he said:

"I have come straight from a meeting of the Government's COBRA committee for dealing with emergencies where we have been discussing the action we will be taking to help the police to deal with the disorder on the streets of London and elsewhere in our country.

"I have also met with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary to discuss this further. And people should be in no doubt that we will do everything necessary to restore order to Britain's streets and to make them safe for the law abiding.

"Let me first of all completely condemn the scenes that we have seen on our television screens and people have witnessed in their communities. These are sickening scenes, scenes of people looting, vandalising, thieving, robbing. Scenes of people attacking police officers and even attacking fire crews as they try to put out fires.

"This is criminality pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated. I feel huge sympathy for the families who have suffered. Innocent people who have been burned out of their houses and to businesses who have seen their premises smashed, their products looted and their livelihoods potentially ruined.

"I also feel for all those who live in fear because of these appalling scenes that we have seen on the streets of our country. People should be on no doubt that we are on the side of the law abiding. Law abiding people who are appalled by what has happened in their own communities. As ever police officers have shown incredible bravery on our streets in confronting these thugs, but it is quite clear that we need more, much more police on our streets and we need even more robust police action. And it is that that I have been discussing in COBRA this morning.

"The Metropolitan police commissioner said that compared with the 6000 police in the street last night in London there will be some 16,000 officers tonight there will be aid coming from police forces up and down the country and we will do everything necessary to strengthen and assist those police forces that are meeting this disorder. There's already been 450 people arrested, we will make sure that court procedures and processes are speeded up and people should expect to see more, many more arrests in the days to come.

"I am determined, the Government is determined that justice will be done and these people will see the consequences of their actions. And I have this very clear message to those people who are responsible for this wrongdoing and criminality. You will feel the full force of the law and if you are old enough to commit these crimes you are old enough to face the punishments and to these people I would say this, you are not only wrecking the lives of others, you are not only wrecking your own communities, you are potentially wrecking your own life too.

"My office this morning has spoken to the speaker of the House of Commons and he has agreed that parliament will be recalled for a day on Thursday so I can make a statement to parliament and we can hold a debate and we are all able to stand together in condemnation of these crimes and also to stand together in determination to rebuild these communities. Now, if you will excuse me there is important work to be done. Thank-you."


Source: Conservatives Homepage, 10.08.2011

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Two Satirical Poems About One Man

Jonathan Swift's A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General and Robert Southey's After Blenheim both take a satirical approach to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. One of Winston Churchill's ancestors, he served as a general in the British Army, most notably in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) where he famously won the Battle of Blenheim in 1704.

Both poems give interesting comments on war and warmongering contrasting the glory and skill of soldiering with the death and devastation of war. They both exhibit the tone which would appear more prominently in war poets such as Wilfred Owen two hundred years later.

A few notes...

A Satirical Elegy

  • The poem is written in iambic tetrameter. In English, heroic verse, a form traditionally used in epic and dramatic poetry, is iambic pentameter. The missing iamb, then, signifies a lack and reflects the satirical content in form. The rhyme is masculine end rhyme in couplets (aabbccdd...)
  • The elegy as a poetic composition usually laments and pays tribute to someone who has died. However, Swift does the opposite, making this the second formal reflection of satirical content. For my post on the mock-epic, click here.
  • Swift's satires were, in general, Juvenalian ones. These are opposed to Horatian satires, which are gently mocking folly. Named after Horace, the Horatian satire is fairly sympathetic while Juvenalian satire, named after Juvenal, takes a more scornful view of its target, which is evil rather than folly. Juvenalian satires are more likely to use dark humour and sarcasm and see no hope where Horatian satires do. Swift's comments on Marlborough here are distinctly Juvenalian.
  • A few explanatory notes:
    • Swift takes a scornful view of the life and achievements of Marlborough which is shown amongst other things in the lines mentioned below.
    • Line 6-8: This refers to the final judgement. According to Swift, Marlborough will not do well at the last trump.
    • Line 16: Swift emphasises the physical and unpleasant for satirical effect. This he commonly did, perhaps most notably in The Lady's Dressing Room. For my discussion of this satire, click here.
    • Line 17-22: Nobody grieves for him because he caused enough grief "in his day".
    • Line 26: The praise of the general is like a bubble; seems substantial , but is hollow and easily undone.
    • Line 32: This line refers to Genesis 2.7 albeit with a twist. While Genesis states that "[...]God formed man of the dust of the ground [...]", Swift claims that Marlborough sprung from dirt, which has slightly different connotations. See my note on line 16 in relation to this.
After Blenheim
  • The poem is written in alternating iambic tetra- and trimeter. The final couplet consists of two lines of iambic tetrameter, decisively ending the stanza but also disrupting the metric pattern. The masculine end rhyme follows an abcbdd pattern in all stanzas, except the second which plays a disruptive role. Here, the word found is repeated in the fourth and fifth line, adding tension and changing the rhyme pattern to abcbbb.
  • The ballad was originally sung, which accounts for the first four lines, corresponding to the four line ballad stanza. This, coupled with alliteration, also accounts for the relatively harmonious feel of the poem.
  • Where Swift uses the properties of the elegy to create a sense of the uncanny and grotesque, Southey does so with those of the ballad. Incidentally, Freud's "uncanny" is discussed in these three posts.
  • The effect of the poem stems largely from the combination of the peaceful, sunlit setting, the violent events discussed and the old farmer's repeated insistence that the victory was supposedly great and famous.

What do you think? 

In both these poems, structure is used as much to produce an emotional response as content. What do you think of this strategy? Is it a necessity of satire? Does it help the satire along or does it obscure the message of the poems and mar their content? On a slightly different note, do the reader have to be aware of standards of structure to be affected by the form of the poem? If so, how much awareness or literary competence is required?
The Tale of Sir Bob appreciates your input!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Barry Lyndon Plot Summary, Chapters 1 and 2

Chapter 1

  • The Barries came to Ireland with Simon de Bary who was given a piece of land for his services during Richard II's military intervention. (This would have been in 1394-95)
  • During Elizabeth I's reign, Roderick "Rory" Barry was in a feud and a passing band of English soldiers under Roger Lyndon offered to aid. Having successfully ended the feud, the English stay with the Barries, causing Rory's son Phaudrig to plot their deaths. His sister, however, who was enamoured of Lyndon warned him and the English killed the Barries and seized their land.
  • Henry "Roaring Harry" Barry, protagonist Redmond Barry's father was famous for his skills at fighting, hunting and riding. He converted to Protestantism to be able to legally inherit the estate in the place of his older, Catholic brother who goes on to join the Jacobite uprising and feature prominently later in the novel. It also allows him to marry Bell Brady, the local beauty and Redmond's mother to be.
  • On the point of being provided for by George II, Harry dies. Since he had spent the family fortune, Bell and Redmond returns to Ireland and is invited to stay with Michael Brady, Bell's brother at Castle Brady.
  • When Bell's poverty becomes apparent she leaves Castle Brady on Mrs. Brady's insistence. In spite of this, his mother stays respectable, according to Barry.
  • Barry is invited to stay at Brady's. Here, he is beaten by Mick, the oldest son, but fights back. He spends his days looking for and getting into fights.
  • He claims he had great talents, but ran away from school because of the Latin lessons.
  • He relates an interpolated episode where he meets Samuel Johnson, James Boswell and Oliver Goldsmith and bests them in discussion.
  • He satirically comments on ladies' passivity in courtship and muses on a reversal of roles. In doing so he uses language of violence and conquest.
  • Furthermore, he relates the story of his first love, his coquettish cousin Honoria Brady (christened by Jonathan Swift and eight years his senior).
  • The country starts preparing for a possible French invasion and Barry meets a number of officers. Nora practices her coquetry on him, so much so that when she abandons him for the English Captain Quin, he takes desperate measures. He runs the horse he and Nora is riding into the river, nearly drowning them both and he ends up in a fever. While confined to his sick-bed, he writes poetry to Nora and discovers her and Quin together. He challenges him to a duel and Nora's reaction disgusts Quin, who tries to break off their relationship. At that moment, Mick, to whom Quin ows a sum of money, shows up and joins the fight.
Chapter 2

  • Nora feigns a faint during which Quin escapes.
  • Barry ponders his faith and bemoans his lot for some hours. Then, at dinner, he learns that Quin and Nora are in fact engaged to be married and in consequence, he flings a class of wine at Quin. This act serves as a duel challenge. Mick and his younger brother Ulick, who has tended to take Barry's side against his brother, follows Quin home, presumably in order to stop him from running away.
  • Barry is followed home by another officer, Fagan, who unsuccessfully tries to dissuade him from duelling. Barry is offered to apologise and be paid by Quin to go to Dublin, but refuses the offer.
  • At the duel, Barry is told to aim at Quin's neck. They use Quin's pistols and as Quin's death seems staged and Barry is urged to leave three times, the duel might be rigged.
  • At Ulick's insistence, Barry adopts Redmond as a surname and leaves his mother's house for Dublin.
Source: Thackeray, W.M.: Barry Lyndon, Oxford Paperbacks, New Ed., 1999

Sunday, 17 July 2011

"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll

This poem from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There is a lingering one. There is something about the language which makes me return to the poem over and over. Carroll had a knack for language, inventing words as he went along with great success. He explained his procedure in the preface to The Hunting of The Snark:

As this poem is to some extent connected with the lay of the Jabberwock, let me take this opportunity of answering a question that has often been asked me, how to pronounce "slithy toves." The "i" in "slithy" is long, as in "writhe"; and "toves" is pronounced so as to rhyme with "groves." Again, the first "o" in "borogoves" is pronounced like the "o" in "borrow." I have heard people try to give it the sound of the "o" in "worry. Such is Human Perversity.

This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard works in that poem. Humpty-Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all.

For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious." Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards " fuming," you will say "fuming-furious;" if they turn, by even a hair's breadth, towards "furious," you will say "furious-fuming;" but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say "frumious."

Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words--

Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!"

Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William or Richard, but had not been able to settle which, so that he could not possibly say either name before the other, can it be doubted that, rather than die, he would have gasped out "Rilchiam!


I interviewed a few people and asked them to go "galumphing", a word coined and frequently used by Carroll. Although none of them knew the word from before, they all did what Eddie Izzard, miming a moving giraffe does here. That is the true mark of linguistic genius.

So, without further ado, on with the poem!

Lewis Carroll


And Alice described it very well:

"It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to understand!" (You see she didn't like to confess even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas--only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate---"
Sources: Preface, Poem, End Quotation