Monday, October 18, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Five

I wasn't going to post updates on my reading of Sterne's postmodernist premodern novel, but today at lunch I ran across this gem:

Writers of my stamp have one principle in common with painters. Where an exact copying makes our pictures less striking, we choose the less evil; deeming it even more pardonable to trespass against truth, than beauty. This is to be understood cum grano salis; but be it as it will,--as the parallel is made more for the sake of letting the apostrophe cool, than any thing else,--'tis not very material whether upon any other score the reader approves of it or not.

In other words, the narrator announces himself unreliable: if he must choose between truth and beauty, he'll choose beauty and he doesn't much care how you feel about that.


  1. I need to take that to heart myself.

    Plus, dang, that's entertaining.

  2. Part of the entertainment of this book is that it is a long essay on how to write an entertaining book. At one point, Shandy (or Sterne) tells you why he's digressing so often, how it's actually a way for him to keep the story moving forward while appearing to not be going anywhere and it's all a parlor trick, all smoke and mirrors to look like he's doing nothing but digressing when in fact he's building the story up at each turn almost under our very noses, and he thinks he's doing a pretty good job of it though he hates to brag, of course.

  3. It's in the back of my mind to someday, when I'm past the point in my career of needing to cater to agents and editors, that I should craft a late model novel in the vein this sort of 19th/19th century self-indulgent literary wit.

    Then I remember that I'm just not smart enough, and I go have a cup of coffee and a hunk of curried onion and call it a day.

  4. My next band is "cum grano salis"