Absurdism, Books

Soviet Deadpan

Here is an tale, written in 1936, by the Russian writer Daniil Kharms.

An old woman fell out of a window because she was too curious. She fell and broke into pieces.
Another old woman leaned out of the window and looked at the one that had broken into pieces, but because she was too curious, she also fell out of the window – fell and broke into pieces.
Then a third woman fell out of the window, then a fourth, and then a fifth.
When the sixth old woman fell out of the window, I became fed up with watching them and went to the Maltsevsky Market, where they said a blind man had been presented with a knit scarf. Continue reading

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Absurdism, Books, Rhetoric

A fellow of infinite jest

Recently I summarised, dissected, reviewed and analysed Cervantes’s masterwork Don Quixote. It elicited a request for further classic works, more revered than read, to be so treated. Here, in a continuation of that public service, therefore, is my rumination on an English comic novel: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne, first published in York in 1759.

The Monty Python team once held an All-England Summarise Proust Competition in which the finalists were required to summarise A la recherche du Temps Perdu, once in swimsuit and once in evening dress. Continue reading

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Absurdism, Books

Rise of the deplorable

What is to be done?

Here is a story of hope.

Human beings are innately good and amendable to reason. As soon as, by enlightenment and emancipation, humans have overcome unreason and superstition and religion, a scientific-based humanism can be established with a chance of happiness for all. A predictive model of human behaviour can then advantageously guide economic and political relations. By this rational and scientific thinking, and a compassionate regard for all humanity, the human world can be rebuilt on secular lines. Humans, freed from archaism, will see that what is in their interest is also in society’s interest and act together in harmony upon it. Irrationality and hatred and violence, over time, can therefore be made unnecessary. What is needed is education and scientifically sound laws that promote this harmonious regulated life. This materialist philosophy of rational self-interest and progressiveness will promote happiness for all.

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Books, Law

Fallaciousness

How is one to give evidence of literary merit in a court of law?” asks Sybille Bedford in her short account of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial (re-published this month by Daunt Books).

The story of the trial is well known. Penguin Books, the publishers of D. H. Lawrence’s novel, were charged with publishing an obscene book under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and tried at the Old Bailey in November 1960. Despite the condescending patrician grandstanding of the prosecutor Mr Mervyn Griffith-Jones “is this a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read”, “members of the jury for those of you who have forgotten your Greek, ‘phallus’ means the image of a man’s penis” and the moralising judge Mr Justice Byrne (and his scowling wife sitting daily with him on the bench) the jury acquitted.

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Absurdism, Books

Windmills of the mind, Part 2

Don Quixote’s madness stems from his literal reading of books of chivalric romance and his deluded belief that he actually is a knight errant. He rides out into the realist world of Cervantes’ novel with a lofty dedication, inflicting his good intentions on others, and time and again is buffeted by stubborn reality. Quixote is generous, brave, courteous, resilient, knowledgeable, eloquent, and a complete idiot. I wrote about Part 1 of the novel last month. He rides out again, in Part 2, with his trusty squire Sancho Panza, having been revived after a month’s rest and the consumption of six hundred eggs.

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Art, Books

Windmills of the mind

Don Quixote goes mad in the second paragraph of his own story. This madness, diagnosed by Cervantes, flows from the belief that everything he has read in books of chivalric romance is literally true. He fails to distinguish fiction from reality. His madness is therefore not chemical, nor genetic, nor the result of abusive nurture, but stems from too much reading and, more precisely, too little ability to read what he is reading. His is a literary ailment. In a book of chivalric romance this knight-errant would be quite normal. In a realist novel he is mad; a character who falls frequent prey to his delusions. Continue reading

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