Showing posts with label parody. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parody. Show all posts

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Art of Dedication

Anaïs Nin

Dedications, like Prefaces, are a neglected field in the study of book construction and creative composition. But they can reveal quite a lot about power and politics; authorship and authority; celebration and bitterness.

In critical terms deconstructionists would argue that a preface displaces and defaces the text that follows, perhaps (humorously?) tripping it up, or tying it up in precursor knots.Often Jacques Derrida never got past the deconstruction of the preface, or a footnote therein, in order to make his 'point'.

And you probably recall all the levels of ludicrous entrapment that Jonathan Swift employed in A Tale of a Tub (1704) ?

Have dedications grown shorter and more ironic (or bitter) since the decline of aristocratic patronage? Are they still a zone of praise or insult?

What about this one, taken from Herman Melville's Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1854)

His Highness

(Discussed in detail in Edgar A. Dryden's Monumental Melville: The Formation of a Literary Career, Stanford University Press, 2004; and in Ian S. Maloney's Melville's Monumental Imagination, Routledge, 2006).

America repaid the 'compliment' on a 20c stamp.(See below)

Recently, I came across a polite call to action from the late 1960s.

In those days dedications offer a different diet for democracy:

This book is dedicated to sensitive Americans.
 May they create a sensitive America.

- Anaïs Nin, The Novel of the Future (1968).

If you're interested in this topic a good place to start is Alasdair Gray's anthology and commentary: The Book of Prefaces. (I started reading it backwards, beginning with the cleverness of G.B. Shaw and the haunting words of Wilfred Owen).

Have you come across any memorable prefaces or dedications? Let me know if you have!

Herman Melville postage stamp

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Idea of the Ludicrous

In this post Alexander Bain offers definitions and examples of the ludicrous.

108. The Ludicrous and the Laughable are names for what excites laughter.

Among the causes of laughter we may name abundance of animal spirits, any sudden accession of pleasure, the special elation of power and superiority, or an unexpected diversion of the mind when under excitement.

109. The Ludicrous in composition is for the most part based on the degradation, direct or indirect, of some person or interest—something associated with power, dignity, or gravity. It is farther requisite that the circumstances of this degradation should not be such as to produce any other strong emotion, as pity, anger, or fear.

Comedy took its rise from the jeering and personal vituperation indulged in during the processions in honor of the god Dionysus, or Bacchus. In the regular comedy, and in every kind of composition aiming at the laughable, the essential in gradient is the vilifying and degrading of men or institutions commanding some degree of veneration or respect.

The pleasure thus afforded is very great, and has a strong affinity with that feeling of exalted energy entering into the sublime. To throw down anything from a height is a signal manifestation of power, and, as such, gratifies the agent and those that enter into his feelings. Even where the prostration is not designed by a conscious agent, as when any one tumbles in the mud, or takes fright at an unexpected appearance, we experience a degree of enjoyment corresponding to the greatness of the effect. When our sympathy is with the object thrown down, the tendency to laughter is arrested, and some other feeling takes its place.

The following are examples of this degradation. When Moliere introduces the celestial messenger of the gods, sitting tired on a cloud, and complaining of the number of Jupiter's errands, Night expresses surprise that a god should be weary; whereupon Mercury indignantly asks, "Are the gods made of iron?" This degradation of divine personages is ludicrous and delightful to unbelievers. Accordingly, in the decline of Paganism, the gods came to be a subject of mirth in such compositions as the Dialogues of Lucian.

A Frenchman, disappointed with English cookery, exclaimed, 'Behold a land with sixty religions, and only one sauce.'  The putting of religion and sauce upon a level partly degrades religion, but still more degrades the speaker; and there is a complex effect of the ludicrous.

The lines of Hudibras,

And, like a lobster boiled, the morn
From black to red began to turn,

contain an obvious degradation of a dignified subject, although belonging to the inanimate world. Whatever inspires us with lofty feelings of admiration or awe can be a subject of ludicrous prostration, if we are disposed to exult over the fall. We usually enjoy the laugh at something that we observe other people respecting, but do not ourselves respect.

The incident of Queen Sophie Charlotte's taking a pinch of snuff during the pompous and protracted coronation ceremonial of her husband Friedrich I., of Prussia, is intensely ludicrous. The rules of decorum were treated with contempt, and the splendor of a pageant suddenly dashed by an act suggestive of ennui.

The Burlesque, the Mock-heroic, Parody, Travesty, Caricature, are modes of composition answering to the general character of the ludicrous. Either some elevated object is treated in a low and vulgar style, or a mean object in the style of things dignified; in both cases, there is an effect of degradation.

110. The circumstances of the laughable may vary between two extremes :—

For the one extreme, we have the pure pleasure of power shading into malignity, as seen in the laugh of victory, derision, ridicule, scorn, contumely, contempt.

In composition, this is exemplified in the writings of Swift and Voltaire, in the letters of Junius, and in the comedies of Aristophanes. Unmeasured denunciation, abuse, sarcasm, give this pleasure, provided they do not rouse sympathy towards the victim.

111. At the other end of the scale, the exultation of power is disguised by various arts; and the laugh assumes a genial and kindly character. This is Humour. 

(English Composition and Rhetoric: A Manual, 1867.)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Arts of Meditation and Blogging, before the Age of Computing

Robert Boyle
The reflective essay on a variety of topics can be traced back to Montaigne (1533-1592). His essays display erudite wit and a slippery, speculative, anecdotal approach to a range of themes. In the course of reading his work we start to piece together fragments of his personality and we warm to his humane openness to life.

Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was also significant for his ability to compose meditative and inspiring short essays on any topic. Examples are The Christian Virtuoso (1690-91) and his Occasional Reflections on Several Subjects (1665) which included a defence of his methodology.

The notion that ordinary, ephemeral topics were suitable for serious readers and profound spiritual reflection was most famously parodied in Jonathan Swift’s Meditations on a Broomstick (1701)

But a Broom-stick, perhaps you'll say, is an Emblem of a Tree standing on its Head; and pray what is Man, but a Topsy-turvy Creature, his Animal Faculties perpetually mounted on his Rational; His Head where his Heels should be; groveling on the Earth, and yet with all his Faults, he sets up to be a universal Reformer and Corrector of Abuses, a Remover of Grievances, rakes into every Slut's Corner of Nature, bringing hidden Corruptions to the Light, and raises a mighty Dust where there was none before, sharing deeply all the while, in the very same Pollutions he pretends to sweep away: His last Days are spent in Slavery to Women, and generally the least deserving; 'till worn to the Stumps, like his Brother Bezom, he's either kicked out of Doors, or made use of to kindle Flames, for others to warm Themselves by.

The potential afforded by common topics and events in urban life was also demonstrated in the magazine- style journalism of the early eighteenth century. Most noteworthy in this regard were The Spectator papers composed by Steele and Addison in 1711-12. The Spectator aimed to "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses" (No. 10) In that respect there was a democratic and anti-hierarchical element that corresponds to the unrestricted ethos of blog composition.

Typically articles or papers were about 2,500 words and together they composed over 500 of them. Although the print run was about 3000, the publications were passed from hand to hand, or read aloud to groups. As a result it has been estimated that perhaps as many as 60,000 people encountered their work.

Social historian and theorist Jürgen Habermas has proposed that The Spectator was instrumental in the "structural transformation of the public sphere" because of its inspirational role in fostering gentle conduct and mild mannered cultural exchanges between member of the emergent middle class communities. Like blogging the open form contributed to a wider and more inclusive public sphere.

While interactivity is a modern technological notion, it is nonetheless clear that Steele and Addison cultivated and played on a response to and engagement with their readers by reflecting their community interests; by being true to life; taking on an amicable personal tone, and even including and responding to ‘reader’s letters’ in the course of their reflections on social topics, trends, and customs.

The Joy of Linking - my new book: The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences here.