Friday, September 18, 2009

Footnotes: The Future Of Fiction

Pity the poor writer of fiction. Every published sentence is now zealously scrutinised for the possibility of insult, injury or offence.

Happily, there is a solution, and it's not spelt B-A-N.

It's time to use the device beloved of David Foster Wallace as a means of mollifying those who feel that the author's only purpose is to hurt their tender feelings.

As an example of how this would work in practice, here are the opening paragraphs of three books that were themselves proscribed not all that long ago.

Lolita, Curtailed

Lolita, light[1] of my life, fire of my loins. My sin[2], my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock[3]. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child[4]. In a princedom[5] by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style[6].

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns[7].

[1] The word “light” is not meant to denigrate the efforts of electricity companies who cannot provide continuous power.
[2] This is not an appeal to readers to commit an offence.
[3] The author recommends that both socks be kept on; should anyone slip, he is not liable for resultant injuries.
[4] Children, be they girls or boys, deserve education.
[5] This word is not to be found in the dictionary. No aspersions are to be cast on the capabilities of those who have compiled one.
[6] The innocent are also known for exemplary prose styles.
[7] No flower is without one of these; hence caution is advised.

Ulysses, Halted

Stately, plump[1] Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a razor[2] and a mirror lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

- Introibo ad altare Dei[3].

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs[4] and called up coarsely:

- Come up, Kinch. Come up you fearful jesuit[5].

[1] The author recognises that there are different body types and each one is worthy of respect.
[2] Rash use of this item has been known to result in grievous injury.
[3] A part of the Latin Mass, and used for representational purposes only. There is no intention to forcibly or otherwise convert those of a different religious persuasion.
[4] These should be taken one at a time, and slowly.
[5] Not all Jesuits are fearful. Some are excellent chaps

Lady Chatterley's Lover, Reprimanded

Ours is essentially a tragic age[1], so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future[2]: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen[3].

This was more or less Constance Chatterley’s position. The war had brought the roof down over her head[4]. And she had realized that one must live and learn.

She married Clifford Chatterley in 1917[5], when he was home for a month on leave. They had a month’s honeymoon. Then he went back to Flanders: to be shipped over to England again six months later, more or less in bits[6]. Constance, his wife, was then twenty-three years old, and he was twenty-nine.

[1] Not all ages are tragic. It depends upon the historian.
[2] This expression is not meant to censure the excellent work of municipal corporations who do so much to keep our thoroughfares tidy.
[3] The author has never personally experienced a falling sky. The expression is used metaphorically.
[4] See footnote 3, above.
[5] The author is in sympathy with those who enter into same-sex marriages and this observation is not meant to look down upon such alliances.
[6] Although this is not to be construed as an anti-war sentiment, the author wishes in his personal capacity that we all would give peace a chance.


sarahloldfield said...

DFW's endnotes have a quirky charm, but political correctness in literature; Heaven forfend!

Great post; very topical as 'the right to not be offended' is increasingly, and internationally, promoted at the expense of freedom of speech. But, serious considerations aside, also an entertaining and witty post; enjoyed it immensely.

Unknown said...

Thanks. One the one hand, fiction still has the power to outrage, even at a time when the practice of reading is supposed to be on the wane; on the other, it's used as a whipping boy by vested interests looking to promote their own agenda. O tempora, o mores.