I say this for two reasons: 1. I have decided to attempt the illusive PetchaKucha presentation style, probably because I am a sucker for punishment; and 2. because I think I ‘get’ The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
As I was reading the other night, I had an epiphany! Our course is about the history of reading, a history of reading would not be possible without also looking at the history of writing; the two concepts are nothing without each other. My argument is this: as convoluted, and usually quite confusing and frustrating, Tristram Shandy is to read I believe that Sterne’s choice to write in this fashion is to prove the power he holds as an author. We have already discussed how Sterne is aware of the limitations writing presents such as with imagery and an aural sense; however, we have not yet delved into the powers a written format enables. Sterne is flexing his authoritative power, using the power of the book to do what cannot be done in person; jumping around between ideas, digressions, interruptions, inexhaustible details about seemingly meaningless side tracks, none of these are things that would be tolerated in a conversation or lecture. Yet, Sterne provides all of these techniques and more in his novel it has found an audience for nearly 150 years. Authority is after all built upon the word author, so whether we find Tristram ‘believable’ or ‘trustworthy’ as a narrator he is in this case also to be considered the author of this extremely wrinkled story; therefore, he controls the narrative and the reader has a choice to let him lead as he may, or to close the book.
Sterne exemplifies Tristram’s father and Uncle Toby’s stories as justification to why Tristram writes in the manner he does; his style is influenced by the obsessive tendencies he has acquired from these main role models. Sterne, however, writes as he does because of his need to prove the liberties that may be taken in a written format.
Sterne and the reader are taking a journey down the same path only at different times and by different approaches. I will discuss how Sterne influences the reader’s knowledge through his peculiar writing style, and how he spits in the face of traditional writing styles. Through the scope of how he challenges the usual ‘function’ and ‘form’ of a book I will demonstrate Sterne’s Romantic tendencies.
In conclusion, I will demonstrate how The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is not at all a book about nothing, but in fact a book overloaded with an overwhelming amount of everything even relatively pertinent to the story of Tristram’s life and opinions.
1. Do you find Sterne’s technique for writing The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman radical or even revolutionary, or simply the ramblings of a madman?
2. Does the idea of Sterne’s flexing his authoritative power allow you to see the novel in a different light that provides a connection between the otherwise loosely related narrative?