Don’t Throw the Baby/Tristram Out With the Bath Water/Book

By now, it is apparent that the confusion and difficulties in creating a linear plot in Tristram Shandy’s pseudo-autobiography are parallel to the difficulties experienced in life like trying to move in a unilateral, progressive direction, and trying to make sense of all the things that can happen over the course of a lifetime. As Stephen Frye said in “A Cock and Bull Story”: “life is too full, too rich to be able to be captured by art.”. I am still unconvinced that that point needs to be berated and painstakingly illustrated over 700 pages but nevertheless it is a concept worth exploring. I am not exactly on “Team Shandy” and will most likely never crack the book again after this course is done; that is not to say this book is entirely useless, entirely being the operative word. There are occasionally moments of clarity and intellectual gems that surface every now and again throughout this book.

While it may be difficult to relate to much of what is happening in this book, at the beginning of Volume VII, a passage stood out to me. Tristram is talking about the process of writing his story as he ages and how long he will have to write about his life as it is slowly dwindling away. “I have forty volumes to write, and forty thousand things to say and do, which nobody in the world will say and do for me[.]” (Shandy 432). This is a common theme we can see apparent in later works of literature, where the author discusses their own mortality, the mutability of life, and the desire to create things while they are still living. An obvious example that immediately came to my mind upon reading this was that of John Keats’ sonnet “When I have Fears”. Shandy does not take the time to come to resolutions for these life questions, as Keats does, before he is on to the next thought that happens to pass through his brain; but for a moment, he does engage with the transience of his own existence. Perhaps part of the reason this book may seem so scattered is because of the pressing feeling Shandy has about making sure as much of his story as possible makes it to the page; he may not feel he has the time to organize his thoughts but only has time enough to convey them as they come to the forefront of his mind.

Much like within our own lives, amidst the confusion and disarray, there can be brief segments that speak to a larger purpose or to common human experiences. My life could not be more different from Tristram Shady’s and yet we both grapple with similar questions about our existence and the purpose for it at different periods in history, at different points in our lives, and in different realms of reality. Aren’t we all just trying to make our imprint on the world we live in before we no longer live in it?

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