Jonathan Dueck ENGL 503 Essay Prospectus and Annotated Bibliography

I have never done one of these before, so hopefully it meets the criteria – I am open to any suggestions/criticism.

Jonathan Dueck ENGL 503 Essay Prospectus and Annotated Bibliography

Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is a classic English work that defies categorization and understanding, driven as it is by a fragmented and progressively regressive narrative in which, to go forward in the story, Tristram counter-intuitively yet almost compulsively retreats increasingly further backwards in narrative time and obscurity. In my ENGL 503 Essay I will argue that these and other properties make Tristram Shandy an ideal example for the effectiveness of digital algorithmic criticism as articulated by Stephen Ramsay in his treatise Reading Machines: Toward An Algorithmic Criticism. In arguing this, I will draw upon various critical sources, ultimately building a case for three vital ways in which the reading and criticism of Sterne’s novel is ameliorated by the application of digital reading practices in the expansion and effectiveness of textual deformative strategies.

I will first elaborate briefly upon the traditional perceptions of Tristram Shandy and the various difficulties inherent in a reading of it, and I will then proceed to a discussion of Ramsay’s relevant ideas of future digital reading practices. Following this introductory groundwork, my essay will discuss the first of my three major points, namely the manner in which digital reading strategies provide a means for ordering and understanding the various marginalia and extra-textual features of Sterne’s novel. These features, which include both a blank and a black page, as well as a multitude of asterisks and dashes, can be usefully contextualized through new deformative strategies, and their elusive significance and content can now be hypothesized through the tracing of patterns, with a much greater degree of accuracy than has heretofore ever been possible.

Following the aforementioned discussion, I will examine the vast referential nature of Tristram Shandy as evinced by its numerous extratexual and intertexual citations, the Tristrapedia, and the inclusion of seemingly unrelated documents and stories in the body of the novel. I will argue that the possibilities provided by digital reading practices, such as the capacity to readily access and link these references to each other and to numerous other conceptions, notes, and definitions contemporary to Sterne, work to greatly enhance the digital reader’s ability to coherently and efficiently follow the exhaustive digressions of Sterne’s narrative. These expanded deformative capabilities help the reader/critic organize the disjunctions and fragmentations of the narrative and even understand Sterne’s humour.

Finally, I will discuss the narrative mapping of Tristram Shandy and Sterne’s active participation in our reading of the text, and how digital reading practices can enable a somewhat orderly reading and particularly an understanding of the various narrative tones employed by Sterne in ‘conversation’ with his different readers. I will argue that algorithmic criticism’s provision of clarity and enhanced comprehensibility will allow increased accessibility, opening Tristram Shandy to a previously excluded readership that simply did not possess the level of proficiency required for a qualified critic of this novel that seems to defy its own genre. My conclusion will provide a brief summary of my argument.


Annotated Bibliography:

Freeman, John. “Delight in the (Dis)order of Things: Tristram Shandy and the Dynamics of

Genre.” Studies in the Novel Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer 2002, pp. 141-161.

EBSCO. Web. 19 March 2013.

-Discusses the anti-Newtonian nature of Sterne’s narrative and the discrepancies and challenging effects of scale in the novel, particularly its seemingly random oscillation between large and small scale perspectives. This argument for the tendency toward chaos in Tristram Shandy will be useful for making each of my essay’s three major points.

Keymer, Thomas, ed. Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: A Casebook. New York: Oxford

University Press Inc., 2006. Print.

—. “Sterne and the ‘New Species of Writing.’” Keymer 50-75.

-Discussion of Sterne’s controlling influence on the narrative and the various techniques utilized by the author in accomplishing this, but most importantly focuses on the various critical approaches to the novel and its potential intertextuality. This article will be important for addressing both the second and third major points of my essay’s argument.

—. “Introduction.” Keymer 3-19.

-Extremely relevant introductory comments that will be useful in framing my essay’s general discussion of Tristram Shandy, as well as making my third major point regarding interaction with and interpretation of the novel.

New, Melvyn. “Sterne and the Narrative of Determinatedness.” Keymer 191-209.

-Discusses the vast body of ‘external’ material found in Tristram Shandy, namely documents, sermons, short stories, and a host of classical references, and how they work together to link Sterne’s novel to humanity in general. This article will be particularly useful in marking my essay’s second major point.

Ostovich, Helen. “Reader as Hobby-Horse in Tristram Shandy.” Keymer 171-190.

-Discusses the narrative interplay between Sterne, writing as Tristram, and his various created readers, particularly ‘Madam’ and ‘Sir’, noting how they parallel the interactions of the novel`s characters. This will be useful in making my essay’s third major point.

Ramsay, Stephen. Reading Machines: Toward An Algorithmic Criticism. Chicago:

University of Illinois Press, 2011. Print.

-Primary text.

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. London: Penguin

Books Ltd. 2003. Print.

-Primary text.

Voogd, Peter J. “Tristram Shandy as Aesthetic Object.” Keymer 108-119.

-Discusses the aesthetic properties of Sterne`s work such as the proliferation of dashes and asterisks, explaining their significance for the work as a whole. This exploration of the contrast between text and image and its various effects will be vital for making my essay’s first major point.

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One Response to Jonathan Dueck ENGL 503 Essay Prospectus and Annotated Bibliography

  1. ullyot says:

    An ambitious beginning! I don’t think you’ll be able to do all of the things you propose here, but it’s best to start large and trim afterward. For instance, it’s a little unclear how the blank & black pages can be “usefully contextualized through new deformative strategies” — and below, whether the digressions can be “followed” even though many have multiple layers and levels and never finish.

    One question you could explore is whether a plain-text TS is adequate to your needs, or whether the text needs marking-up or to prepare it for the algorithms. For instance, Ramsay’s analysis of characters in *The Waves* relies on distinctions between those characters to begin with, as opposed (that is) to an undifferentiated mass of text, like we have for TS. What would your ideal encoded text look like?

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