This may or may not be an Anti-Prospectus

First and foremost, I plan on answering the second topic in my English 503 paper or blog. I had really and truly hoped to avoid crossing paths with Tristram Shandy ever again, but it turns out to make more sense when writing on the second topic. I plan to argue that Laurence Sterne’s novel, challenges the traditional forms and rules of literature present before its time. In doing so, Sterne encourages a very different kind of reading and writing within his work, and promotes newer (though not necessarily better) forms of writing – thus the encouragement of methods of future reading. Ramsay’s Reading Machines, will undoubtedly be helpful in my work.

I plan to analyze Sterne’s style of writing, as well as the syntax and forms used within the work through the lens of Russian Formalism and of Post-structuralism, primarily using the works of Lacan and Shklovsky to help me analyze the text. I also intend to consider the writing itself, while discussing its content and disorder on its own – simply as a piece of unconventional writing. As I mentioned before, Tristram Shandy is a work which overturns many of the previously seen novels: Ivan describes the book as an “anti novel” in his work, saying its unconventional use of time and presentation of events, the constant digressions and interruptions and the shifts from one language to another (among other things) are what lead it to be known as such.

The Russian Formalist perspective that I will also be using to analyze the text, further highlights the defamiliarized form of the novel – how its construction and its fragmented form, resembles a blog or a diary more than a true novel. In effect, Sterne changed the face of the novel as it had been previously known, and made it something completely new and ‘strange’.

Post-Structuralism touches on the notion that the meaning of the text is related to the reader rather than the purpose of the author meaning that we as modern readers are not consistently able to understand all of the references that Sterne makes within the novel. The footnotes, (that sometimes go on longer than the chapters themselves,) the name dropping and event listing that Sterne does throughout the novel reads like a list of hyperlinks. It is similar to a list of things ‘to read’ in the near future, that we create on our notepads and never get around to. In Mitchell’s article, he writes that the footnotes “serve as a direct commentary on what Tristram has just written…” and they are meant to augment what has been written, (10) however, he goes on to say that as the novel wanders, we lose the original intent of the writer within the digressions. “A range of possible meanings are created through these odd manoeuvres of compulsive wandering and self defeat”. (11) This is a notion that crops up within Post Structuralism.

Both of these theoretical perspectives took root long after the publication of Tristram Shandy, highlighting the fact that it is a book very much ahead of its time. Sterne was able to manipulate and contour the written word to create a work that has continued to baffle and confuse people centuries later.

Well played, Mr. Sterne.



Annotated Bibliography

Ivan, Oana-Roxana. “Tristram Shandy : An Original and Profound English Novel of the Eighteenth Century.” European Social Fund, n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2013.

  • This work describes the literary devices used within the text and discusses how it is different from the texts that have come before it.

Ramsay, Stephen. Reading Machines: Towards an Algorithmic Criticism. Chicago: University of Illinois, 2011. Print.

  • Primary source.

Rice, Philip, and Patricia Waugh. Modern Literary Theory: A Reader. London: Arnold, 2001. Print.

  • This book will aid me in analyzing Tristram Shandy from a theoretical perspective. It offers small excerpts from many different theorists, and provides a short analysis of each particular theory.

Šklovskij, Viktor Borisovič, and Gerald L. Bruns. Theory of Prose. Trans. Benjamin Sher. Elmwood Park (Ill.): Dalkey Archive, 1990. Google. Web. 21 Mar. 2013. <>.

  • This book provides a section on Shklovsky’s own analysis of Tristram Shandy using the Formalist Theory he helped develop.

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. London: Penguin Books Ltd. 2003. Print.

  • Primary source.

Wilson, Mitchell. “”and Let Me Go On”: Tristram Shandy, Lacanian Theory, and the Dialectic of Desire.” Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought 9.3 (1986): 335-72.TristramShandyWeb. IULM: Universita Di Lingue E Comunicazione. Web. <>.

  • This article is an analysis of Tristram Shandy through the Structuralist and Post Structuralist theories, using the works of Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida.

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One Response to This may or may not be an Anti-Prospectus

  1. ullyot says:

    Sterne triumphs again! Very good beginning, Gazelle, though I’m not entirely clear on how you’re going to use Ramsay’s tools & techniques. That should become more clear as you progress. I’m looking forward to the results.

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