Monday, April 20, 2015

Sir Tristram, violer d'amores

Apart from the camaraderie of the project, one of the main reasons I agreed to read The Life and Adventures of Tristram Shandy, Gent. by Laurence Sterne with some friends recently was in hopes that it might throw some light on Finnegans Wake, as I knew Joyce to be an admirer. I emerged from the book not a lot the wiser, unfortunately. But as I'm now settling down to read some essays on Tristram Shandy in a volume of Modern Critical Editions edited by Harold Bloom, I am learning a bit more, and I thought I'd share this tidbit from an essay by Dorothy Van Ghent called "On Tristram Shandy", as I don't suppose it's something anyone reading here is likely to stumble upon randomly.

Van Ghent tells us that Stern's concern is to create a world.

"The world he creates has the form of a mind. It may perhaps help us to grasp the notion of a structure of this sort if we think of the mind in the figure of Leibniz's monads, those elemental units of energy that have "mirrors but no windows": the mirroring capacity of the unit makes it a microcosm of the universe, in that all things are reflected in it; and yet, because it lacks "windows," it is a discrete world in itself, formally defined only by internal relationships; while the reflections in its "mirrors" have a free energetic interplay unique for this monad--this mind--differentiating it from all others at the same time that it is representative of all others."

After comparing Sterne's project to Proust's, Van Ghent goes on to say:

"We think of Tristram Shandy, as we do of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, as a mind in which the local world has been steeped and dissolved and fantastically re-formed, so that it issues brand new. Still more definitive of the potentialities of Sterne's method, as these have been realized in a great modern work, is James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, where the hero's dream swallows and recomposes all time in its belly of mirrors, and where the possibilities lying in Sterne's creative play with linguistic associations--his use of language as a dynamic system in itself, a magic system for the "raising of new perceptions as a magician's formulas "raise" spirits--are enormously developed. Joyce himself points out the parallel. In the second paragraph of Finnegans Wake, "Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, arrives over the sea "to weilderfight his penisolate war" in "Laurens County," and we know--among these puns--that we are not wholly in unfamiliar territory."


  1. There's a Dublin in Laurens county....,+GA/@32.4315169,-82.9298311,10z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x88f11d1e2c786f39:0xf42682e5b594c77d