Friday, May 20, 2011

Menippean Topics : Euphuism to Forcing the Reader to Think



Euphuism. Though not necessarily a Menippean topic, Euphuism yet has the potential to be one and exhibits a number of Menippean features including the display of learning, the use of incidental verses, and (sometimes) the dialog form. Euphuism was practised chiefly by John Lyly, William Painter, Thomas Lodge, Robert Greene and Nicholas Breton. Greene moved on to Menippism, with his Planetomachia and a series of "deathbed" productions. Whereas Menippean epistolary writings tend to come from the next world, Euphuistic "letters" are exchanged between romantic heroes and heroines, their friends, rivals, parents, and enemies. There is little mock or ridicule of learning in Euphuism.

Excess Baggage. Under this topic may be grouped all manner of illusions, pretensions, false learning or assumptions, etc., that are to be shed. This topic is a typically Cynic aspect of Menippism. Antisthenes, a student of Socrates and the man generally regarded as the first Cynic (in belief if not in outlandish behavior) replied, on being asked what learning was most necessary, "how to get rid of having anything to unlearn." Lucian's Charon observes, "... Hermes, you see what they [normal people] do and how ambitious they are, vying with each other for offices, honours, and possessions, all of which they must leave behind them and come down to us with but a single obol... Nothing that is in honour here is eternal, nor can a man take anything with him when he dies; nay, it is inevitable that he depart naked..." (Lucian, Vol. II, p.437)

Fake books. In some Menippean satires, these are promised to the reader (and never delivered). In variations, they are alluded to or cited as authorities, or whole libraries are invented (as Rabelais' Thélème). Mock erudition is one of the devices for satirizing academic or learned pretentiousness. Examples of this topic include: Harington's "tenth decad" of "the reverent Rabbles;" A Catalogue of Books of the Newest Fashion, "to be sold by Auction, at the Whigs Coffee-House, at the Sign of the Jackanapes, in Prating Alley" (included in The Harleian Miscellany, V.6); Thomas D'Urfey's An Essay Towards the Theory of the Intelligible World... (etc.); Burnet and Duckett's A Second Tale of a Tub: or, the History of Robert Powel the Puppet-Show-Man (they "refer the Dispute" - over whether the dead have sensation - "to my Eighteen Volumes in Folio coming out as a Comment upon Duns Scotus"); Johann Fischart's Catalogue Catalogorum perpetuo durabilis. Das ist: Ein Ewigwerende, Giordianischer, Pergamischer und Tirraninoschar Bibliotecken gleichwichtige und richtige Verzeichnuss und Registratur (1590), and countless others including the Obscure Epistolers, Erasmus, Swift, Sterne, Carlyle's Sartor Resartus and Finnegans Wake. Swift opens the Tale with a list of fake treatises, "which will be speedily published."


note to dear reader : THIS IS NOT THE FAKE PREFACE


Fake Preface. Let this topic include all manner of fake prefatory and introductory material. The locus classicus for this topic is Swift's Tale: it presents the reader with a (digressive) dedicatory note "to the right Honourable John Lord Sommers" (by "the Bookseller," as the Tale was anonymous); a note from "the Bookseller to the Reader," citing Menippean relatives; "the Epistle Dedicatory, to His Royal Highness Prince Posterity" using the Senecan/Lucianic claim of truth; "the Preface," lengthy and digressive; and "Sect. 1 - the Introduction," lengthy, digressive, and replete with (fake) lacunae, citations and descriptions of fake texts. Sterne places a (digressive) dedication at the end of Vol. I, ch. VIII, and uses the next chapter to comment upon and slightly emend it: "... the rest I dedicate to the MOON, who... has most power to set my book a-going, and make the world run mad after it..." His "the Author's Preface" appears in Vol. III, ch. XX. See also D'Urfey's Essay: the section "Of Prefaces" is not a preface; near the end of the book a pointing hand indicates the centred message, "HERE ENDETH THE PREFACE."

Fake Table of Contents. This topic is of a piece with the preceding one and includes misplaced Tables of Contents (as in Du Cliche´ á l'Archetype: la Foire du Sens, where the chapters are in alphabetic order, and the Table under T). Principally, however, this topic refers to a Table of Contents that lies, that promises matter and chapters not in the book. D'Urfey sets out a prefatory table of contents for his Essay, announcing "sections" never to be found, or given in vastly different form.

Forcing the Reader to Think. This is basic to all Menippean strategy and derives from the Cynic demand to "wake up!" A sure means of accomplishing this is by challenging the reader's assumptions and by violating his expectations about narrative continuity, truthfulness, decorum of style, and literary conventions (e.g., that diagrams refer to textual matter, or that promises will be fulfilled). One means is Joco-Seriousness (q.v.), the expenditure of lavish erudition on trifles and vice-versa. Another means is using paradox (including paradoxical encomia) to involve and intrigue the reader, for intellectual detachment and reflection.




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