Friday, June 3, 2011

Menippean Topics: Mutilated Text to Parody of New Forms


Mutilated Text. The author, either as himself or in the person of a publisher or editor or critic, presents or comments upon a text that he claims is corrupted, mutilated or otherwise interrupted by lacunae. See Lacunae.

Natural Scale. Inseparable from the other Cynic topics, this one refers to Cynic insistence on not exceeding the limits of human scale, which includes constant attention to our human frailties, limitations, susceptibilities to pride, self-aggrandizement, and so on. In Menippean satire, this is an aspect of the Cynic wind that blows through the satire as much as it is an aspect of the purposes of the satire. The reader's sensibilities are to be so revivified that he becomes aware of his deviation from, and will develop a preference for restoring, human or natural scale in his activities, psychic and social.

Non-sequitur. Deliberately used by Menippists, the non-sequitur is related to lacuna-making, digressiveness and all forms of interruption of narrative sequence, q.q.v. Non-sequiturs are the order of Beroalde's book. To make his reader aware that "straight-line" narration is a purely arbitrary order, Sterne, sending up Locke, denies his reader what is expected, interrupts the continuity of narrative logic at every turn, displays the pieces, and then asks innocently what they are and how they should go back together. In Ulysses, Joyce found new variation on this topic in the technique of "simultaneous parallels" with Homer, as well as in the discontinuities of "stream of consciousness."

Nothing. This topic, a frequent subject in Menippean satires, includes writing on recondite trivialities ("nothings"), often with a display of immense erudition, or, literally, writing whole chapters on "nothing." This latter is related to satirizing gloriosi logic-choppers who cut matters so fine that their weighty systems are brought to bear on "nothings." Dunton's Voyage offers "admirable and surprizing Novelty of both Matter and Method; a Book made, as it were, out of nothing, and yet containing every thing..." Ulysses and Finnegans Wake may equally be said to be made of "nothings" and yet to "contain everything." Cf. also Nashe, Sterne. Most Menippeans try their hand at this topic at one time or another as sustaining it calls for high wit and inventiveness. Swift: "I am now trying an experiment very frequent among modern authors; which is, to write upon nothing; when the subject is utterly exhausted, to let the pen still move on; by some called the ghost of wit, delighting to walk after the death of its body..." (etc., from the "Conclusion" to the Tale). Rabelais lavishes formidable amounts of attention upon bagatelles (as does Macrobius on the egg, and Athenaeus on odd kinds of fish). Panurge's decision to marry, for another example, becomes the focus of an enormously prolonged, prolix and pettifoggish debate leading to nothing.

Parody of New Forms. The chameleon-like and mimetic nature of Menippean satire, which contributes to the impossibility of accounting for it descriptively, gives it immense flexibility and adaptability to new forms and new situations. As soon as new genres or modes or media for expression appear, Menippists quickly adapt to the new form and begin to explore its satirical possibilities. This was done, for example, by Rabelais, Nashe, Dekker and Aretino, as Korkowski points out (p.225). Rabelais puts on the pretensions of the new "learned" genres made popular by printing. Somewhat later, Swift creates hiatuses with a new symbol, the asterisk, and Sterne toys with all the devices of the book, even to turning it inside out by putting the marbled end-papers in the middle. Flaubert aped the popular press in declaring his ideal novel would be all style and no content. Joyce used cinematic technique in Ulysses and remarked that the Wake was written "after the style of television." The study of Menippism in modern media has not yet begun. I suggest that there is no reason why it should not have expanded beyond the confines of written or printed texts once audiences were formed by and could be hypnotized by other-than-literate media. One might begin such a study with Orson Welles (Radio), Woody Allen (Film), and Steve Allen or Norman Lear (Television). The mind boggles at what havoc a determined (Cynic) Menippean might wreak with the telephone, or computer data-bases and systems analysis, or satellites. We may yet find out. See Printing.

1 comment:

loopylucy said...

title of the image shown at the end?
Could someone translate the Latin?