Saturday, April 23, 2011


I have a few times mentioned that there are stories that inform blog posts I have made.  Referring to stories that are not themselves under discussion is a time-honored tradition in writing.  Tolkien does it in The Lord of the Rings, noting in Sam's pudgy hobbit mouth the tale of Beren Erchamion or having a comment come out of Aragorn's about the "cheek to make verses about Eärendil in the house of Elrond" or some such thing.¹  Milton does it all over the place in Paradise Lost, opening the poem with a lot of stuff about Mount Sinai and an Aonian mountain.  Malory talks about "the French book."²  Even Beowulf mentions other stories within its own story, some of them not told directly but strongly, strongly hinted at.

Those who will see a disjunction among Tolkien and the other authors and works listed--though they are all dead English white guys--will be pleased to know that I have a reason for including him.  That is, I have a reason other than that I am a nerd who likes to read "that fantasy crap" for including him.  You see, in "On Fairy-stories," Tolkien makes the comment that references to stories understood as common cultural referents by the characters involved in a given story increase the correspondence of the literary world with the directly observable world in which the reader exists.³  The closer that correspondence, the more believable the literary world, and the easier therefore the immersion in the story that is necessary for literary enjoyment.

There is some of that going on in what I write in this blog.  As is necessarily the case with writing, the voice or persona that presents these words is a fiction.  It is not me, even though it is me; really, it is a particular view of me that I want you to see.  This does, of course, make it total bullshit (ask Harry G. Frankfurt in his On Bullshit).  The references, then, are ways to further the perception of the persona; they make it look like my blogging persona has some kind of family life and experience, even though it really is something that I just come up with as I sit in front of one computer or another with more time than sense.

But there is also something else going on.  The communicative act is one which creates an ephemeral community; that is, the community only exists in the moment during which the communicative act occurs.  It is a commonplace that communities are concerned in part with defining themselves, and that one way a community defines itself is by articulating what it is not.  By making references to other events, I tacitly delineate what the community is not: those who do not understand the references are left outside of the community.  They are denied the full meaning of the posts, and thereby are not completely included in the communicative act.

This is, of course, because I do not like them, as they are jerks.

1. As this is not a formal essay, I am not going to bother pulling up the specific page number.  So there.*
2. He does so in late Middle English, which I do not reproduce here.
3. Provided, of course, that a reader exists.  This is not always the case, however.

*It's Fellowship of the Ring, page 285.

No comments:

Post a Comment