Justin Evans's Reviews > The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
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's review
Aug 28, 2009

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bookshelves: fiction
Read in August, 2009

I wonder what Sterne would have thought of all the theorising about this book? The introduction to this volume claims that we should read 'Shandy' because it will help us avoid the 'rationalism' of 'totalitarianism' of the twentieth century; that we are too much like Mrs Wadman, who wants to know if Uncle Toby has a penis or not. We should leave the fortress unpenetrated, the mystery unrevealed, the riddle unsolved.
Of course, this idiocy is exactly what Sterne was writing against- not against rationalism, but against superstition uninformed by history or heart; not against rationalism, but against stupidity. That many literary critics (especially the 'postmodern' ones) can't distinguish between the two says more about the way we talk about our world than about the world itself, which is plainly and continuously stupid, and not at all rational.
Roy Porter says this book is 250 years ahead of its time, but the truth is, Barth and Leyner - and all the over specialists without spirit & sensualists without heart - are 250 years behind it. Sterne exhausted the form he created.

That rant over, this is a really funny dick joke. Plenty of the references are stale (unless you're really into seventeenth and eighteenth century theories of medicine, warfare, etc etc...), but you'll get the point pretty quickly anyway. But whatever you do, read it without the introductory material- there's nothing worse than explaining a dick joke as if it were an earth-shatteringly huge political statement, and Sterne knew it.
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