This week Ken Knabb continues discussion of Lawrence Sterne's novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
The group will be meeting in the University Press Bookstore (2430 Bancroft in Berkeley) every other Sunday at 4:30-7:00 P.M. for nine meetings, through July 29th.
Afterwards we'll move on to Jacques the Fatalist the next work in our series.*
Tristram Shandy (1760) is a truly unique work -- a zany, endlessly meandering exploration of the vast possibilities of life and literature, and at the same time a wry demonstration of their limitations.
Much of the book is presented through stream-of-consciousness (more than a century before Joyce and Woolf) and the characters’ thoughts are full of odd and embarrassing things just like yours and mine are. Yet throughout all the seemingly chaotic narration the characters are being revealed with a whimsical but ultimately compassionate humor.
The astonishing narrative innovations are what first strike the reader, but those characters and that good humor are what continue to make this book loved as well as admired.
"Sterne is the most liberated spirit of all time, in comparison with whom all others seem stiff, square, intolerant, and boorishly direct. . . . He, the supplest of authors, communicates something of this suppleness to his readers. Indeed, Sterne unintentionally reverses these roles, and is sometimes as much reader as author; his book resembles a play within a play, an audience observed by another audience. . . . The reader who demands to know exactly what Sterne really thinks of a thing, whether he is making a serious or a laughing face, must be given up for lost: for Sterne knows how to encompass both in a single facial expression, how to knot together profundity and farce."
Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human
Participation is free, but donations of $10 or so per meeting are suggested to help support the bookstore, which provides us with a pleasant meeting space and complimentary wine and snacks.
*Tristram Shandy is part of an ongoing series, led by Ken Knabb and hosted by the University Press Books store, in which we have explored these classic works: Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Montaigne’s Essays, Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Madame de Lafayette's The Princesse de Clèves, Defoe’s Moll Flanders, and Fielding’s Tom Jones. After Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, the group will read Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist, and Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson.