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    No less a reader than Nietzsche agrees.  In Human, All Too Human (1886), he writes: “Thus [Sterne] produces in the right reader a feeling of uncertainty” (emphasis added, qtd in New 16).  The right reader being what kind?  Shandy says, “I would go fifty miles on foot . . . to kiss the hand of that man whose generous heart will give up the reins of his imagination into his author’s hands,——be pleased he knows not why, and cares not wherefore” (III.xii/149).  The right reader, then, would accept ambiguity, would be un-threatened by it; the right reader would be tolerant, indulgent, undogmatic, generous, and generally ambivalent.  Sterne, agrees with Locke that, having no ‘uncontestable Evidence of the Truth,’ we must tolerate others who differ from us in their beliefs or understanding (Gibson 65).  Sterne clearly rejects the “belligerence of the convinced mind” (Gibson 64), although Shandy, in typically dubious fashion, claims otherwise:
      It is a singular blessing, that nature has form’d the mind of man with the same happy backwardness . . . which is observed in old dogs,——“of not learning new tricks.”  What a shuttlecock of a fellow would the greatest philosopher that ever existed, be whisk’d into at once, did he read such books, and observe such facts, and think such thoughts, as would eternally be making him change sides! (III.xxxiv/181)
This “shuttlecock” describes perfectly the character of Sterne’s right reader.
     Returning to Nietzsche, the specific meaning of a Shandean passage may be (or may seem) indeterminate, but the overall effect is clear.  Again, Nietzsche:
  “What is to be praised in [Sterne] is . . . . an artistic style in which the fixed form is constantly being broken up, displaced, transposed back into indefiniteness, so that it signifies one thing and at the same time another.  Sterne is the great master of ambiguity. . . . 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 he knows how to encompass both in a single facial expression . . . [and to] be in the right and in the wrong at the same time, to know profundity and farce. (qtd. in New 16)
Tristram Shandy makes a string of disingenuous claims from start to finish, many of which call themselves into question.  The work’s ambiguity creates a contextual focus on questions of sex, gender, authority, dogma, government, the church—is there any significant area of life that the novel leaves untouched?  It continually exploits the power of suggestion and  associations, so that certain words are suspect, and a series of asterisks creates an overall effect.  Tristram Shandy’s destabilizing effect may seem to diminish meaning, but actually expands it, complicating matters, creating further possibility rather than less.  When Nietzsche writes, “That I have to be struggle and becoming and goal and conflict of goals,” he sounds like Nietzsche, but when he continues, “ah, he who divines my will surely divines, too, along what crooked paths it has to go!”—it sounds like Tristram Shandy speaking (qtd in New 134).  A text with indeterminate meaning, then, is not a meaningless text.  “Sterne’s text,” as Melvyn New says, “is richly determined” (122-23), acutely aware of meaning.12
      12 Much of the general argument for indeterminacy of texts falls apart when we consider that language regularly conveys such nonliteral forms as: irony, humor, sarcasm, metaphor, subtlety, riposte, and poetry with meanings that listeners or readers agree on.  Except in the work of inept writers and editors, the problem of “indeterminacy” is really a matter of sufficient or insufficient context.  Context encompasses that body of shared knowledge, experience, and culture creating the assumptions and associations that enables language to function.
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