page 9
     Eighteenth-century England, influenced by such thinkers as Newton and Locke, is enthralled with the notions of secular progress.  This dominant and dogged faith in systematic approach to life —rationalism— challenges the “great Renaissance tradition of ‘unknowingness’” (New   ).  Tristram Shandy speaks up in dissent, and resists rationalism’s hegemony.  Shandy is a playful, unrestrained advocate for tolerance, and against any and all systems.  Even Locke, regardless of how much Sterne receives from him, seems to buy heavily into the power of reason.  Tristram Shandy, however, maintains a “stubborn way of looking at contradictions within a context of human limitations and worldly complexities” (New, Sterne, introduction xxxviii-xxxvix).
     Reason becomes every bit as dictatorial as the authority of revelation that it replaces.  Reason seems to liberate us from the old moral regime of revelation, but its demands are no less stringent, no less strident or confining than those it replaces.  Rationalism expects too much of the individual, demanding a consistency of response that Tristram Shandy refuses to accede to.  This is its appeal.  Even Sterne’s narrative structure breaks free of rational demands. “I will conform to no man’s rules,” —Horace or whoever.  Shandy’s logic seems to argue for reasonable reason, for a balance between head and heart, although it will consent to no “systematickal” approach.
     Rather than  limiting meaning to something fixed, and thus subject to analysis, Tristram Shandy’s ambiguity expands it, highlighting contradictory notions without subordinating one to another. Bawdiness and morality coexist.  Rather than find meaning in boxes—“right,” “wrong,” or “none of the above”—find it instead somewhere, or everywhere, on a continuum.
 “And so long as a man rides his HOBBY-HORSE peaceably and quietly along the King’s high-way, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him,——pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?” (Sterne I.vii/13).


Works Cited

 Bakhtin, M. M.  The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson
       and Michael Holquist.  Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.
 Curtis, Lewis Perry, ed. Letters of Laurence Sterne. Oxford: Clarendon, 1935.
 Gibson, Andrew.  Reading Narrative Discourse: Studies in theNovel from Cervantes to Beckett.  New York: St.
       Martin’s, 1990.
 Graff, Gerald.  “Determinacy/Indeterminacy.”  Critical Terms for Literary Study.  Ed. Frank Lentricchia  and  Thomas
       McLaughlin.  2nd ed.   Chicago: U of Chicago P,  1995. 163-76.
 Jenkins, John J.  Understanding Locke: An Introduction to Philosophy through JOHN LOCKE’S Essay.  Edinburgh:
       Edinburgh U P, 1983.
 Loveridge, Mark.  Laurence Sterne and the Argument About Design.  Totowa: Barnes & Noble, 1982
 New, Melvyn.  Tristram Shandy: A Book for Free Spirits. Twayne’s Masterwork Studies. 132. New York: Twayne, 1994.
 - - - .  Introduction.  The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.  By Laurence Sterne. 1759-67.  Ed. Melvyn
       New and Joan New.  New York: Penguin, 1997.
 Pinker, Steven.  The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language.   New York: Harper, 1994.
 Shklovsky, Victor.  “Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary.” Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays.  Trans.
       Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis.  Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1965.  25-57.
 Sterne, Laurence.  The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. 1759-67. Ed. Melvyn New and Joan New.
       New York: Penguin, 1997.

 Extraneous Comment on Jargon and Terminology:
 This paper concerns itself with epistemology throughout—yet never resorts to the term itself.  It can be done.
 — CB Bassity,  Czar,

 Anti-Jargon and Terminology Institute  (where we give thanks every day that the term “Kafkaesque” has left the building.)


Back to my home page