Please, bear with me, be gentle with me and, above all, be patient with me. The next paragraph will, probably from the very first word, get you clicking the exit button and deleting me from your blogs-I-occasionally-visit list. Please, though, try to resist the urge and just read it and then I’ll explain why I risked losing your friendship or just your casual curiosity through such flippancy. It’s a spoof opening to a supposed review of a non-existent book called Ambiguity and Gastronomy in Tennyson’s 'In Memoriam'. If the book had ever existed, it would have been written by Professor V. Nonchalant. (If any such person exists, I apologise unreservedly for hi-jacking his/her name.) Here, then, is how my review of his/her book starts:
Teleological inadequacy in the quest for meta-fictional catharsis is a trope too frequently associated with linguistic excess. In his previous studies of root vegetables in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and his monograph entitled Descartes and the Bay Leaf, Professor Nonchalant posited the extensory variability of post-cultural deviance in the seventeenth century’s sporadic yet transitional dalliance with anarchic conceptualisations of disassociated herbivorous phenomena. Here, he extends his exegetical analysis of textual malfunctions to encompass the twin themes of literacy and indigestion, arguing persuasively that the Victorians’ semi-precocious insistence on the iconography of laissez-faire nutritional expediency both complemented and contradicted their equally fervent adherence to the vertiginous monotony of the iambic pentameter. That, in simplistic terms, is the point de départ of this 642 page study.
If you’re still reading, thanks for your persistence and good will. The paragraph, of course, means absolutely nothing. It’s unadulterated garbage masquerading as learning. In a moment, I’ll get to why I’ve quoted it here but first, why write it at all? Well, some of you may have visited the excellent booksquawk.com (and, if you go there this week, you’ll see my latest review for Lisa Hinsley’s My Demon in which I use the word I introduced in my last posting – algolagnia). The site is celebrating the fact that it’s attracted 25,000 visitors and I suggested one way to celebrate would be for all its regular contributors to send in a parody paragraph of the worst type of reviewing they could think of – not nasty or vicious stuff, just typical of the most pretentious or just plain silly garbage. The idea was to just have a bit of fun.
So I wrote the above as an example and posted it to the group. But here’s the interesting thing. Two of the other contributors – both friends and excellent writers – knew that it was only a parody and therefore not supposed to make sense but they tried to read it as if it did, and one of them said ‘my brain couldn't HELP trying to make sense of what you wrote...and it *almost* did’, a fact which she said was sort of frightening. So it brings us back to another aspect of the power of words. If we see them laid out in seemingly normal structures, we want to unlock what they’re saying. The tendency is to assume that they ‘mean’ something so we do what they implicitly ask and try to give them that meaning. And if we can’t, we think it’s our fault.