[…] the legacy of copia is two-fold, On the one hand it is a valuable expressive tool; on the other its very richness leads the more thoughtful writers to question its essence: If I can say anything, then what is the status of what I say? If I can tall about bears or beguines or beeswax or birth at the drop of the hat, and then go on to cats, clouds, coprophilia and cucumbers, then what is the point of talking about any of them? And, if I start, where am I to stop?
From Gabriel Josipovici’s Writing and the Body, an exploration into the nature of fiction, reading and writing; in this first essay (lecture) he dissects Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which I set aside on first reading a dozen or more years ago. Of Sterne’s book, Josipovici says:
Yet the book, like Tristram himself, exists only as a series of failures, of negations: it is not a straight line, it does not tell a proper story properly, it is not, perhaps finally, either a novel or not a novel. Yet, like Tristram, it is indubitably there. What then, as the riddles have it, is it?
The thrill of Josipovici’s dissection of the novel aside, as any solicitous criticism should, it sends me back to the text. Flicking through Tristram Shandy again, I look back pitiably at the younger self that was unable to appreciate the inherent joy of the book, and add it to the stack beside my desk.