Monday, January 31, 2011

Peregrine pickles, comic crits, Johnsoniana

1. Charmingly my trip to Virginia this Wed. will coincide with the tail end of an area-wide two-day snowstorm. I'm flying out of O'Hare which can only make things worse... though getting to O'Hare might in fact be the greater challenge. In a sensible world, one might expect the trains to be less affected than the buses, but Amtrak in the Midwest is always unreliable.

1'. At least the "wintry mix," which started about half an hour ago, has been snow rather than ice so far. Update Nope it's ice pellets now.

2. Via Mary Roach on twitter, a new blog of note: Comic Crits does comic-strip book reviews that are -- so far at least -- quite good.

2'. John Bonner, the Comic Critic, is from Marblehead, MA. This place name is, I suspect, associated with why I always misremember a line from Lowell's "Quaker Graveyard" poem as "light / flashed from his marble head and matted feet."

3. In the early days of The Economist's language blog, Johnson, the founding members realized that there was, well, an ambiguity in the title. The blog has tended to live up to its ambiguous title, with "deniable" dick jokes being a recurring theme that you have to be a regular reader to pick up on. Often they're pretty sly; for instance, you might not have realized that today's post titled "astronomically inadequate" was one of these if you hadn't been paying attention.

4. There is a literary device, which I associate with "Arrested Development" and Gail Collins's columns, in which a detail that had seemed accidental, or a throwaway joke, is suddenly revealed to be an essential part of the plot. Buster getting maimed by a loose seal is I think the defining example of this genre, which for want of a better term I call the "loose seal." With Kenner's monograph on rhyme at the back of one's mind, one is tempted to think of this as being analogous to a comic rhyme of the "vacancy/they can see" kind, but this analogy breaks down because you know exactly when the rhyme is going to happen with its attendant satisfying click. In the loose seal, something that you didn't expect to click into place suddenly does so. I believe this is a comic analogue of a Virgilian/Proustian effect that Kenner discusses:

Virgil’s little local intricacies of sound seem akin to rhymes the moment after we have heard them. Having had no reason to expect a consonance, we notice it just when it has gone by. This effect […] is used so discreetly it whets no special appetite for itself; in our experience of the Aeneid it lies always in the immediate past, as indeed for Virgil all good things tend to do.
There is something Proustian in this gratification for which there is no craving, perceived only when it is over. Milton himself when he composed Lycidas meant that we should enjoy the expectation of rhymes without ever knowing when they were going to occur.

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