I am not sure what this has to do with anything, but yesterday Roland Barthe’s Pleasures of the Text, I think it was called, came to mind. I bought it in paperback up in Berkeley some time in the 70’s. A friend was with me, and we sat down on the spot and read through it, laughing all the way. He was telling the truth we thought. That people read those dull old books to be bored and to find odd things as they read along maybe just an word, turn of phrase, or unfamiliar convention. Those were the real pleasures of the text.
For example, I remember chewing over this oddity—or at least it was an oddity when I first read it—that appeared in Dostoevsky. He would introduce a character first by name—say Svidregailov– and follow that with “from the city of XXXX in the Province of XXXX.” It seemed as if that he was seeking to imply with those XXXX’s that he was writing about a real person, somebody somebody might know, and so as not to give the person’s identity away he was covering up possible clues to the person’s identity with those XXXX’s.
I found this strange since the book I was reading, in this case Crime and Punishment, was clearly a work of fiction. So why would he bother to cover up the origins of a fictional chacarater. Then I thought that perhaps Dostoevsky put in those XXXX’s to encourage the reader to think that he was writing about REAL people and that he, Dostoevsky, the author, was trying with those XXXX’s to treat those real people with some politeness or to perhaps protect himself from charges of slander.
That made some sense because, while I am not sure if people would call Doesteovsky an author in the tradition of naturalism, that’s the sort of convention naturalists use to imply they are not making up what they are writing about. But then I wondered if Doestoevsky really had known or at least read about in some provincial newspaper of a person who had performed actions not unlike those performed by Svidregailov. In other words, Dostoevsky, was not using those XXXX’s to make the reader think the character was real, but to encourage the reader, as an astute reader, to see the XXXX’s as a fictional convention and thus to imply that the character had no relation to anyone living or dead, fictional or non-fictional, as they like to write at the end of movies.
I don’t know if this is what Barthes meant exactly or if anybody other than a few oddball literary types, otherwise known as English majors, would find any pleasure in thinking about such a thing. But if one does think about such a thing the only reason for doing it, I think, would be the pleasure of doing so. For as far as I can tell I can find no way whatsoever to resolve the questions I have raised about Dostoevsky’s use of those XXXX’s. Somebody might say, of course, oh you are just lazy; you could do some research and find some answer to your questions. But really I don’t think so, though thinking about such an issue might be something a lazy person would do or perhaps a somewhat less than serious person might do.
I would rather resolve the question by saying simply that the oddity of the XXXX’s is an unfathomable “ambiguity.” But if one declares a thing ambiguous, what happens to the idea of objectivity. What’s the point or why would it be worth the effort to be objective about an unanswerable question. To this a person devoted to the idea of objectivity might reply, why the hell would one expend any energy, mental or otherwise, on a question so transparently trivial and of no real interest to anyone living or dead. One has much bigger fish to fry than this sort of silliness.
Well, yes, of course, but is there not some pleasure in being silly?