how doth the mockingbee

an anti-wednesday experiment?

Today’s post is not really an experiment, in that I’ve done this sort of thing before, more often than I care to admit. Like when I wrote the title, for instance. I’m just going to sit in front of a blank screen and write, and see what happens. 

It being anti-wednesday, you’re welcome to join in and post your creations (wrong word?) in the comments. The theme is, well, anti-tale.

Ready? Go.

There’s a prevalent correspondence between the anti-tale and the parenthesis. I don’t just mean that I’m writing a post on anti-tales the same day that John McIntyre posted about the proper hierarchy of parenthetical punctuation. Or that the parenthesis is proudly situated in the terms of anti-tale, like (dis)establishment and (re/un)enchantment.

I mean that the function of the anti-tale, like the parenthesis, seems to be to section off a change, an aside. It’s the dropped voice and the turn of the head—the words we don’t want to say or don’t want to be overheard. It’s also the intrusion into the respectable sentence. Anti-tales, like parenthesis, create space where the asides and insinuations can be expressed.

As such, the boundary created from the ‘actual’ utterance—the sentence or the tale—is completely artificial. The space created by the parenthesis does not, in fact, exist in and of itself. No one writes (                                                    ) and then tries to fill it, unless their being affectedly postmodern. But people do write (more frequently than anyone would like to admit, because that’s just how the human mind works) words between the words they’re actually saying. These random, circular, self-imposed interruptions thus harness the parenthesis to secure their own space.

The parenthesis, then, is almost an apology—a printer’s shamefaced admission of the spoken word into the written. (The spoken word, after all, is haphazard and repetitions, fraught with interruptions and discursions. Printed word is concise.) Might an anti-tale be almost an apology, as well? An apology for tales told poorly? For outdated ideologies? For worn-out archetypes? For tales worn thin with the telling?

A Random Dalek by Johnson Cameraface ( Might parenthesis and anti-tale be apologies in the other sense, too? The parenthesis is the defence of the interruption; it insists that discourse must not, cannot happen on a single plain. The subtext demands to be spoken. The anti-tale gives voices to the other side of the tale, to the oppressed and the marginalised; it is the space where the voices that the tales ignore or refuse to hear are given articulation. The voice of the dreamer becomes the dream; the voice of the teller becomes the tale.

On a simplistic level, this results in a direct inversion. Cinderella, for instance, ditches the Prince and runs off with the gardener next door (I read a story that did that, once, and quite well). Or the narrator of the fairy tale is the Villain, explaining in injured tones why they weren’t injured at all.

On a more complex level, this can result in something else entirely. James Hogg, for instance, persistently undermines the reliability of his own narration—and by extension all narration; so, for instance, this delightful passage:

To relate all the particular scenes of distress that occurred during this tremendous hurricane is impossible—a volume would not contain them. I shall therefore, in order to give a true picture of the storm, merely relate what I saw, and shall in nothing exaggerate. But before doing this I must mention a circumstance, curious in its nature, and connected with others that afterwards occurred.

(The Shepherd’s Calendar, ch. 1, emphasis added)

He then narrates the entire story about the hurricane; he gives us the before but never arrives at the after. It is not until we reach the end and slowly realise this—that the whole narration is the curious circumstance which he needs to tell before the facts—that we realise he may have just been making the whole thing up. It is also at this point in the narrative that he shifts from the erudite voice of the Learned Authority into the vivid, captivating chanting of the storyteller. Tale subverts academics subverts tale subverts tale; a casual aside occludes the ‘true picture of the storm,’ unverifiable but convincing.

So, as every good editor knows, there comes a point when the parentheses should be thrown aside. If a sentence is that long, it should just be a sentence, in the main text, come heck or heavy rainfall. An anti-tale has potential to eventually outgrow its anti, and becomes its own tale.

Some anti-tales, of course, remain defined by the tale they’re in opposition to; others, like Hogg’s example above, are entirely independent of any primary, interfacing text needed to read them. Anti-tale becomes tale, and the parentheses are dropped.

How doth the mockingbee? Very well, thank you (for a Wednesday).

So, I just made all that up. I have no idea if it makes anything like any sort of sense. Let me know what you think—challenge the absurd things I’ve said without realising it (or maybe with realising it), and tell me, but gently, if I need to verify my sanity.

Then you try it. Make something up in the comments, or, if you’re more foolhardy, at your blog and link below.

And, go! This time. Again.


3 thoughts on “how doth the mockingbee

  1. Well, I like the idea of the parenthesis turning into a tale – though they need to be controlled: isn’t that more or less the idea behind ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’? Sometimes in oral narratives a speaker will get derailed and go off into a number of parentheses, and it depends on the skill of the narrator whether you sit there raptly listening as if to Scheherezade, or glancing surreptitiously at your watch and thinking ‘Get to the point…!’

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