Age of Enlightenment; hail the platitude! tweeters or twits, part 2

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but I wrote Wood, Talc & Mr. J between 2002 and ’05, in France. I then put the manuscript away to get on with other things, like moving back to Blighty, finding work and somewhere to live; it was a hectic period, and it all coincided with the birth of our little girl.

I returned to the manuscript many years later, gave it a good edit and got a friend to proofread it. I then reread it, reedited it, got someone else to proofread it… – you know the story. Or you will, hopefully, very soon…

It’s funny, reading it now.

A major difference between the original manuscript and the final edit, other than the former being twice as long, is that the 1st person narrator, Phillip, initially satirised the concept of the ‘quotation’ in more ways than one.  That is, along with today’s Phillip looking back at his old self and expressing the latter’s constant state of perplexity whenever confronted by his father’s pseudo-intellectual one-liners, each chapter was not only headed by such a one-liner, but I’d have Phillip of yesteryear respond to it how he might have done back in the day… Okay, maybe today’s Phillip added a pinch of his own ironic humour, too…

I got rid of the old Phillip’s ripostes for one reason alone: I thought there might be just too much going on for the reader, what with the dream-sequences and so on. I didn’t want my readers coming away from the book, a), no wiser, and, b), acting like that journalist fellow for Le Monde, who, having read Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie, subsequently stated in his review that he came away from that book – evidently a faulty copy – believing the person to have picked it up in the shop before him had, firstly, allowed the pages to fall out, and had then replaced them haphazardly… Nope, I didn’t want that.

I’ll clarify what I mean by “satirised the concept of the ‘quotation’”.

It would appear that, back then, when writing the book, I was as naïve as the earlier Phillip, in deeming that the ‘quotation’  was… well, dead. You know the one, the one implying its agent may have read a book or two and has simply been dying for the occasion to let it free… the part-irony there being that any quotation, theoretically, can only ever be non-contextual, for it is unique, set within its own time and space…

I say I was naïve because you’d think that people would have had enough of silly… quotations. But I look around me and I see it isn’t so… Oops; did I just pilfer that from Sir McCartney? Sorry, Sir…

Anyway, if I got rid of Phillip’s ripostes, I kept the initial quotations, and that’s without fear of ridicule from the reader or care for Phillip’s distress. And he’s not one for holding back sentiment, is Phillip, typical teen, speaks before he thinks. And before dad’s plethoric platitudes, he rages without adding the thought bit on the end… Actually, there’s an irony to all of that, too, but you’ll just have to read the book to see what I’m getting at. Below, Phillip defines a typical morning, some unearthly hour, pre-voyage; Hell – the factory – awaits:

* * * * *

   I began to make my way down, not yet into the dominion of Hades, more into the mire of my dad’s early morning doctrines and my mum’s admonitions for another nightly transgression… or two. I plummeted to the sofa and laid my head on a pillow.

* * * * *

Phillip’s dad, conversely, is at his best at 6:30 of a mid-week morning: he’s able to collect his thoughts from the rebellious blue flames of a struggling coal fire. Except that those thoughts are a red rag to a bull as far as Phillip is concerned – he’s seventeen; he only got to bed two hours ago.

I sympathise greatly with Phillip in these scenes, not only because our sleepless and sleepy young colt when raged will rage the more, but because he actually endeavours to think for himself; he looks to question the pompous, forever inapposite quotation, and will unfailingly contest his father’s old-fashioned ideas – one being, if it’s there in black and white, on the page, then it must be true.

Below, dad’s having a bit of a rant:

* * * * *

  ‘It’s always mohair this an’ mohair that. And is that how you thank your mam when she knits your jumpers?’

   I was determined not to answer. I’d learned during one of these sermons that you weren’t supposed to if the question was rhetorical. And so I munched on my inflexible board, edible only along with copious gulps of the over-brewed tea.

   Alas, the Stanley Ogden accentuated quotations got me every time: ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is t’ have a thankless child!’

* * * * *

Poor Phillip.

I guess what this post’s about is that I always believed it to be a generational thing, and I do touch on that idea in a previous post about education, “it” being that whatever’s in print is sacrilege.

My old dad once told me that Hay Fever existed only in the mind; I, therefore, must have always imagined my symptoms: “A doctor says so here,” he said, pointing to the article in The Daily Star, before said daily became known as journalism’s Beano. It was as if he’d erased the memories of our otherwise golden days of fishing; man and boy; father and son; follow the yellow brick road… one occasionally leading to my bulging eyes; bulging closed, that is, slits, pummelled and pollinated, provisional annihilation – I’d hear the concerned voice of an uncle: “‘Gets it bad, bless him! Were we right to bring him?”

“Then that doctor’s wrong!” I shot back, returning to the rag.

And so his – my dad’s – eyes bulged: was I disputing the printed words of a doctor?

“He’s a quack,” I said. “Quack, quack…”

My dad thought hard, agitatedly flicking through the pages of his mind – if thought-bubbles were real, he’d have been screwed – and managed something like: “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders…” Or something to do with ‘the folly of youth’. You know the kind of thing…

I’d had enough, and somewhere amid those formative years, learned that I was only interested in people who thought for themselves, whatever their interests. Yes, by all means, read and learn, but, from that reading, formulate your own ideas.

Be you.

I often wonder what my old dad would have made of today, if willing and able to take on facebook and twitter. After all, he did read – he could have read more and from better sources, but he did make an effort to educate himself. And he never had the kind of opportunity I had: higher education, which would have been the equivalent of moving to another planet. As mentioned in that previous post, he was a product of the days when, due to a rigid class structure, the lowest on the ladder were incredulous slaves; ours is not to reason why, all that…

So, what makes me now think that people haven’t changed that much?

I’m going to suggest that the paradox lies in the fact that today, due to an abundance of information – via Information Technology, whereby we can see, hear, practically touch the world from our own bedroom or study – our senses are actually being numbed rather than enhanced; with all this information, people read less, too busy by far wondering what they may be missing; we want pictures, colours, sound  – ‘Just give me the quotes, I don’t need to read the book, I haven’t got the time!!’

Busily doing nothing, working the whole day through… Whence is reborn, The Almighty Quotation.

It matters not the original source – we don’t need books. It matters not the context – context? Nothing, in fact, matters… Well, except that there’s a social network, an adult’s paper plane, to see Q on its way…

‘thanx for the follow. Hope you like my quotes’ 

But they’re not your quotes.

‘Thought of today’

But it’s not your thought.

‘Love is saying to your partner…’

‘Un-followed,’ I’m (not) afraid to say. But I am here if you’d like me to elaborate on the matter.

Alarmingly, there must exist hundreds – thousands? – of twitter accounts whose owners pride themselves on offering nothing more, than quotations, and even more alarmingly can boast of followers into the hundreds of thousands… I guess you know what my question’s going to be, so I’ll refrain from asking it. What I was going to say, however, was that the cannier tweeters might even refrain from quoting a source… but then, if there isn’t one, there isn’t one…

Perhaps the quotes just pop up with those kinds of accounts…

And if the thought of my old dad occasionally makes me smile, comparing his world to ours, and where he’d fit in today, the idea of dragging that Phillip of yesteryear along with him, allowing him a platform here, sends shivers down my spine… Remember where you read it first, you, present at the potential birth of something glorious… 

In the meantime, to get the ball rolling, I’ll hazard a guess at a message he, Phillip, would first like to send:

“Patience is a virtue.”

Now, now, Phillip, I’d say that one isn’t yours already. But I do get your point: take time to read, establish your own thoughts, and thus generate your own quote-worthy lines… Mmm. Anything else?

“Originality is the spice of life.”

Yes, I like that one. So let’s halt it there, while we’re winning…


Chris Rose

Your literary, soulful friend

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