Aphra Behn (deceased)

Aphra Behn
Originally uploaded by Scriblerus.
This photo represents Behn's (or Behn's eptitaph writer's) answer to some portion of the post below. The epitaph reads, "Here lies a proof that wit can never be defence enough against mortality." Harold Bloom, of course, would not have granted her wit--he called her a fouth-rate playwright, at some point, I believe, and suggested that whatever immortality she gained by reentry to the canon reflected more poorly on us than it did well on her. Nevertheless, whomever did the chiseling had a more materialist sense of mortality than can do a writer any good to possess.

I've recently reexamined some of her poetry, and I've reread The Rover for the third time, and I cannot quite agree with the honorable Dr. Bloom on this matter. I find Behn's irrepressible disappointment in the Cavaliers fascinating. She's like a fan dedicated to a losing team, sitting in the bleachers and calling the players a bunch a bums, but going to every single game. If Rochester and has ilk had just manned up a bit, they might not have let those Roundheads walk all over them during the Civil Wars. Instead, a whole class of bluebloods ended up going as soft as brie and limp as boned fish. All these poor "o'er ravished" men running about with their swords pointing in entirely the wrong direction.

With Royalists like these, who needs Parliamentarians?


Displaced Author Function Seeks New Texts to Inhabit

I, like many a mortal, am obsessed with notions of immortality. Until science figures out a way to download the entire working mind to some piece of solid-state, solar-powered, titanium-based something or other, however, the best we humans can hope for is genetic transmission or textual remembrance (text here incorporating all forms of "print," real or virtual, visual, oral, etc.). After thousands of years of writing, from cuneiform to hieroglyphics and on to little ones and zeroes brought to you by means I understand even less, and following countless astounding medical advances that threaten to extend the average human lifespan to and beyond the century mark, we are still faced with essentially the same choice as our most distant ancestors: reproduce, or write.

The vast majority of people attempt one or the other of these things, and for a similar majority the effort pleases more than the result.

It was fairly common in the eighteenth century for an author to refer to a text in terms of offspring, thereby conflating the two means into a single transferable item. The trope had (appropriately) Renaissance roots. As Mark Rose notes in Authors and Owners, "the most common figure in the early modern period is paternity: the author as begetter and the book as child" (38). Sidney, for example, called Arcadia "this child which I am loath to father." A century and a half later, David Hume claimed that his A Treatise of Human Nature "fell still-born from the press." For reasons that this blog will no doubt return to again and again, all texts are problem children, and, as with the real thing, one takes one's chances in spawning them. A text, though it may seem to spring fully-formed from the head of its creator, is really only half its parent's child; for it to have life, a reader must come along and take it up--as Hume's quotation above reveals. And there's no telling what manner of unsavory character might come along and nurture it out of its nature with his or her ridiculous (mis)reading. The next thing you know, the sweet little book over which you labored so hard has turned into a surly teenager that looks just like you but which everyone says is up to no good. You, the well-intentioned author-parent, have no recourse but to shrug and say, "it must have gotten that from it's reader's side of the family."

So there's really nothing to be done. Authors must die, texts have a life of their own. This brings me to Scriblerus, and the nature of this blog. In adopting and revivifying the name of the Scriblerians' erstwhile editor, author, and dupe, how do we affect each other? What quality of life do I give him, with respect to the one he had 250 years ago as well as those he enjoys in the hands of other modern writers (I am not the only Scriblerus on the web). Scriblerus was a collective creation; an unreal person with a real CV. To who else can we rightly attribute the Memoirs, if we have no idea who was responsible for the various parts of them? One edition on sale at Amazon attributes them to all the members of the Scriblerus Club; another flatly credits Pope alone. The minds that created his are all dead, but perhaps his mind could live on in the only world he ever truly inhabited.

If someone came along and actually wrote in the style of Scriblerus--never breaking character, addressing the same issues in a sort of Enlightenment-meets-Borat kind of way--would "Scriblerus" be any less the Scriblerus of Pope, Arbuthnot, Parnell, Swift, and the Earl of Oxford? Well, yes, obviously. The break in time gives ownership to his dead fathers. But if, Zorro-like, successive writers had inherited the role over generations, what then would have been the nature of his Authorship and immortality?