Gumming up the Works

In the September 24, 2007 issue of New York Magazine (which I typically thumb through while waiting for the kettle to boil or waiting for The Simpsons to come on), I came across a brief article that rather flipped my switch. Other dissertators I know have spoken of the eerie synchronicity that comes with deep involvement in a project--the sense that somehow everything is relevant, that everything everyone is talking about somehow relates to your own work. Those of you who know me well will know that I already thought everything was about me, dissertation notwithstanding. Nevertheless, even the most hardened amongst you will have to acknowledge the appropriateness of what follows.

Gum, apparently, is proliferating. I've been writing about organizational mechanisms arising subsequent to proliferation, and have even gone so far as to suggest that the rise of the novel is more intimately involved in this than has usually been stipulated. A reading audience with a taste for poems, plays, romances, epics, comedies, treatises, sermons, essays etc. can have their thirsts slaked by the super-enriched vitamin smoothie that the novel becomes over the course of the first half of the 18th century.

But back to the gum.

"It seems that new kinds of chewing gum proliferate daily," Ben Mathis-Lilley writes. "With bodega cash registers now besieged by both the classical brands and tortured-sounding variations thereon. We decided to determine the best of each genre--mint, fruit, and bubblegum--by doing a comprehensive taste test" (62).

If Fielding's comic epic in prose isn't a novelist's answer to Trident Minty Sweet Twist, I don't know what is. The "new" province of writing that he shaped into Tom Jones takes your classic brands (comedy, epic, mint) and combines them with new flavors (realism, moral ambiguity, Sweet Twist). But the point here is that as soon as there is proliferation, or the perception of proliferation (and I have to say I think it was "5" gum that put ME over the top), there follows a need or desire to establish a hierarchy of value. Some critic shows up to read/chew it all up and tell me what I can leave on the shelves with respect to book and gum alike. Wylie Dufresne and Alex Stupak, a chef-proprietor and pastry chef, inform me that in chew-wise the classics are actually the best. So your Iliad is Wrigley's Spearmint and your Margites (if we hadn't lost the thing) would undoubtedly be Bazooka Joe (valued by the critics here for its "classic" flavor).

Between them (both in flavor and on the actual magazine page) in the fruit category is Adams Sour Cherry, which I haven't tried, but which I am nonetheless confident would to an adept synaesthesiac taste like Tom Jones reads.

All other gums--and books--you can discard as being both literally and figuratively beneath your taste.


Anonymous said...

Leah Price gave a talk at Columbia a year or so ago. She is such a nice person and such a great speaker! I have her book but have only read through the first 30 pages. It strikes me as a great example of how the most minute idea can germinate and transform the way you think about a period and the relationship between its books and its readers...as your dissertation is sure to do!

Scriblerus said...

Leah Price's book is great--perfect structure, I thought. A good model for a dissertation. That being said, I do have some problems with it. I think it leaves out the encyclopedia (of course) and doesn't draw clear enough lines around what constitutes an anthology. Though perhaps I don't draw clear enough lines around what I call an encyclopedia.

We're both interested in information overload, that much is clear. I was surprised, though, that she left the 'pedia completely out of her project--especially as Tristram makes so much of it. Clarissa might be an anthologist, but Clarissa has more in common with the encyclopedia--teleologically driven systematicity makes all the difference. The subsequent abridgment of Clarissa and like long texts (though much shorter texts were abridged, too) was certainly crucial to the "rise" of the novel, but I am more convinced by her marketplace stuff than anything else. When Richardson writes about showing the "Connexion of the Whole," whether in reference to Clarissa or his book of extracts, he's talking encyclopedia, not anthology.

In any case the word "collection" was common to both and is made to bear a lot of weight in the largely undifferentiated eighteenth-century generic continuum.

Thanks for your vote of confidence re: my diss, btw, but right now I don't think it'll be fit for anything but the pie-shop.