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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Titulus

I’m dawdling towards the end of my monograph and have started to wonder about the not unpleasant task of christening the little beast. So I’m constantly scribbling down quotes, most of which have nothing to do with my subject but which strike me as somehow funny or odd or generally simpatico. Things like

The blizzard of the page.
The kindness of novels.
A piece of traffic.
Richly cloath’d Apes, are called Apes.
Smells of course were varied.
The worst inn’s worst room.
As winds hollow cliffs.
There’s language in her eye.
The rumble of distant thunder at a picnic.

Few of which would make good titles, but the prospect of actual application sort of fell away, in the task, and it just became about gathering. (Respectively, Ashbery, Michael Wood, Ashbery again, Donne, Lawrence, Pope, Bellow, Shakespeare, and Auden (on death), if you’re interested.)

A week or so ago I was reading a review of a new Ezra Pound biography by A. David Moody (that’s A. David Moody, as opposed to The David Moody). There’s lots of good stuff about Pound stomping round the streets of London in bright red trousers and absurd hats. The section on Pound’s genius as an editor was particularly nice: were it not for Pound’s interventions, Moody reminds us, we would still be referring to Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’ as ‘He Do the Police in Different Voices.’

It seems to me we’re in The Pragmatic Period for scholarly titles. It’s all phrase, colon, explanation. As in The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street; or Green Shakespeare: from ecopolitics to ecocriticism; or Who the devil taught thee so much Italian?: Italian language learning and literary imitation in early modern England. These are heady times for the colon. But all this sensible marketing rationalism is a long way from the glory days of the mid-90s when chiasmus was hotter than Obama. The history of literature and the literature of history. The politics of gender and the gender of politics. And then of course those nesting little brackets and slashes and italics: Poet(ic)s of place. Re-presenting Milton. Puns seem to have become a thing of the past, too. A friend of mine once wrote a paper on Francis Bacon’s influence on John Donne and he called it ‘How do you like your Bacon Donne?’ Which, for my money, is the greatest contribution to early modern studies in the last decade. And then there’s the fabled art history paper, which perhaps never existed: ‘If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.’

More anon. I need to keep thinking. Quoting.

  • At 2/12/2008 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    You know, this is an interesting issue, that I faced at some point within the last five years. My editor wanted all the significant cataloging information *before* the colon -- which is the death of good titles. She was very insistent that we think of -- as she kept putting it in her emails -- the "liberians," in deciding on a title. Hence ... A boring title.

    I'm for varied smells, though of course it's hard to say no to a monkey.

     

  • At 2/12/2008 10:51:00 PM, Blogger Erasmus wrote…

    In the 90s, in grad school, we played "invent paper titles" as a kind of decadent parlor game (ah, the Clinton years . . .) One of my all time favs was "Hegemony Cricket: Compulsory Heterosexuality in Folk Songs of the E(e)rie (C)anal." (No, I'm not sure what the pre-colonic and post-colonic parts have to do with each other, either. But considering the fake title, I suddenly felt a little weird typing "colonic.")

     

  • At 2/13/2008 12:00:00 AM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    One of my grad school friends was always talking about a guy in his department who was laboring over a dissertation called "The Aesthetics of the Smooth" (where "smooth" referred not to actual texture, but to metaphorical smoothness--as in, a smooth operator).

    The title, of course, could only be said with an accompanying hand gesture and little sidewise slide-step. I've always regretted that those things couldn't be conveyed orthographically.

     

  • At 2/13/2008 11:26:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    We could perhaps invent an emoticon -- a little stick figure doing the slide.

    I know someone who once decided that, instead of writing the various books he had thought up, he would just write a book of the titles and first lines of books he had thought up. You can cover a lot more ground that way.

    As for punning titles, isn't the first chapter of Claire McEachern's nationalism book -- the chapter on Book I of *The Faerie Queene* -- called "Sects and the Single Woman"?

     

  • At 2/13/2008 12:14:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    in re: smoothness and the aesthetics thereof... I just stumbled across this epigram as I was dawdling my way to an epigram I actually need to look at. It's from The Scourge of Folly, compiled by John Davies (1611, D4v).

    "Of Brunus his smoothnesse."

    Brunus his Beard is smooth, and smooth his face;
    His Tongue is smooth, and smooth his lookes and grace:
    His Hat's as smooth as smoothest Beaver hat;
    The Band as smooth; for Satten smoothe is that.
    His hose and doublet smoother than a dye:
    For, they plaine satten are, or Taffatie.
    His Bootes are smooth: for, his man (as they say)
    To pull them smoothly on, spends halfe the day.
    He smoothes his friends, but specially his foes,
    Least they should be too rough in Words or Blowes.
    He smoothes his Mistris, and his Rivalls too,
    And smoothly what they will, he lets them doo.
    He smoothes all Factions, and he smoothes all Times:
    He smoothly writes in prose, and smoothly Rimes:
    He smoothes the Courtier, and he smoothes the Carter:
    For, he greetes a foote beneathe the Garter:
    Yet, though he be thus smoothe, and hath wherewith,
    His minde is bare and ragged like his Teethe.


    KaZAM! He's got ragged teeth! you got him good, JD.

     

  • At 2/14/2008 06:45:00 AM, Blogger Martinus Scriblerus wrote…

    A lot of titles can be made to sound intellectually titillating by adding "a rope of sand" after the colon, hence: "Sects and the Single Woman: a rope of sand."

    I met someone whose book was about semitic takes on Bacon and whose book was called something along the lines of "Jewish Bacon"

    Otherwise the absolutely standard format in my masters program was "Clever quote from (work x)": (notes towards a/gerunding the) (noun) in (work x).

     

  • At 2/14/2008 11:36:00 AM, Blogger shakebag wrote…

    Simplicity is the new colon. Think of an image, idiom, or metaphor that captures something close to the center of my argument and make that the title, e.g. "Bread of Dreams," "Biblical Dragons From Outer Space," "The Verbal Icon," or "Bears!" And let that be it. If it wouldn't make a good band name, it's not a good title.

     

  • At 2/14/2008 05:16:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    Greenwit: that epigram totally made my day. (As it did Brunus's, no doubt.)

     

  • At 2/15/2008 08:13:00 PM, Blogger Mary, www.marynovik.com wrote…

    I have a feeling that I'm about to be busted for being seriously off-topic, but you all sound like good-humored folk, so here goes. I've written a novel, Conceit, on John Donne's family, that is doing quite well up here in Canada. (It was long-listed for the Giller shortly after it came out from Doubleday Canada, Sept. 2007.) I'd love to know what some of you think of it. There's more info, reviews, etc., at http://www.marynovik.com and a contact page for reaching me directly. Do you have any suggestions for getting the word out about Conceit down there? It is available from amazon.com and from amazon.ca (with international shipping)and will be even cheaper after July 2008 when it comes out in paperback.

     


 Scribble some marginalia



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