Nonsense Thesis

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    Masaryk UniversityFaculty of Arts

    Department of Englishand American Studies

    English Language and Literature

    Bc. Jakub Tuek

    Nonsense and Unreason in the Proseof Woody Allen

    Bachelors Diploma Thesis

    Supervisor: Stephen Paul Hardy, Ph.D.

    2008

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    I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.

    ..Authors signature

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    I would like to thank Mr. Hardy for cooperative and constructive approachand my wife for patience during the writing process.

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    Table of Contents

    Introduction............................................................................................. 4

    Chapter 1 ............................................................................................... 10

    Chapter 2 ............................................................................................... 25

    Conclusion ............................................................................................. 37

    Works Cited ........................................................................................... 42

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    Introduction

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Should the beholder have poor eyesight, he

    can ask the nearest person, which girl looks good.

    (Allen 64)

    Woody Allen is an American movie director producing almost regularly one film

    every year for the last four decades; many of his movies have been very well received

    by both the audience and the critics, and have won prestigious awards. This is what

    many people know about the neurotic man in black rimmed glasses, which is the face

    Woody Allen has been presenting to the world. Not so many people have read Woody

    Allen's short stories and I was not successful when trying to find a work of criticism

    dealing with them. This might seem to indicate that the short stories are not worth

    dealing with. In postmodern literary criticism, however, the literary value has become a

    vague term and many works are no longer treated with the "basic scorn for the popular

    text that grows from the postclassical judgment that prior knowledge of hegemony

    precludes the need to look seriously for answers within the text" (Grimsted 568). This

    opinion I readily accept. I intend to analyze Woody Allen's Without Feathers,

    disregarding the fact that Allen's short stories might be perceived as mere fun, pseudo-

    intellectual prattling, self-indulgent trash or combination of all these three. This is, in

    my opinion, a very superficial reading of Woody Allen. It might not seem fruitful to

    input any more intellectual work in analyzing trash, but on the other hand it might be

    precisely what the short stories need to gain some value. "To say that the value of any

    cultural analysis is related to the thoughtful intensity given to the artifact is both to say

    the obvious and to say what needs to be said most in the classical and postclassical

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    popular culture debates" (Grimsted 563). In other words, in postmodern criticism the

    value is in the eye of the beholder and his/her willingness to analyze.

    Without Feathers is a collection of short stories published in 1975. The individual

    stories issued before in various magazines and are very varied. Formally, there are

    notebook excerpts ("Selections from the Allen Notebooks"), encyclopedic/educational

    articles ("A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets"), artistic literary attempts ("The Early

    Essays"), whodunits ("Match Wits with Inspector Ford") and other types of texts.

    Frequent themes are culture ("Lovborg's Women Considered" or "If the Impressionists

    Have Been Dentists"), urban society ("No Kaddish for Weinstein"), history ("A Brief

    Yet Helpful Guide to Civil Disobedience" or "But SoftReal Soft"), religion ("The

    Scrolls") or language ("Slang Origins"). None of this is, however, of real importance for

    the analysis of the work, since its main feature is nonsense. Once this statement is taken

    in consideration, it is analyzing the genre of the work that is the key to its correct

    understanding. Nonsense is nonsense, and trying to analyze its themes, motifs, plots,

    ideas or contents of the texts is useless. It is characteristic of literary nonsense that the

    themes and formal properties of the text are only means of perfecting the structure.

    Nonsense literature is characterized not by the meanings of its elements, but by the

    patterns in which these elements are organized. For correct reading and understanding

    ofWithout Feathers, it is essential to prove that it has the structure of nonsense.

    To be able to do this, a theory of literary nonsense is needed. Working with

    nonsense, however, is a slippery job and trying to create a "bulletproof" theory is very

    difficult. Any theory of nonsense cannot be very far from patchy at best, as nonsense

    theorists tend to agree. In this dissertation, I work with theoretical texts by two authors,

    Wim Tigges and Jean Jacques Lecercle. They both analyze nonsense structurally, which

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    is the reason why their works are of interest for my argument. Their approach, however,

    differs in the degree of striving for coherent theory of nonsense as a genre.

    In his essayAn Anatomy of Literary Nonsense, Wim Tigges tries to define

    nonsense quite strictly. He starts by reviewing and commenting on past nonsense

    criticism and continues by creating his own theory of nonsense as based on canonized

    works by Lear, Carroll, Morgenstern, the Marx brothers and others. He is also very

    intent on delineating what nonsense is and what nonsense is not (in the second and third

    chapters of the book, pages 47 to 138). He tries to arrive at a state where clear lines

    could be drawn between the genres of nonsense, joke, the absurd, parody, satire,

    grotesque, surrealism, dada, fairy tale, nursery rhyme, myth and light verse. This

    precision has a double edge. Tigges certainly gives answers to some of the questions

    about structures of nonsense literature especially helpful is his notion of "unresolved

    tension" (as will be explained below), which is also the basis for differentiating between

    nonsense and other genres. On the other hand, his meticulous approach results in a very

    close adherence to the heritage of the founding fathers of nonsense, Lewis Carroll and

    Edward Lear. In Chapter 4 of the essay, he divides all works of nonsense into two

    streams "learean" and "carrollean". This might be seen as a setback from the point of

    view of this dissertation, since it virtually proclaims the death of nonsense as a

    productive genre; all there is to nonsense has already been created by either Lear or

    Carroll and has only been developed little further by other long dead authors. As the

    argument developed in this dissertation shows, I cannot quite agree with this view; my

    definition of nonsense will not be as strict as Tigges's and therefore I will only use those

    chapters of his book that deal with the formal properties of nonsense.

    Jean Jacques Lecerle's contribution to nonsense criticism is double: He deals

    directly with Victorian nonsense in his bookPhilosophy of Nonsense. The Intuitions of

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    Victorian Nonsense Literature. Here he does not try to broaden up the canon of

    nonsense works, but applies a strictly linguistic approach to nonsense. This bears fruit,

    since as said above, to work with nonsense, we must get over the fact that it mostly does

    not make sense. An analysis on the levels of phonology, morphology, lexicology and

    pragmatics, to the highest possible degree cut off from the level of semantics, which is

    the most problematic in the case of meaning, allows Lecercle to observe patterns of

    nonsense in the classics of the genre. As with Tigges, the setback of this approach is its

    limitation to dealing only with the canonized works, that is almost exclusively with the

    Alice books. InPhilosophy, Lecercle does not try to create a theory of nonsense

    applicable to other works; he just presents a new approach to the canon.

    Lecerle's The Violence of Language is a counterweight in the sense that it does not

    deal only with the genre of nonsense, but with all kinds of instances where language

    does not behave as people would like it to. In Violence, Lecercle shows the problems

    both the scholar and the common speaker can have with language. Scholars try to set

    borders to language, but must constantly face the problem of white spots on the map,

    the instances that are outside all prescriptive systems of rules the rules of correct

    grammar, the usage or the generative principles. Speakers must often face the fact that

    despite their wish, language is not in their possession, not an obedient tool, but a thing

    that seems alive in their mouths; the relationship between a language and a speaker is

    one of mutual shaping at best. These broad observations are complemented by

    structurally explicated examples. The problem with Violence of Language is that only a

    small portion of it pertains directly to nonsense. Its

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