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Welcome to morning, this sixth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand and four and I am in Mr. LaurenceSterne's study. Here flowed the words from his pen to Tristram's mouth, or as he would have you believe, it was the other way round.
It is a low ceiling place, and I can count the ancient nails pounded in long-dead wood above my head. It is beams and plaster, the dark uneven lines shadowing the still clean ceiling. But I have better things to do than count nails or look for non-existent graffitti (LINK!). The room is lined in labours befitting a country parson's study, neatly parallel and perpendicular thin dark bookshelves, brown calfskin and gold leaf, or facsimiles thereof. The books contain his writings, and writings about his writings, the thing and the metathings. A Shandean paradox in paper and fading ink. Dead trees. I bow gentilely to his print on the wall. Sweetly introduce him to my computer, following all of my knowledge of eighteenth century courtesy. They nod and wink at each other from between the centuries when I am not looking.
I have today, and today only, to write in this study. A clock is chiming the hours, and I dare not count them. I was telling you my story, the one about the black currents, but that was last night and you have forgotten it already, I dare say. I will tell it to you again, as it bears repeating. A modern day panegyrick, a trick or two of the light. We must all tell our panegyricks, for fear that the art of navigation will be lost forever. And when did the panegyrick go out of fashion? When did it cease to be a panacea for all our pedagogical requirements, one suitable for parents and teachers alike? Perhaps it was when we no longer required our eighth graders to decline every verb, to incline every noun. Prehaps it was when fashionable young men no longer swarmed the continent to finish their education and so sow their oats. Perhaps the ghosts of old panegyricks have been frightened away by the screams of our modern screens, by the faster than life multi-tracked existence brought directly to your living rooms, ladies and gentlemen, twenty four hours a day.
Well, I should continue this modern day panegyrick, it is getting on and the sun has fled before me, leaving me in a darkened state. I was telling you, surfer dude user, about my black currents. You were experiencing the waves, the undertows, the dangerous currents under the waves, in your mind just now, weren't you? Letting the words swell and fall, surge and pulse, determining if this was your wave or if someone else had claimed it before you. Well, don't hang back, there is plenty for every one in these currents. Beware, though, the gas man may come, and Sterne may not have paid his power bills. But we'll talk of the man another time.
Or perhaps you were just skipping about, surfing channels, gathering in the plots by osmosis. Walk with me a moment. Slow down a bit. Enjoy the tame back garden. It is a particularly fine one, with a perfect grass square lined with roses and foxglove. Digitalis. Boil it down for your heart and take it. The dose is strong, the pounding it gives severe, but the visions are certainly worthy of the dangers. Gather more of the black currents, for the sauce from last night never gelled properly, and we will try it again. I'll leave the sanctuary of Sterne's study for a turn round the garden with you. The story can wait until we get back, there is still plenty of light and juice for my laptop. And I would far rather be in the garden with you, touching those tanned surfer muscles, than to soak up a hundred old spirits from this place of bound calfskin and parchment.
Wait a moment. Who are you that I am dreaming of? Are you, reader, the one I am thinking of now? Or is that someone else entirely? And where did I leave the black currents this time?
I left them in the tame back garden, sitting on the sundial squat in the middle of the green. The sundial is from 1661, or at least that is the date on it. I for one, never believe a single date. And I have had many...single dates, that is. Well more than that, but as confessionals are as out of date as books entitled the Life and Opinion of, we should get back to the subject. The black currents are still pulsing on the sundial. Could it honestly be the year 1661 or is that more of a palindromic mnemonic? Perhaps 1661 is rather, the year of the beast or contains some hidden allegorical meaning: I have left all my footnotes at home, but I will try to reconstruct them here. Beware of the sun, it could hide anywhere. What is the difference between the years 1661 or 2002? Nothing seperates them but a convenient numbering system. I had those dates in 2002, that lovely time with you on the beach, surfing between the waves, touching lightly on all those subjects between the web pages, pulsing our currents in tandem, knowing nothing but love and nonnarrative linking. I dare say you remember those times, dear reader, dear buff surfer dude, as well as I. At least we are blessed with a better sex education than Tristram's Uncle Toby, at least we know that our love was not merely caused by blisters...But let's stop the swelling and get back to the text.
Back to the garden, where I keep leaving those damn currents. The adder that was hiding in the black currents that day did not taste flesh. I know this comes out of place in my story, but I was anxious on that score, and I did not want to keep you longer in suspense. See how nice I am about the suspense, catering to our modern tastes. Only in the 1700s could a reader wait so patiently to be told whether the narrator is born or not. Only in that far off storytime of leisure, when all a lady need do is shiver by the firelight, could a reader wait to be told the tragic tale of a narrator's name for well over three volumes (CHECK!!). Only in a time with no screening distractions could a character wade through 9 volumes with a groin wound only to realize at the end that this could prove to be an irritant to a worthy Widow Wadman. Only then, and not now, would the reader give credit to such a cock and bull tale as that. At any rate, you were not bitten by the black adder, dear reader, not in my tale. But now I am lost in our memories, ranging through time, scrounging our little bits of history. Sterne would have loved to see that show, would have loved the humor in it. (You see again, how neatly I know you both, how little your minds change and stray from the central subject, the rises and falls of your .. shall we say center of gravity? or should we be more explicit in these X ray times?) I would tell you the black adder plots again, read them over to you a hundred times--but you have left already to find them on your own.