Front Cover
 Half Title
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Part 1: Sterne
 1. Rhetoric and representation
 2. Philosophy of the nose
 Part 2: Kierkegaard
 3. The concept of irony
 4. Irony as play
 5. Irony as fraud
 6. Erotic economy
 7. Erotic aesthetics
 Part 3: Barthes
 8. Roland Barthes
 Part 4: Possible ironies of...
 9. Eros in the family (way) (determinations...
 10. The question of eros
 Back Cover

A question of eros
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00100354/00001
 Material Information
Title: A question of eros irony in Sterne, Kierkegaard, and Barthes
Series Title: Kierkegaard and postmodernism
Physical Description: xv, 415 p. : ; 22 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Smyth, John Vignaux
Publisher: (multiple)
University Presses of Florida :
Florida State University Press
Place of Publication: Tallahassee
Publication Date: c1986
Copyright Date: 1986
Subjects / Keywords: Irony in literature   ( lcsh )
Irony   ( lcsh )
Ironie dans la littérature   ( rvm )
Ironie   ( rvm )
Ironie (rhétorique) -- Dans la littérature   ( ram )
Ironie (rhétorique)   ( ram )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 395-411.
Statement of Responsibility: John Vignaux Smyth.
General Note: Includes index.
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 12372475
lccn - 85017786
isbn - 0813008344 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Classification: lcc - PN56.I65 S69 1986
ddc - 809/.91
System ID: UF00100354:00001

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
    Half Title
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
    Table of Contents
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
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        Page 4
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        Page 7
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        Page 9
        Page 10
    Part 1: Sterne
        Page 11
        Page 12
    1. Rhetoric and representation
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
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    2. Philosophy of the nose
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    Part 2: Kierkegaard
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    3. The concept of irony
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    4. Irony as play
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    5. Irony as fraud
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    6. Erotic economy
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    7. Erotic aesthetics
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    Part 3: Barthes
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    8. Roland Barthes
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    Part 4: Possible ironies of "Postmodernism"
        Page 303
        Page 304
    9. Eros in the family (way) (determinations of indeterminacy)
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    10. The question of eros
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    Back Cover
        Back Cover
Full Text









John Vignaux Smyth

University Presses of Florida
B 612 1 15


University Presses of Florida is the central agency for scholarly pub-
lishing of the State of Florida's university system, producing books se-
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Smyth, John Vignaux.
A question of eros.
(Kierkegaard & postmodernism series)
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. Irony in literature. 2. Sterne, Laurence, 1713-
1768. Life and opinions of Tristram Shandy.
3. Kierkegaard, Soren, 1813-1855. Om begrebet
ironi. 4. Kierkegaard, Soren, 1813-1855. Enten-eller.
5. Barthes, Roland-Knowledge-Irony. 6. Irony.
I. Title. II. Series.
PN56.I65S69 1986 809'.91 85-17786
ISBN 0-8130-0834-4

Copyright 1986 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida
Printed in the U.S.A. on acid-free paper. &
Typesetting by G & S Typesetters, Inc., Austin, Texas


I should like to take the opportunity here to register my grati-
tude to my teachers Barbara Herrnstein Smith and the late Paul
de Man, without whose very diverse influences upon me this
book could not have been conceived-but who bear no respon-
sibility, needless to say, for its contents or its errors.
I also acknowledge the American Council of Learned So-
cieties, whose grant enabled me to pursue some of the more ar-
cane details of Sterneana that appear in the footnotes to chap-
ters 1 and 2 and in the three appendixes. Likewise, I thank
Bennington College for the term's leave from teaching in which I
gathered these details and during which I also wrote the final
two chapters.
Finally, thanks to Philip Holland for reading drafts of the ma-
terial on Sterne.

The following publishers have given permission to quote
from copyrighted material:
Princeton University Press
Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, vol. 1, translated by David F.
Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson. Copyright 1944,
1972 renewed by Howard A. Johnson. Published by Prince-
ton University Press.
Soren Kierkegaard, Stages on Life's Way, translated by Walter
Lowrie. Copyright 1940, 1968 renewed by Howard
Johnson. Published by Princeton University Press.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.
Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, English translation by
Richard Miller, copyright 1975 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard.
English translation copyright 1977 by Farrar, Straus &
Giroux, Inc.

Roland Barthes, S/Z, translated by Richard Miller. English
translation copyright 1974 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.
Reprinted by permission of Hill & Wang, a division of Farrar,
Straus & Giroux, Inc.
Editions du Seuil
Roland Barthes, S/Z, C 1974 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.
for the translation. Originally published in French as S/Z,
1970 by Editions du Seuil, Paris.
Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, 1975 by Farrar,
Straus & Giroux, Inc. for the translation. Originally pub-
lished in French as Le Plaisir du texte 1973 by Editions du
Seuil, Paris.
Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., and William Collins Sons &
Co., Ltd.
Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, translated by Lee M.
Capel. Copyright 1965 in English translation by Harper &
Row Publishers, Inc., and William Collins Sons.


Foreword by Mark C. Taylor ix
Introduction 1
Part 1: Sterne
1. Rhetoric and Representation 13
2. Philosophy of the Nose 44
Part 2: Kierkegaard
3. The Concept of Irony 101
4. Irony as Play 118
5. Irony as Fraud 146
6. Erotic Economy 170
7. Erotic Aesthetics 223
Part 3: Barthes
8. Roland Barthes 263
Part 4: Possible Ironies of "Postmodernism"
9. Eros in the Family (Way) (Determinations of
Indeterminacy) 305
10. The Question of Eros 337
Appendix 1 379
Appendix 2 381
Appendix 3: Sterne and Locke: A Scholar's Fantasy 384
Bibliography 395
Index 413

To my parents
to T6rese


The occasion is always the accidental, and this is the
tremendous paradox, that the accidental is just as ab-
solutely necessary as the necessary. The occasion is
not in the ideal sense the accidental, as when I logi-
cally think the accidental; but the occasion is, irra-
tionally regarded, the accidental; and yet in this acci-
dentality, the necessary.
Soren Kierkegaard

In a section of S/Z entitled "How Many Readings?", Roland
Barthes writes:

We must further accept one last freedom: that of reading
the text as if it had already been read. ... But for those of
us who are trying to establish a plural, we cannot stop this
plural at the gates of reading: the reading must also be plu-
ral, that is, without order of entrance: the 'first' version of a
reading must be able to be its last, as though the text were
reconstituted in order to achieve its artifice of continuity,
the signifier then being provided with an additional fea-
ture: shifting. Rereading, an operation contrary to the com-
mercial and ideological habits of our society, which would
have us 'throw away' the story once it has been consumed
('devoured'), so that we can then move on to another story,
buy another book, and which is tolerated only in certain
marginal categories of readers (children, old people, and
professors) rereading is here suggested at the outset, for it
alone saves the text from repetition (those who fail to re-
read are obliged to read the same story everywhere), multi-
plies it in its variety and its plurality: rereading draws the
text out of its internal chronology ('this happens before or
after that'); and recaptures a mythic time (without before or
after); it contests the claim which would have us believe that
the first reading is primary, naive, phenomenal reading
which we will only, afterwards, have to 'explicate,' to intel-
lectualize (as if there were a beginning of reading, as if



everything were not already read: there is no first reading,
even if the text is concerned to give us that illusion by sev-
eral operations of suspense, artifices more spectacular than
persuasive); rereading is no longer consumption, but play
(that play which is the return of the different). If then, a de-
liberate contradiction in terms, we immediately reread the
text, it is in order to obtain, as though under the effect of a
drug (that of recommencement, of difference), not the real
text, but a plural text: the same and new. (15-16)

One of the most important characteristics of what Jean-
Francois Lyotard aptly describes as "the postmodern condition"
is the loss of certainty about what it means to read. When the
author "disappears," truth is "erased" and writing refiguredd."
In the wake of rewriting, the question of reading returns with
renewed urgency. What does it mean to read today, here and
now, "hic et nunc," "ici, maintenant?" Is it possible to read in the
age of "writing"? How is one to read a writerlyy" text? Which
texts are writerlyy" and which works are "readerly"? Where/
when does readerly writing "end" and writerly writing "begin"?
Where/when does readerly reading "end" and writerly reading
"begin"? Who reads? Who is reading today, here and now, "hic et
nunc," "ici, maintenant"? To read with these questions in mind is
to engage in what Heidegger calls "a reflection that persists in
questioning" ("The End of Philosophy," 373). Such persistent
questioning expects no answers, awaits no end.
With the loss of certainty, one can do nothing other than linger
with questions. When questioning becomes radical, reading
becomes chancy. No longer can one read with the expectation
of discovering meaning-determinate, decidable meaning that
gives answers. No longer can questions of genealogy, archaeol-
ogy, parentage, and influence be asked as they once were. Criti-
cism, like much twentieth-century painting, music, and litera-
ture, becomes the art of juxtaposition. Chance encounters release
unexpected insights and "unheard-of thoughts." For some people
this is chaos and for some creation; for others it is both.
In the midst of this confusion, why read or reread the writings
of Soren Kierkegaard? Few authors in the history of the West
have been as thoroughly, which is not necessarily to say closely,
read as Kierkegaard. Virtually all previous readings of Kierke-


gaard have, however, been readerly. While Kierkegaard always
writes in duplicitous fragments and inconclusive postscripts, his
interpreters, driven by a systematic urge, insist on looking for
the whole in the parts. After so many years of this readerly viola-
tion, it might be time to transgress the "ideological habits of our
society" by rereading Kierkegaard. What would it be like to re-
read Kierkegaard in a Kierkegaardian way (or ways)? Would
Kierkegaard return from such rereading(s) as a writer? If Kierke-
gaard is something like un ecrivain avant la lettre, is he already
postmodern? Any such rereading of Kierkegaard would not be a
simple repetition, for, as Constantine Constantius reminds us in
"his" Repetition, repetition is never simple. Nor would this re-
reading be serious labor, which is not to imply that it is unimpor-
tant (even if it might be insignificant). To the contrary, we must
try to read Kierkegaard otherwise. As Barthes stresses, such
"rereading is no longer consumption, but play (that play which
is the return of the different)." In rereading Kierkegaard, then,
we seek (only seek) "not the real text, but a plural text: the same
and new."
John Smyth's A Question of Eros: Irony in Sterne, Kierkegaard, and
Barthes is a chancy rereading that is in part, but only in part and
surely not totally, about chance. He juxtaposes an eighteenth-
century novelist, a nineteenth-century philosopher, and a twen-
tieth-century literary critic. But the list of chance encounters far
exceeds the main characters in this creative play. Smyth's aleatory
reading virtually explodes as he moves nimbly from Aristo-
phanes to Socrates, Plato, Locke, Hume, Hegel, the Schlegels,
Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Peirce, Burke, Gadamer, Bataille, Fou-
cault, Girard, Kristeva, Derrida, and de Man. In this play of
differences, textual fragments as various as noses and hobby-
horses, virgins and sisters, cloaks and veils, seducers and vic-
tims, impotence and jouissance, crisscross to generate a startling
array of novel insights. Consider, for example, the associations
suggested in the following lines of Smyth's text:

.. it is painfully clear that the Kierkegaardian eros and the
Sternean nose . are themselves very 'postmodernist'
entities, explicitly subject to all the problems of real and
nominal definition that may be said to define Derridean dif-
fPrance and de Manian irony. Moreover, as per our discus-



sion of Wittgenstein,it is consequently by no means easy to
judge whether 'erotic' or 'erotic-familial' images occur in
certain texts, about something quite anerotic, because of an
objective kinship between the two subjects or the way they
are structurally aligned in a given textual or psychic econ-
omy (infinity and eros, for example, or music and eros), or
because of a metaphorical and even wholly 'arbitrary' su-
perimposition. This goes equally for Wittgenstein's poetical
sister, which one might certainly argue to be 'arbitrarily'
interpreted in an 'erotic' manner by myself, as for A's dis-
cussion of the 'musical-erotic' in Either/Or, where eros 'ar-
bitrarily' (but for A . consistent arbitrariness is a sign of
intellectual rigor in these matters) becomes the essential
and 'absolute' subject of music. (338)

For Smyth, as for Kierkegaard's A, consistent arbitrariness is a
sign of intellectual rigor-even if such rigor contradicts what
previously has been regarded as rigorous. The extraordinary at-
tention to detail that characterizes Smyth's rigorous readings
should not obscure the far-reaching implications of his work.
Though the analyses developed in A Question of Eros are often
minute, the argument is grand. Smyth's overriding concern is
nothing less than to rethink the complex relationship between
literature and philosophy. In exploring this issue, Smyth returns
to the question Sartre asked in 1948, "What is literature?"-a
question that in various ways continues to preoccupy writers
and critics. In asking this question, one is, of course, also asking
"What is philosophy?" The problem of the relation between phi-
losophy and literature is at least as old as the encounter between
philosophers and poets in Plato's Republic. Smyth sets his rein-
terpretation of this question within the context of the tendency
to associate literature with play that has determined aesthetic
theory since the seventeenth century. Literary play, Smyth con-
tends, can best be understood in terms of the inseparable relation
between the theory-practice of irony and the theory-practice of
eros. By exploring Sterne's ironic critique of Locke's labored con-
demnation of impotent rhetoric and Kierkegaard's playful attack
on the serious work of Hegel's dialectic of negativity, Smyth
(usually ironically) suggests new ways of approaching the "erotic



aesthetics" developed in so much postmodern literature and
poststructuralist criticism. After following Smyth's careful read-
ings of Sterne and Kierkegaard, the irony of Barthes' "erotics of
the text" appears strangely familiar.
Smyth's concern, however, is not merely historical. Although
never directly claiming to do so, he actually presents a theory
of literary discourse. Like his own argument, literature is, ac-
cording to Smyth, inescapably chancy. While the philosopher
struggles to avoid accidents and to master chance, the literary
writer tries to occasion the accidental by staging "the procreative
power of absolute chance." In related, though distinguishable,
ways irony and eros point to a "structured indeterminacy: both
[the] indeterminacy of structure and the structure of indeter-
mination" (236). Sternean and Kierkegaardian irony function as
what Sylviane Agacinski describes as "a non-dialecticalizable
negativity" that interrupts (the) literary work and disrupts sys-
tematic comprehension. In the absence of decidable meaning,
truth, like Nietzsche's woman, withdraws behind endless im-
penetrable veils. At this point, Kierkegaard's seducer is trans-
formed into Barthes' eroticist whose textual/sexual play finally
comes to/in a certain (or uncertain) bliss (jouissance).

For Barthes [Smyth explains], the 'text of pleasure'-as op-
posed to that of bliss-is 'the text that comes from culture
and does not break with it, . linked to a comfortable prac-
tice of reading.' In short, the text of pleasure remains a play
already delimited and sanctioned by work, by 'culture.'
The 'text of bliss,' on the other hand, is said to be 'the
text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts
(perhaps to the point of a certain boredom), unsettles the
reader's historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the y
consistency of his tastes, values, memories, brings to a crisis
his relation with language. . Barthes' aesthetic or textual
eros is thus crucially dependent, not so much on a concept
of pleasure in general (which has always played a major
part in traditional aesthetic theory) as on the concept of an
erotic pleasure which makes 'pleasure' itself an inadequate
or indeterminate term. Moreover he claims-according to a
logic that we have already followed in Either/Or-that this



'bliss' (unlike pleasure) cannot 'be expressed in words,'
That it is 'unspeakable, interdicted,' that there can be no
'presentation of bliss.' (284-85)

In order to undergo this unspeakable bliss, it is necessary to
read in a writerly fashion.
The ludic indeterminacy of jouissance opens a space that af-
fords an unexpected glimpse of the "absolute chance" of Der-
rida's play, the "transgression" of Foucault's madness and sex-
uality, and the "violence" of Girard's (and Bataille's) sacred. By
linking postmodern rhetoric to the patterns of irony and eros that
he identifies in modern and premodern writers, Smyth claims to
effect "what de Man calls the ironic undoing of deconstruc-
tion-the deconstruction of deconstruction-[which] may per-
haps be said to lie in its formal resemblance (in-difference) to
what Kierkegaard calls the religious 'absurd'" (372). With the jux-
taposition of Derrida's "non-theological" difference and Kierke-
gaard's "religious" absurdity, Smyth takes his most daring
chance. If difference, with its endless chain of supplements, turns
out to have something to do with Kierkegaard's "Absolute Para-
dox" (and vice versa), it might be necessary to rethink (or to
think) not only the relationship between Kierkegaard and Der-
rida but, more generally, the creative interplay of the aesthetic
and the religious. Though beginning with Kierkegaard's oeuvre
and Smyth's reexamination of it, such rethinking would neces-
sarily pass beyond these works (or plays) to and/or in something
like le pas au-deld.
kver true to its title, A Question of Eros persists in questioning.
Smyth lingers with questions-questions of irony and eros and
of much more. He is acutely aware of the irony of his undertak-
ing and the impossibility of his project. On the very first page of
the book, Smyth warns:

Whatever one's background, there can be little question that
the most important prerequisite for a student of irony-
as for a student of humor, with which irony shares a con-
siderable border-is to have, or to acquire, a 'sense' of it.

Part (how could it be more?) of the irony of writing about irony
and eros is that their irreducible indeterminacy makes such writ-



ing (perhaps all writing) impossible. Paradoxically, however, in-
determinacy can be glimpsed, if at all, only in the struggle to de-
termine it. The impossibility of writing the theory-practice of
irony and the theory-practice of eros renders reading plural. To
read erotic texts ironically is to read "the same and new." Such
chancy rereading is reading with (a) difference.

Mark C. Taylor

In comparison to her, Valechka was a
Schlegel and Charlotte a Hegel. . It is
not the artistic aptitudes that are second-
ary sexual characters as some shams and
shamans have said; it is the other way


We might ask: What role can a sentence like "I always
lie" have in human life? And here we can imagine a
variety of things.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

This book is about a set of phenomena that can conveniently be
gathered together under the heading of the term "irony," though
the choice of term is doubtless much less important than the
phenomena it is intended to describe. Besides that there are
many ironists or would-be ironists, in our literary schools of "de-
construction" and elsewhere, who might be too quick to see the
joke in any attempt on my part to define this term with any un-
ironic degree of formal rigour, I have other reasons for not begin-
ning this study with any such attempt. Irony can of course be
formally or informally defined-and in as many different termi-
nologies as there are disciplines, theories, and interested parties
that make such an endeavour possible or desirable. I will refer at
least in passing in the following pages to a number of such defi-
nitions or quasi-definitions that bear more or less directly on my
subject. But, for the most part, a general knowledge of ordinary
and everyday applications of the term-combined, perhaps,
with some combination of more scholarly applications (whether
these be drawn from the domains of philosophy, literature, lit-
erary criticism, or rhetoric per se)'-will serve very well as

1. Both the philosophical and literary traditions that have called Soc-
rates an ironist, for example, will be obviously and directly relevant to
the following. But a knowledge of the more general rhetorical history
of the term-for instance in its early technical relation to allegory-
might be just as relevant and enlightening; as also might be a knowl-


background for an introduction to the "irony" of the texts and
authors that this study undertakes to analyze. For experienced
readers of Sterne, Kierkegaard, or Barthes, on the other hand,
doubtless some well-formed conception of irony and its rele-
vance to one or more of these authors is already present. What-
ever one's background, there can be little question that the most
important prerequisite for a student of irony-as for a student of
humour, with which irony shares a considerable border-is to
have, or to acquire, a "sense" of it.
Most or all irony, as I take it, has some relation to deception:
an ironic discourse does not "mean what it says" or "what it
appears to mean." Especially in literary studies, where much
exploration of irony is conducted, the element of genuine de-
ception sometimes encouraged or assumed by ironic texts fre-
quently takes second place to analysis or appreciation of irony
as an aesthetic technique-or, to use a Kierkegaardian locution,
of irony as a figure of speech in which all ironic miscomprehen-
sion is assumed to be cancelled. Even where irony is elevated
into a keystone of poetics, or further elevated into a kind of
philosophical standpoint, its possible element of real deception
is often underplayed, since analysts generally concentrate (ex-
cept when demonstrating the errors of their colleagues and ideo-
logical opponents) on the texts of ironic authors as they appear,
or should appear, to fully "competent" and undeceived readers.
Where incompetent sections of the audience are presumed-as,
for instance, the groundlings for whom Shakespeare is some-
times said to have written some of his more vulgar or otherwise
theatrically inappropriate scenes2-this is usually an occasion
for paying little further (nonpejorative) attention to those aspects

edge of its literary critical history-either Anglo-American or other-
in more recent times. More or less contemporary conceptions of irony
referred to in the following discussion include those of Paul de Man,
Kenneth Burke, and Leo Strauss.
2. One thinks, for example, of some of the bawdier scenes in Othello
(the apparently stock entrance of the clown or Desdemona's appar-
ently out-of-character witty repartee with lago), of which it may be
more truly said that the literary critics are the dupes (for being unable
to understand them) than the supposed groundlings (for being grate-
ful that the bard stooped to give them their theatrical money's worth).


of a work that seem designed for, or prey to, the responses of
less-than-ideal sensibilities and intellects. By contrast, the iron-
ist sensu eminentiori (to borrow Kierkegaard's phrase for the iron-
ist proper) allows not so much for varying degrees of compe-
tence in his audience as for varying degrees of incompetence
and propensity to error, including that "incompetence" which
ultimately belongs to all audiences, including himself. At this
latter level, indeed, the ironic endeavour is thus liable to take on
its classic or "Socratic" shape as an attempt to delimit the ironist's
own ignorance or folly or to be undeceived (and yet perhaps
playful and even artistically mischievous) about the infinite ex-
tent of his own deception. At this level too, the ironic endeavour
might be said to mime the movement of transcendence of au-
thorial subjectivity that traditionally belongs to the classics and
that leads Kierkegaard (following the romantics) to call Shake-
spearean irony, for example, a form of objectivity. In a similar
sense, the peculiarly literary or dramatic forms and rigours of
Platonic dialogue are frequently regarded as inseparable from
Socratic irony, i.e., from the irony that Plato's chief dramatic per-
sonage so famously impersonates. Everywhere in this study, in
fact, irony is connected to the deceptive interrelation of philoso-
phy and literature, cognition and aesthetics, an interrelation
well expressed in Friedrich Schlegel's remark that irony might be
defined as logical beauty ("Selected Aphorisms," no. 42, 126).
Except in certain aspects of my reading of Sterne's Tristram
Shandy, I shall not be especially concerned with the particular
manner in which my chosen texts may have actually deceived
their various readers, and I shall be at least as concerned with
ironic "logic" and "beauty" as with ironic deception. But I do
wish to stress at the outset that the deceptive moment, even if
only instantaneous or mimed in a game, is a constitutive ele-
ment of irony as it is here to be understood, and that both the
aestheticization of ironic texts in literary studies and what one
might call the derhetorization of ironic texts in philosophical
studies can equally obscure the way in which the ironic game of
deception can be conjoined with its reality. Where a real and
definite concealment is intentionally effected by an ironist, one
might call the irony strategic. This effect may or may not coexist
with other effects (of aesthetic or logical satisfaction, subtlety,
humour, etc.) characteristic of an irony intended to be under-


stood. Indeed, it is obviously quite possible to imagine a text
written with a number of audiences in mind, in which the same
passage might be calculated to conceal from one audience (while
perhaps pleasing it on its own terms) what another audience ap-
preciates as an exquisite irony, and so forth, including as many
different levels of audience (and complex relations between them)
as it is possible to conceive an accomplished artist capable of
controlling. In Kierkegaard's ideal portrayal of Socrates, as well
as in Sterne's ideal portrayal of Tristram Shandy donning the
garb of classical rhetoric, one is doubtless meant to imagine the
ironist-rhetorician as magically possessing an almost inexhaust-
ible power of this kind, such that it works its spell even upon a
posterity that he surely could not have preconceived. This then
is one picture of the ironist as he might be conceived or por-
trayed by the ironic initiate, someone who considers himself
least deceived. At the same time, this kind of picture is itself pre-
dictably full of its own invitations to error, not least because the
relation between the "intentions" of the ironist and the seduc-
tive interpretive lure afforded by his recorded discourse now be-
comes most difficult to chart. At a certain limiting point, as I
have already implied, the specific search for more or less definite
kinds of calculated concealment merges indistinguishable with
the problem of the relation between meaning and intention more
generally. There are certain areas, in other words-and the ac-
complished ironist knows and exploits this very well-where it
becomes virtually impossible to distinguish between authorial
irony and the "irony of the world," where the latter is under-
stood as including both laws of meaning operating beyond the
author's consciousness and simply what Vladimir Nabokov has
called "the chance that mimics choice."
I have so far discussed only the practice of irony. Of equal
or greater importance to this study, however, is the "theory of
irony" I propose to explore in all three of my chosen authors,
and that I shall later pursue briefly in some of its other more con-
temporary manifestations. Of my main subjects, both Kierke-
gaard and Barthes are generally regarded as theorists; though in
both the dividing line between theory and literature, or theory
and rhetoric, may seem particularly and even dangerously fine.
Kierkegaard, in particular, devoted his first book-the book of
his on which I shall spend most time-explicitly to the concept


of irony; and Barthes also links his critical theory to a concept
that goes by the same name. Sterne, on the other hand, is per-
haps generally regarded as a novelistic practitioner rather than a
theorist of irony, notwithstanding that the importance of his de-
ployment of theoretical modes has quite frequently been re-
marked. In addition, though he uses the word "irony" on at least
one pregnant occasion in Tristram Shandy, the commoner gen-
eral quasi-synonym would seem to be "wit" or, more specifi-
cally, as we shall see, the rhetorical device of "aposiopesis."3 In
each of my chosen authors, in any case, I shall attempt to show
how a certain relatively well-defined set of concepts and concep-
tual figures is deployed to define the ironist in a manner that can
only be called theoretical-no less so in the novelist (Sterne) than
in the philosopher (Kierkegaard) or the literary critic (Barthes)-
and I hope also to show how the appearance of this set in all
three writers justifies my bringing them together under a com-
mon title. Because each may be regarded as simultaneously
practising and theorizing in a manner that, at the limit, might
seem to dissolve the opposition between the two, the common
title I here propose is "the theory-practice of irony."
Quite apart from questions of nomenclature, or indeed of the
various possible theoretical or practical intentions of the authors
concerned, one of my aims in bringing them together is simply
to show how much terrain they share in common despite mani-
fest differences of period, of nationality, of writerly genre or disci-
pline, and apparently of general ideological complexion. Though
I have approached each author separately, in a fashion that has
attempted to accommodate his own rhythms, frameworks, and
terminologies and that often yields to other demands than those
of systematicity, I have also tried to demonstrate the systematic
recurrence of certain quite complex conceptual and rhetorical
patterns in each. How these patterns are ultimately to be inter-
preted is another matter: one test of any theory of the subject

3. The concepts of "wit" and "irony" meet, for example, in the German
romantic Witz. Aposiopesis (e.g., the celebrated Sternean dash in
punctuation) marks a rhetorical-grammatical discontinuity that finds
its parallel, as we shall see, in Schlegelian irony as parabasis (a figure
also invoked by such contemporaries as Paul de Man) and in Kierke-
gaardian and Barthesian anacoluthon.


would presumably be its ability to predict some of their more
complex modifications as they appear in these authors and in
others. My own aim, however, is not to construct a formal the-
ory but to utilize theoretical materials already in the texts them-
selves to reflect from different angles the significance of such a
systematic recurrence. Along the way I shall also have occasional
and generally brief recourse to other authors and materials to
further develop, counterpoint, or otherwise adumbrate aspects
of my readings. Sometimes these authors will be directly con-
nected to my primary texts (as in the case, for instance, of Aris-
tophanes, Locke, and Friedrich Schlegel); sometimes they will
be modern authors who have written on similar matters (as in
the case, for instance, of Leo Strauss, Jacques Derrida and Hans-
Georg Gadamer). Notes will sometimes also make further cross-
references and will develop (occasionally at some length) finer
points of interpretation that would otherwise distract from the
main thrust of my analyses.4 In my concluding section I will try
to indicate, in a schematic and essayistic manner, some addi-
tional connections or possible connections between these an-
alyses and other modern or "postmodern" materials as well as
Barthes', with the further hope of suggesting how the ethico-
religious dimension of irony as it appears in Sterne and Kierke-
gaard (which I leave very largely at the margins of my earlier
commentary) finds contemporary articulation.
As regards the general conceptual configuration that I take my
three authors as exemplifying, however, I have made my focus
(as my title suggests) their portrayal of the ironist as eroticist-so
that the theory-practice of irony may be said to be simultane-
ously a theory-practice of eros. (The brief and unequivocal iden-
tification of a definite tradition in which such a portrayal can
safely be situated encounters certain difficulties that will become

4. This is particularly true of the notes to part 1 and the appendices,
concerned with Tristram Shandy, where I have attempted to augment
substantially my general argument with more detailed matters of inter-
pretation entailed thereby and therein. Though these may be of interest
to the general reader, I have aimed them particularly at readers familiar
with the text and with Sternean scholarship, in an effort to suggest
some interpretive specifics that depart from (or hope to supplement)
current and traditional norms of interpretation of Sterne's novel.


clearer in the course of my exposition, but the most venerable or
well-known precedent might perhaps be found in the Socrates of
Plato's Symposium.) Around the systematic erotic configuration I
shall also identify a set of other conceptual and rhetorical pat-
terns that have their own independent interest, but that gain
particular force and clarity when brought to bear on what might
be called this erotic perspective. As I have said, the nature of
these patterns makes it appropriate to approach them by way of
the authors and texts on their own terms rather than by way
of formal description or definition at the start-even if this leads
to a good deal of repetition-in-difference from one reading to an-
other. Worth mentioning at the start, nevertheless, is the concep-
tual dichotomy of "work" and "play" that I shall pursue in all
three primary authors and to which will accrue a number of
more subtle and less easily labelled distinctions and configura-
tions. Because the dichotomy acquires a more or less technical or
heuristic value as it applies to the texts under discussion, and
because these texts themselves undermine or displace the di-
chotomy in a manner that I shall discuss, in my reading of
Kierkegaard, under the rubric of workplay, I have (once again at
the risk of repetition) italicized the dichotomous terms more or
less throughout.
One implication that might be drawn from these cautionary
italics will be to suggest how much the critique of "aesthetics"
that I shall later explore in Kierkegaard and Barthes can be linked
to a critique of the concept of play as it determines (or is de-
termined by) the development of aesthetic theory from the
seventeenth century onward. Though I at no point undertake
anything resembling a systematic discussion of the history of
aesthetics and/or the concept of play, a recurring argument,
both explicit and implicit, will be that the eroticization of irony
to be found in my authors recalls (in each case with some spe-
cific authorial prompting) a classical tradition in which the very
concept of aesthetics and aesthetic play-let us date them, for
convenience, from the period of the Enlightenment-would not
as such have found a place.5 This is part of the reason why I be-

5. It is sometimes said that the modern category of "childhood"-and
its "innocence"-was born in the period of the Enlightenment, and one


gin by stressing the genuinely deceptive element of irony, which
was actually a primary and often strongly pejorative meaning of
the word in its earlier and classical usages, for this reminds us
that "playful," "aesthetic," or "artistic" illusions may be none-
theless genuine illusions and seriously deceptive for all that. For
analogous reasons-because in aesthetics literature may seem to
become the more or less transparent object of philosophy and
because all my ironists encourage the confrontation of literature
and philosophy-I have augmented my account of the literary
confrontation of the two disciplines that takes place in Tristram
Shandy both by an account of one of the most overtly literary sec-
tions of Either/Or ("Diary of the Seducer") and by a more ex-
tended discussion of Aristophanes' Clouds than might on the
face of it seem warranted by Kierkegaard's use of that excellent
play in The Concept of Irony. These aforementioned texts, along
with a selection from Barthes' work chosen as much simply to
confirm (in modern or postmodern terminology) as to further
extend the systematicity of earlier results, will be the primary
objects of my reading.
I now return to the question of the definition of irony or the

might doubtless link this to the birth of a new idea of play that also
informs the development of philosophical aesthetics as such. In
pioneering philosophers like Locke (or contemporary writers like
Defoe) a firm link between literature or literary rhetoric and play is al-
ready present, but this involves conceiving play as dangerous and
threatening-far from the autonomous, "disinterested" play of beauty
as the symbol of morality that one finds, for example, in Kant. In
Locke, accordingly, an aesthetics per se (or an equivalent to Kant's Cri-
tique of Judgement) is not yet possible. But whether the concept of aes-
thetic play is positively valorized as in Kant or negatively valorized as
in Locke, it nevertheless makes inconceivable the kind of classical
paradigm we find in Plato, where on the one hand beauty and good-
ness are intimately linked (albeit in a thoroughly non-Kantian man-
ner), but where on the other hand imitative poetry is expelled from the
Republic as incompatible with a just state. It is only when both beauty
and literature can be commonly linked under the title of aesthetics and
of play that the Platonic pattern of valorization appears necessarily in-
consistent. Locke's idea of play makes it inconceivable that beauty
should be praised as it is in Plato; Kant's idea of play makes it incon-
ceivable that poetry should be treated with such uncompromising


ironist, with a special view to those readers who might be sorry
to see such an introduction pass without a single reference to
any ironical definition. In this connection it should be pointed
out that the interrelations between the various ordinary mean-
ings of the word have their own suggestiveness and that the
somewhat discontinuous semantic field traversed in the course
of its history, from the classical sense of sly deception (based
originally on the Eiron of Greek comedy) onward, is by no means
without ironies as well as lessons.6 A number of more or less tra-
ditional or even proverbial formulations also come to mind as
possible candidates-not excluding, for example, versions of the
Cretan liar paradox such as appear in the Wittgenstein epigraph
cited above. Because my own concern is primarily the analysis of
specific authors, however, I will here choose my ironic definition
of irony from one of them.
The definition-or rather quasi-definition-in question occurs
in a passage from Tristram Shandy that I cite as epigraph to my
second chapter. Since I do not otherwise comment on it and in
fact use another more or less Shandean formula to define the
novel's irony more straightforwardly, this citation is worth antici-
pating, particularly in view of its being the only significant occa-
sion, to my knowledge, on which Tristram Shandy himself uses
the word "irony" (the word is capitalized). The ironic treatment
of the term proceeds, as is appropriate, by negation and trun-
cated analogy, and by concentrating not directly on what irony is
but on what kind of people do not know what irony is. Tristram
is bemoaning, in volume 7 of his Life and Opinions, the lack of
irony exhibited by the French around him, a lack that can only
be compared to that of the ass that happens to be standing be-
side him (VII.XXXIV). As he is about to make this comparison
explicit, however, he is overcome by characteristic ironic reti-
cence and finds himself unable to pronounce the word "ass." (In

6. That, for example, modern popular usage loosely applies the term
"ironic" to almost every kind of coincidence-however apparently vul-
gar, lowbrow, or unenlightening this usage-finds a highbrow equiva-
lent in the intimate embrace of irony and chance that figures so impor-
tantly, as we shall see, in Kierkegaard. A more arcane example might
be drawn from the Japanese, where the word for irony is made up of
the signs for "skin" and "flesh."


Shandean usage, and also of course more generally, the word
signifies both a fool and the arse, with erotic connotations.) For
Tristram knows, and does not need Socrates, Apuleius, Lucian,
or Erasmus to tell him, that this very ass is thus the very type of
the ironist, or at least one of the most venerable and definitive
incarnations of a spirit that otherwise seems to show itself only
in the protean act of metamorphosis.





I, Mr Critic, write that I may not be understood.
Yorick's Meditations
A theory of the novel would have to be itself a novel.
Friedrich Schlegel


At least since the German romantics the novel as genre has fre-
quently been linked to the ideas and rhetoric of irony and
parody. With Socratic irony in mind, Friedrich Schlegel called
novels "the Socratic dialogues of our time" ("Selected Aphor-
isms," no. 26, 123). For its parodic character Tristram Shandy has
since been dubbed, with some exaggeration, "the most typical
novel in world literature" (Shklovsky, "Sterne's Tristram Shandy,"
57). My hypothesis in the following chapters will be that Tristram
Shandy not only conforms surprisingly well-and perhaps better
than Schlegel himself understood-to Schlegel's prescription for
a novelistic theory of the novel (in which, as he says, "Shake-
speare would converse intimately with Cervantes" ["Letter,"
103]),' but also that it may accordingly provide an instance of that
perennial but deceptive fruit: an ironical theory of irony. Because
Sterne's theory is so strategically enmeshed with his practice,
and because, despite his philosophical admirers, he is rarely

1. According to Schlegel, "a novel [Roman] is a romantic book" (101),
and its theory-practice would be largely coincident with that of roman-
tic irony or "Socratic dialogue." Besides containing the prescribed "in-
timate conversation" between Shakespeare and Cervantes, Tristram
Shandy is also a kind of Socratic dialogue with Locke-and it is the
latter on which I concentrate.



read in a rigorous manner, his Tristram Shandy is perhaps the
most generally misunderstood of the texts I shall take for dis-
cussion here. By the same token, it is also perhaps the most
successfully ironic.
My conception of the ironic strategy in Tristram Shandy can be
neatly indicated by the epigraph cited above: "I, Mr. Critic, write
that I may not be understood" ("Meditation on Obscurity," 67-
68). In installing this phrase as a definition of Sterne's irony I
may be accused of a sleight of hand, since it neither occurs in
Tristram Shandy nor was written (almost certainly) by Sterne
himself. Rather, it occurs in one of those countless anonymous
texts (in this case attributed to Yorick) that were produced during
and after the publication of Tristram Shandy, texts in which, as
we know, Sterne sometimes took a good deal of pleasure. In this
case, as we shall see, he also may well have drawn inspiration
from the passage to which I am alluding, since a subsequently
published passage in Tristram Shandy bears a remarkable resem-
blance to it. But Sterne never allows Tristram, let alone Yorick
(with whom he publicly identified himself), to reveal his ironic
concealment quite so nakedly as this. Such an authorized unveil-
ing, after all, would presumably be foreign to irony per se. Grant-
ing the hypothesis that this remark might indeed correctly sum-
marize Sterne's strategy, it might thus be considered appropriate
that it occurs in a text merely attributed to Sterne-for in this
case, though true, the remark would be unauthorized, some-
thing for which he takes no responsibility. As such, in fact, it
might be regarded as a convenient allegory of the way in which
ironic revelation works more generally: by "novelistically" sever-
ing itself from its author.
Because, in truly ironic texts, the responsibility for interpreta-
tion devolves increasingly upon the reader, I shall here take the
precaution of attributing my own interpretations to Tristram
Shandy rather than to Sterne himself. In this way, I shall avoid
presupposing the latter's intentions and bow to the novelistic
convention whereby Tristram Shandy is to be regarded as the
purported author of his Life and Opinions. Pursuing some of Tris-
tram's own ironies will be quite a sufficient task for the present
analysis, without further attempting to demonstrate the extent
to which Sterne must have been master of these ironies, or in-
deed the extent to which he might have deployed these or other



ironies at Tristram's expense. On the other hand, of course, the
disembodied presence throughout the novel of Yorick the parson
and of Sterne the author and parson should not be forgotten.
The final summary of the novel, as a "cock-and-bull story"
(IX.XXXIII:809),2 comes from Yorick, who is also the purported
author of the sermon in Tristram Shandy as well as of Sterne's
other major works. Since Sterne publicly identified himself with
Yorick, perhaps we should take this summary as embodying his
own official account of his relationship to the novel. As for any
other Sterne, he is best encapsulated from the present point of
view by his remarks that he wrote Tristram Shandy "not to be
fed but to be famous," and that "'tis a picture of myself" (Watt,
Introduction, x, xi)-remarks whose obvious but somewhat
banal truth might provisionally forestall further enquiry in this
Because irony is a form of rhetoric or eloquence, and for the
sake of clarity of exposition, my initial focus in this analysis will
be on Tristram's own extensive exploration of rhetoric both in
theory and in practice, as well as on the pattern of themes and
figures clustered around this exploration. Prominent among
these will be the figure of ironic omission and digressive in-
terruption by which Tristram defines his own eloquence, and
which in technical terms "Rhetoricians stile the Aposiopesis"
(II.VI:115). As we shall see in chapter 2, the figures or images by
which Tristram further determines this figure are insistently
maieutic and erotic in character, and this will provide us with a
link to the maieutic and erotic irony of Kierkegaard's Socrates,
which I will explore in part 2. As for the theme of eros in Sterne's
novel, it is everywhere inseparable from that of rhetoric-a rela-
tion also significantly, albeit apparently incidentally, suggested
by John Locke, when in his very eloquent denunciation of rheto-
ric he likens the charms of the latter to those of the "fair sex"

2. Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,
The Text, edited by Melvyn New and Joan New, The Florida Edition of
the Works of Laurence Sterne, vols. 1 and 2 (Gainesville: University of
Florida Press, 1978). References to this edition are marked in the text
by capital Roman numerals indicating Sterne's volume and chapter
numbers, followed by the Florida edition page number.


(iii.x:147).3 Following the letter of Locke's Essay Concerning
Human Understanding, Tristram insists on both the "erotic" and
the "unnatural" quality of rhetoric, especially his own, and on
the central role played by language in the "unhappy association
of ideas which have no connection in nature" (I.IV: 7). The ten-
sion between the performative and referential powers of lan-
guage, so keenly felt and analysed in book 3 of Locke's Essay, is
also everywhere evident in Tristram Shandy, in the opposition of
wit and judgement, beauty and truth, and passion and reason.
Tristram's most obvious and self-advertised encounter with
Locke, in "The Author's Preface," is fought on these grounds.
My working procedure in this chapter and the one following
will be to read Tristram Shandy primarily as a dialogue with
Locke-and in this, at least, I suggest that "The Author's Pref-
ace" can be taken as a reliable guide, indicating Locke's impor-
tance in the novel. Although a recognition of this importance
has been called "a commonplace in modern commentary" (Flor-
ida Notes, 17),4 it still needs some further explanation here, partly
on its own account and partly in order to clarify my own prem-
ises and procedures. As regards premises, I should observe
at once that my reading is a partial one in both senses of the
phrase, and that I have purposefully pursued a Lockean (or anti-
Lockean) interpretation of the novel-and in particular of Walter

3. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited by Al-
exander Campbell Fraser (New York: Dover Publications, 1959). Refer-
ences to this edition are marked in the text by lowercase Roman nu-
merals indicating Locke's book and chapter numbers, followed by the
Dover edition page number.
4. Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
The Notes, edited by Melvyn New, Richard Davies and W. G. Day, The
Florida Edition of the Works of Laurence Sterne, vol. 3 (Gainesville:
University of Florida Press, 1984). References to these notes and an-
notations are marked Florida Notes, followed by the page number in
volume 3. Though from one point of view I regret not having seen
these excellent Notes (by far the best and most comprehensive so far)
until after doing my own notes and final corrections, I am nevertheless
glad to have thus been able to use them as a genuine test of some of my
hypotheses about the text. Where they corroborate my views (often
with original observations concerning sources) I have sometimes foot-
noted the corroboration; likewise when they raise some doubt. See
also my appendix 3.




Shandy-taking Locke's important role as an experimental hy-
pothesis while frequently ignoring aspects of the text that are of
marginal relevance to this hypothesis (or to my other concerns).
In the case of Walter Shandy, for example, it is obvious that his
philosophical opinions and dogmas are drawn from a wide vari-
ety of sources and that only some of these are Lockean or seem
to have an immediate Lockean significance. As I suggested in my
introduction, the dialogue between literature and philosophy is
at the heart of "irony" as it is understood in this study; and from
this point of view it is of primary importance that Tristram is the
son of a philosopher and of only secondary importance that he
is, as I shall argue, the son of a specifically Lockean philosopher.
If any readers should find the Lockean chord played too heavily,
they are welcome to substitute, where appropriate, the phi-
losophy of the Enlightenment-or even (with diminishing re-
turns as generalization increases) philosophy per se-for Locke's
philosophy itself.
On the other hand, I do not wish to underplay aspects of the
Lockean connection that have not yet been properly recognized
in Tristram Shandy, particularly as they bear on the themes of eros
and childbirth, as well as on the delineation of Trim and Walter
Shandy. It is no coincidence that the latter's wife is named after
one of Locke's well-known correspondents, William Molyneux,
the philosopher who posed the equally well known problem of
the blind man.5 Nor should the fact be overlooked, as it has

5. The Florida Notes, 94, cite Eric Rothstein as asserting the connection
between Mrs. Shandy's maiden name, Elizabeth Mollineux, and Locke's
correspondent (spelt Molineux by Locke himself). What has not been
observed, however, is that Molyneux's work in optics as well as his cele-
brated question of whether a blind man suddenly able to see could dis-
tinguish between a sphere and a cube (cf. ii.ix: 186-87) accords very
well with what I shall argue to be the crucial place of the sense of sight
in Tristram's dialogue with Locke. The fact that Molyneux, friend and
admirer of Locke, gives an answer to this question with which Locke
agrees is not to be taken as cancelling the pregnancy of the question;
and Elizabeth Mollineux is also a past mistress, perhaps not coinciden-
tally, of the art of agreeing with her husband in every detail while rais-
ing more questions in the reader's mind with every such scrupulous
act of deference (e.g., VI.XVIII:526-29). For a brilliant discussion of
the subject that Sterne probably knew-and that ends in manner suffi-
ciently Shandean-see Diderot's Lettre sur les aveugles, a l'usage de ceux



been, I believe, that Tristram has slyly enabled us to read Walter
Shandy as Lockean even where his views seem too various or
ubiquitous in origin to be given a Lockean significance. For one
of Tristram's most telling references to Locke occurs precisely
when he accuses Walter of claiming as his own opinions that are
actually the property of others or of the ideological heritage as a
whole (III.XXXIV:263-64).6 This fact, taken along with Tris-
tram's deliberate obfuscation (for both ludic and serious reasons)
of the origin and significance of certain of his allusions (cf. Flor-
ida Notes, 24), should offer us a sufficient cue to reconstruct the
kind of Lockean reading of Tristram Shandy that is required to do

qui voient. It should be noted that Henri Fluchere calls Molyneux's
Treatise of Dioptrics "indispensable for uncle Toby's campaigns" (Lau-
rence Sterne: From Tristram to Yorick, 163). Regarding Molyneux's blind
man generally, see William J. Morgan, Molyneux's Question. Regarding
the Shandean Molyneux, see my appendix 2.
6. As we shall see in chapter 2, the deployment of Locke's argument in
chapter 5 (and particularly, here, the example of apples given in sec-
tion 28) of the Second Treatise of Government, that labour underlies the
right to property in a State of Nature, suggests the extent to which
Tristram's critique of Locke is a critique of the ideology of labour as
such. The ironic modification of this doctrine to cover intellectual
rather than material property further suggests that Tristram is espe-
cially concerned with the strategic exchange of ideal and sensible at-
tributes, which, as we shall also see, plays a crucial part in the con-
struction and rhetoric of Locke's empiricism. Finally, the fact that all
of Walter's opinions-however eclectic or commonplace in origin-
should be included under this parody of a Lockean rubric suggests
how inclusive the Lockean rubric may be understood to be, and how
the Locke in Walter (or the Walter in Locke) should be almost dissolved
in a sea of pre-Lockean, post-Lockean, non-Lockean, and even anti-
Lockean standpoints. In addition, Locke himself frequently goes by
other names in Tristram Shandy. In the allusion to the apples of the Sec-
ond Treatise, for example, Locke turns into a dialogical combination of
"Didius, the great civilian" and "Tribonius the civilian and church law-
yer," and the latter's views are further disseminated among such pur-
ported sources as Gregorius, Hermogenes, Justinian and Louis XIV!
The opposition between civil and religious law may well be a calcu-
lated reference to this tension as it occurs in Locke-a tension that
Locke himself handles with a good deal of his own irony (cf. Leo
Strauss, "Locke's Doctrine of Natural Law"). As we shall see, Didius
also turns up in an important passage of "The Author's Preface," this
time as "the great church lawyer."



justice to its subtlety and rhetorical strategy. Despite the com-
mon recognition of some of the novel's Lockean qualities, I do
not believe that any convincing reconstruction of this kind has
yet been achieved (see appendix 3). It is one of the profounder
jokes of Tristram Shandy that its Locke should be not only some-
times unidentified as such or offered in popular form but also
thoroughly manhandled and polemically distorted, even to the
extent of actually inverting the ostensible thrust of Locke's own
Nevertheless, precisely because of Tristram's or Sterne's ma-
nipulation and obfuscation of sources and their correlative mean-
ings, it is often impossible to prove the Lockean connections
whose most tell-tale clues have (or may have been) deliberately
erased from the text. This kind of interpretive ambiguity, as I
have said, is of the essence of a genuinely novelistic and ironic
"transcendence" of authorial intention, and it is for this reason
that I have taken the precaution of ascribing my interpretation of
the text to Tristram rather than Sterne. Although I believe to
have discovered certain previously unrecognized Lockean mean-
ings and allusions that must certainly be put down to Sterne's
conscious intention, there are others whose intended Lockean
significance has only a hypothetical, probabilistic, or even ludic
basis. Therefore, on several important occasions, I have modi-
fied the perhaps too boldly unequivocal tone of my argument
with explanatory footnotes. However, even where the proposed
Lockean correlations seem problematic, undemonstrable, or
even accidental with regard to Sterne's own intentions, I would
argue that the "accidents" involved are too systematic to be as-
cribed to mere chance.7 Moreover, as we shall see more clearly

7. In this connection one should distinguish between hypothesized
textual correlations whose interpretive interest depends wholly on the
hypothesis that Sterne was conscious of them, and those that retain
interest whether consciousness is assumed or denied (see appendix 3).
Of the various kinds of Lockean correlation I suggest, only a few be-
long exclusively to the former category and are therefore obviously
subject-if Sterne's role as conscious arbiter is put in doubt-to the
charge of arbitrariness. In the even fewer cases where such a charge
should be taken seriously, I have signalled this in either the text or the


later, conventional ideas of "mere chance" themselves ultimately
take up a problematic position with respect to the "theory of
Having offered these caveats concerning Sterne's Lockean in-
tentions, however, one is still at least mildly surprised that a
recent and respected editor of Tristram Shandy (Ian Watt) can
nowadays claim that "Sterne's chief use of the Essay [Concerning
Human Understanding] concerned one of the late and purely inci-
dental results of Locke's theory" (i.e., the doctrine of the associa-
tion of ideas), and that in general, "Locke's prestige gave Sterne
authoritative support" for his various narrative strategies (In-
troduction, xiii). Both these observations contain half-truths:
Tristram Shandy does seem to concentrate on apparently inci-
dental aspects of Locke's exposition, and he also seems to invoke
Locke's prestige in support of his own narrative eccentricities.
But these observations fail to recognize that the concentration on
"incidentals" is entirely systematic, central to both the strategy
and the substance of the novel's critique of Locke, and that the
invocation of Locke's prestige is fraught with irony. Sometimes
this irony seems extremely obvious, and its existence has fre-
quently been emphasized by other critics of the novel. On the
other hand, however, it is also often less obvious or more decep-
tive than it may appear; and this may explain why even those
critics who make much of it are nevertheless frequently misled
in their interpretations of the novel's Lockean dimension. I hope
the following analysis will go some way toward suggesting the
nature of the deception involved.


It is appropriate to begin by taking a look at the chapter in which
Locke's Essay is first mentioned by name. Aptly enough, given
Watt's remarks concerning Locke's prestige, the Essay is intro-
duced ostensibly to "sustain [Tristram's] character . as a man
of erudition" (11.11:98), and more especially to provide authority
for his portrayal of Uncle Toby Shandy's hobby-horse (or ruling
passion). If the tone of this claim to erudition is not itself a suffi-
cient indication of irony, however, the fact that the chapter opens
with Tristram's discreet determination to "kiss [the] hands" of




his potential critics, and not to offend them by "leaving them out
of the party" (11.11:96), should certainly alert us to the special
context in which the appeal to Locke's authority is made. In any
case, it quickly becomes evident that the reference to Locke's
Essay is introduced as much to "contrast" as to "sustain" the
character of Tristram's erudition (II.II: 98).
This intention is more particularly suggested, in the same
chapter, by his explanation of "the cause of obscurity and confu-
sion, in the mind of man" (11.11:99). The Lockean reference, in
this case, is to volume 2, chapter 29 of the Essay: "Of Clear and
Obscure, Distinct and Confused Ideas." Following Locke, Tris-
tram begins by telling us that such causes are threefold: "dull
organs," "transient impressions made by objects when the said
organs are not dull," and "a memory like unto a sieve" (II.11:99).
Consistent with the letter of what is called Locke's psychological
empiricism, Tristram's exposition begins to arrest one only when
he illustrates this theory with reference to "Dolly your chamber-
maid," claiming that "the organs and faculties of perception,
can, by nothing in this world, be so aptly typified and explained
as by" the "inch, Sir, of red seal-wax" in Dolly's pocket (II.I1:99).
The illustration of sealing wax is Locke's own, an illustration
which, "[he] suppose[s], needs no application to make it plainer"
(ii.xxix:487). In his decidedly original application of this illustra-
tion, however, Tristram Shandy evidently disagrees. As is so
often the case, in fact, he here plays out Locke's example in such
a way that it undermines and engulfs the theory it is supposed to
support. It is in this anti-Lockean strategy, moreover, that Locke's
own authority is implicitly invoked. For inasmuch as Locke's
theoretical illustrations frequently take the form of metaphorical
analogies and other rhetorical devices aimed ad hominem, they
are open to the very strictures against rhetorical persuasion that
Locke himself so persuasively condemns.
Because the "seal-wax" provides an excellent example of the
way in which Tristram uses "incidental" aspects of Locke, it is
worth further analysis here. In fact, we may deduce from this
example a compressed account of Tristram's view of Locke's cog-
nitive philosophy as a whole, a view that divides into three as-
pects corresponding to three interpretations of the "seal-wax" as
cause of mental confusion: empirical, linguistic, and erotic. The



empirical interpretation may be called purely Lockean; the lin-
guistic interpretation, both Lockean and Shandean; and the
erotic interpretation, purely Shandean.8
First, as I have noted, the image of sealing wax is Locke's own,
intended to serve as a visible analogue of the mind conceived as
a substance imprinted by perceptions. Here we see Locke the
physiologist and empirical psychologist, a Locke whose argu-
ments Tristram begins by reproducing to the letter. However, it
immediately appears that the playing out of this empiricism is
purely parodic in intent, and Locke's explanations are explicitly
given us "after the manner of the great physiologists,-to shew
the world what [Uncle Toby's and, by extension, man's confusion]
did not arise from" (II.II:100). Locke's psychological "empiri-
cism" is adduced, it would seem, only to serve as a reminder of
its inadequacy as an explanation of "hobbyhorsical" phenom-
ena. Tristram's eroticization of the wax (found in Dolly's pocket)
serves in part to burlesque Locke's "physiology," in part to point
to a more Shandean account of mental confusion and the "organs
of perception" (II.II:99).
Second, the sealing wax is connected to language (it receives
linguistic imprints and seals documents). Though Locke's appli-
cation of the metaphor seems not to exploit this connection-a
linguistic connection also implicit, one might note, in his more
famous image of the mind as a tabula rasa-Tristram's application
makes the wax into part of a concrete verbal transaction: sealing
the epistle that "Dolly has indited .. to Robin" (11.11:99). To in-
terpret the wax as an image of mental confusion linguistically
(rather than physiologically) based may seem to deviate from the
letter of Locke's illustration, but it is perfectly consistent with
other aspects of the chapter in which the illustration occurs, most
notably where Locke remarks that "the confusion proper to ideas
S. .still carries with it a secret reference to names" (ii.xxix:491).
This "secret reference" will be more fully explored in book 3 of
the Essay, "On Words." Indeed, Locke elsewhere admits that
when he began the Essay he had considerably underestimated

8. This is literally true as it concerns Tristram's treatment of this par-
ticular chapter of the Essay. As it concerns Tristram Shandy and Locke's
work as a whole, which both contain all three interpretive dimensions,
it is of course a matter of perspective.



the importance of the "connexion between ideas and WORDS"
(ii.xxxiii:535) that makes language, in Tristram's phrase, such "a
fertile source of obscurity" (II.II:100), and that it was this error
that book 3 was written to rectify. It is to this "second" Locke-
the psycholinguist rectifying the errors of the psychophysi-
ologist-that Tristram appeals when he insists: "'Twas not by
ideas,-by heaven! [Uncle Toby's] life was put in jeopardy by
words" (II,11:101). Both of these two interpretations of the seal-
ing wax are thus in a certain sense properly Lockean in spirit,
though Tristram's rejection of the "first" Locke in favour of the
"second" is a good deal more radical than Locke's own.
The third interpretation of the "inch . of red seal-wax,"
however, is decidedly not Lockean but Shandean. For though as
an emblem of the vagina (which, in Tristram's image, will "seal"
Dolly's letter to Robin) the sealing wax might recall Locke's own
rhetorical analogy between rhetoric and feminine sexuality in
book 3 of the Essay, this analogy is evidently far from the mind
of the author who writes of the search after "naked truth" (ii.xxix:
492) in chapter 29 of book 2. Whether Tristram makes no explicit
reference to this analogy by accident or by design it is difficult to
say, though he does warn us that "even my similes, my allu-
sions, my illustrations, my metaphors, are erudite" (11.11:98). In
any case, however, the centrality of the sealing wax qua feminine
sexuality, and eros more generally, as a model of "the cause
of obscurity and confusion, in the mind of man" far exceeds in
Tristram Shandy anything intended by Locke's analogy between
rhetoric and the "fair sex," and it might indeed be regarded as
systematically developing the implications of that apparently in-
cidental rhetorical flourish against him. Just as Walter Shandy's
theory of language continually rebounds against the frustrated
philosopher, so Tristram may be regarded as turning Locke's cri-
tique of rhetoric against Locke's own rhetoric, and this confusion
and reversal of theory and illustration are precisely emblema-
tized here by Dolly's wax.
Such a reversal is further and unmistakably underlined by the
highly ironic description of Locke's Essay as "a history book, Sir,
(which may possibly recommend it to the world) of what passes
in a man's own mind" (II.II: 98). That the Essay should be recom-
mended as an illustration rather than a theory of the mind's
workings-that is, as an illustration of the workings of Locke's


own mind-suggests just how Tristram intends to use Locke
against himself and thus to sustain and contrast his own posi-
tion at one and the same time. Moreover, as the repeated apos-
trophic address to "Sir" in this passage suggests, Tristram's dia-
logue with Locke will insist on the masculinity of his interlocutor:
he plays Dolly, so to speak, "indit[ing] her epistle to Robin"
(II.II:99).9 Thus his red sealing wax may be taken as an emblem
of confusion, not only in the mind of man but also more particu-
larly in the mind of males, and more particularly still in the mind
of the man Locke. Where in Locke literary eloquence is chau-
vinistically condemned as akin to feminine charm, in Tristram
Shandy philosophical truth itself becomes a woman who "shut[s]
herself up in ... impregnable fastnesses, and [is] so obstinate as
not to surrender herself sometimes up upon the closest siege"
(III.XLI:282). It is this erotic aspect of the red sealing wax, I sug-
gest, that is intended wholly at Locke's expense.'1
As I have said, Tristram is able to get at once both Lockean and
anti-Lockean precisely to the extent that he sees Locke's work as
divided against itself. What frequently seems merely incidental,
illustrative, or rhetorical in Locke becomes central in Tristram
Shandy, especially in book 3 of the Essay, "On Words." In a
certain sense, for example, the whole preoccupation with child-
birth and christening in Sterne's novel can be derived from
Locke's repeated illustrative references to "monsters, . change-
lings, and other strange issues of human birth" (iii.iii:28) in

9. As I have said, the well-known epistolary dialogue between Locke
and William Molyneux (two men) becomes in Tristram Shandy a dia-
logue between Walter and Elizabeth Mollineux (a man and woman).
10. The covertly erotic basis of modern philosophy is interestingly cor-
roborated by the fact that Walter Shandy's "Shandean System"-in
particular his theory of names-is said to be established on a basis
analogous to that of the Copernican system: "fortified" by "the back-
slidings of Venus in her orbit" (I.XXI:76). Applied to the philosophy of
the Enlightenment, especially empiricism like Locke's, this remark
suggests that philosophical inspiration drawn from the natural sci-
ences goes hand in hand with an increasing "backsliding" or diminish-
ment of philosophical attention to eros. Walter explains Aunt Dinah's
obviously erotic predilections by his theory of names (I.XXI:76), a the-
ory whose erotic dimension is (unbeknownst to him) revealed in his
favourite Slawkenbergius.




book 3, in connection with the opposition between real and
nominal essence, and the "artificial constitution of genus and
species" (iii.iii:26) that is said to be accomplished all too fre-
quently by means of linguistic confusions." The ambivalent
genre of Tristram's eloquence-both literary and philosophi-
cal-is thus mirrored by the ambivalent circumstances and
genus of his own birth as a kind of lusus natural,'2 as well as by
the significant nominal error that occurs at his christening. Other
illustrations placed in tension with their Lockean source in-
clude, in addition to the sealing wax, such diverse things as
apples acquired in the State of Nature, the measurement of
houses, monstrous births, lanterns, the difference between mur-
der and death, the fifth commandment, as well as (at least hypo-
thetically) sovereigns, broken bridges, and classical garments."
The same goes for many of Locke's metaphorical analogies and
other devices of rhetoric, both explicit and concealed. As Locke
himself argues, even apparently abstract words like "imagine, ap-
prehend, . conceive, . etc., are all words taken from the oper-
ations of sensible things" (iii.i:5) and can thus be regarded as
concealed metaphors. In Tristram Shandy, as we shall see, ab-
stract terms like "conceive," "solution," "obscurity," and so
forth, are thus played out for all they are worth. Of particular
importance too, as I have suggested, are not only potential or
explicit erotic metaphors (as when truth is called naked) but

11. The Lockean connection between the unnatural association of
ideas and monstrous births has not, so far as I know, been recognized
by modern commentators on Sterne. It is recognized, however, in
"Upon the Association of Ideas" in Yorick's Meditations: "But, alas! the
influence of this fantastic power begins before we come into the world;
and if the mother should happen to have too strong an imagination,
'tis ten to one but the child is born with the head of a dog" (78-79).
12. Cf. A Supplement to the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 13-14. I
quote the relevant passage concerning the christening of a lusus naturae
in chapter 2.
13. There are others too, I believe. Of those I mention here, the Florida
Notes do not refer to the Lockean dimension of the identity between
murder and killing in rerum naturd (iii.v:46) or of monstrous births.
Nor do they or anyone else confirm any of those I rather sanguinely
call "hypothetical." We shall see the more or less convincing or uncon-
vincing character of the hypotheses involved.


also potential or explicit visual metaphors (as when ideas are
called "pictures of things" [ii.xxix:490]). Locke himself claims,
in the same chapter that Tristram singled out for parody when
first introducing the Essay by name, that "we shall best under-
stand what is meant by clear and obscure in our ideas, by reflect-
ing on what we call clear and obscure in the objects of sight"
(ii.xxix: 486).
Although Locke's theory of language provides Tristram with
the cutting edge by which he is able to divide Locke's philosophy
against itself, this division is by no means restricted to the the-
ory of language as such, or even to the theory of ideas that is so
closely bound up with it. Most critics of Sterne's novel have rec-
ognized, in varying degrees of rigour or confusion, the manner
in which Walter Shandy illustrates certain of the more abstract
aspects of Locke's philosophy in tension with their practical ap-
plication. No one, so far as I am aware, however, has clearly
called attention to the way in which Locke's practical, political,
or social doctrines are also turned against themselves. This is be-
cause the internal dissension here becomes so drastic and radi-
cal-so blindingly obvious, as it were-that it is difficult to rec-
ognize as such. For while Walter Shandy is fairly obviously
Lockean in certain of his views (of time, for example, or of meta-
phor), he is said to be "entirely of Sir Robert Filmer's opinion" on
the issue of the relation between patriarchal and political power
(I.XVIII:54)-this notwithstanding the fact that his discussions
of the subject echo Locke's attack on Filmer (in the Treatises of
Government) at times almost word for word. However different it
may first appear, Tristram's strategy here follows the same pat-
tern that I have tried to outline in connection with the Essay,
whereby illustrations are turned against the theory they are sup-
posed to support. For while Locke uses Filmer to illustrate the
kind of political theory he is concerned to discredit, Tristram
uses Filmer as an illustration of Locke's own theory. Such sleights
of hand, as I hope to show, suggest why the novel's critique of
Locke has been misunderstood even by critics who stress its





Contemporary critical discussions of Tristram Shandy, as I have
said, have by no means ignored its Lockean dimension, and sev-
eral of these have explicitly associated the novel's handling of the
theme of language with "philosophical" or "romantic" irony.
Frequently, however, these discussions would seem to end by
making Tristram less of an ironist than a barely concealed em-
piricist. Peter Conrad, for example, seems to stress Tristram's
Anglo-Saxon empiricism when he contrasts it to romantic ideal-
ism as conceived by Friedrich Schlegel, and when he underlines
what he regards as the inaccuracy of the "romantic transforma-
tion" of Sterne's novel into the production of "a mysteriously ret-
icent ironist" who is also "a visionary poet" (Shandyism, 155).14
Even the author of The Philosophical Irony of Laurence Sterne,
Helene Moglen, would seem to end by cancelling this irony. For
while the latter is regarded by her as consisting of "a reduction
of Locke's epistemology to a theory of meaning, with all of the
relativity and scepticism that [this] involves," she nevertheless
sees the novel as "accepting as positive the implied values of an
empirical epistemology"(24). In both cases, then, Tristram's
position would appear to be opposed to the "mysterious reti-
cence" of irony. Indeed, according to Moglen, the ironic undoing
of Locke's "rationalism" can be positively restated in the form of
an "empiricism" that is said to be akin to that of Hume and
Shaftesbury (24).15
That the novel attempts to undermine Locke's epistemology of
true judgement cannot be doubted, and this is achieved, as I
have said, by playing out the epistemological anxieties about lan-

14. I do not imply any pejorative reflection on Conrad's excellent book,
which itself begins by "deriving both the character of Tristram and his
collapsed, wayward form from a romantic recomposition of Shake-
speare" (vii), and which is itself largely devoted to the romantic "trans-
formation" of Sterne that Conrad calls "authentic-more so than the
grudging English evaluation" even if "inaccurate" (156). I would agree
with Conrad that the romantic Tristram Shandy has its deficiencies. But
I do not think these lie in overestimating Tristram's strategic "reti-
cence," but rather, if anything, the reverse.
15. Comparison with Berkeley and Hume is made on p. 23.



guage raised by book 3 of Locke's own Essay. The pun above all,
hateful and maddeningly disturbing to Walter Shandy, is symbol
of this anxiety, since it displays those aspects of language that
are apparently most arbitrary, leading most effectively to the
"unhappy association of ideas which have no connection in na-
ture." Even where his views of language are drawn almost ver-
batim from a non-Lockean source, moreover, they are frequently
modified in such a way as to make them compatible with-or at
least especially relevant to-Locke's own position. This occurs
very tellingly in connection with Walter's claim, taken from
Obediah Walker's Of Education, that "the highest stretch of im-
provement a single word is capable of, is a high metaphor"
(V. XLII: 485). The Lockean addition here consists of his aside that
"the idea is generally the worse, and not the better" for such an
improvement, as well as the development of several characteris-
tically Lockean metaphors that, ironically enough, immediately
follow this aside.16 But the problem is not restricted merely to
metaphors and puns; it extends, as Walter's example
of the white bear so beautifully illustrates, to the realm of quite
literal language (V.XLIII:486-87). His demonstration that the
mechanics of grammar and syntax, in particular of auxiliary
verbs, make it quite possible to discourse about a white bear
without having seen one is lifted once again from Walker (whose
own example is not a white bear but a battle). Even without very
drastic modification of Walker's original, and without straying
from interrogative forms, Sterne's text is able to show how many
extragrammatical structures bear immediately upon an appar-
ently innocent grammatical exercise-structures whose force
cannot easily be suspended, like those of pure grammar and
logic, in the objectivized realm of what Walter calls "thesis and

16. I am indebted to the Florida Notes for redirecting me to Walker, and
thus for greater specificity and precision in my reading of this pas-
sage. The Notes corroborate my hypothesis as to the Lockean modifica-
tion ("Walter's dislike of metaphor probably derives from Locke"
[395]), but they do not mention, in this connection, the characteristic
Lockean analogy between the succession of ideas and the "tracks" of
motion that informs Walter's immediately subsequent remarks. Else-
where, of course, both Tristram's and Walter's exploitation of this anal-
ogy is obvious.



hypothesis" (VI.II:492).17 In Walter's order, these structures are
respectively: those of life/death coupled with inside/outside
("If I never have, can, must or shall see a white bear alive; have I
ever seen the skin of one?"); representation ("Did I ever see
one painted?-described?"); the subconscious ("Have I never
dreamed of one?"); the family ("Did my father, mother, uncle,
aunt, brothers or sisters, ever see a white bear?"); cultural and
natural behaviour ("How would they behave? How would the
white bear have behaved?"); morality and taboo ("Is there no sin
in it?"); and related dualities grounded in the experience of the
senses ("Is it better than a BLACK ONE?") (V.XLIII:487).
When we now turn to the way in which Walter's pedagogical
exercise not only exploits but also deviates from Walker's, one
important issue should be underlined that bears, as we shall see,
at least indirectly on Tristram's dialogue with Locke. Like Walker's
example of the battle, Walter's example of the white bear makes
use of the verb "to see." However, only Walter so strongly and
triumphantly stresses the fact-to Toby's somewhat perplexing
perplexity-that an object can be spoken about without having
been seen; and only Walter explicitly adds "conjugated with the
verb see" to his general explanation of the pedagogical use of aux-
iliaries that precedes-but obviously does not logically depend
upon-his specifically visual example of the white bear, and
that otherwise follows Walker's own general explanation almost
verbatim (cf. Florida Notes, 392-95; Walker, 144). Moreover, the
substitution of the white bear for Walker's battle also emphasizes
the visual dimension of the example, something further ex-
ploited in its deployment of the traditional metaphorical analogy
between white (or light) and virtue ("Is it better than a BLACK

17. According to Locke, all theses and hypotheses about "complex"
natural substances could be guaranteed reliable referential meaning
(whether true or false) if only they were composed entirely of simple
ideas (names) and expressed with grammatical competence. As re-
gards the highly loaded and pregnant character of apparently ran-
domly chosen examples, compare Locke's illustration of the names of
mixed modes (themselves said to be "arbitrarily" constituted without
reference to nature), where sacrilege, murder, adultery, parricide and
incest are selected with apparent casualness. As Paul de Man remarks,
the list sounds more appropriate to a treatise on Greek tragedy than to
one on language (see de Man, "The Epistemology of Metaphor").



ONE?"). Not coincidentally, I think, Walker's own battle example
itself somewhat abruptly shifts into a commonplace conjecture
as to the "alluring" power that would be exerted by virtue, if
only virtue were visible (146).
Whether one stresses the Lockean cue suggested by Walter's
modification of Walker on "high metaphor" and reads Wal-
ter/Walker here directly as a mask for Locke, or whether one
grants the independent interest of Walker as a source in his own
right, all this emphasis on the visible is nevertheless entirely
compatible with Tristram's more immediate dialogue with Locke
himself. For both in "The Author's Preface" and elsewhere, as I
have said, Tristram is concerned to highlight the importance of
the sense of sight and visual metaphor to Lockean epistemology
and rhetoric, an importance illustrated by Locke's own explana-
tion of intellectual clarity and obscurity by analogy with their
sensible counterparts. Furthermore, if one follows Sigurd Burck-
hardt's extremely Shandean suggestion that "white bear" may be
read "white bare," '1 then Walter's pedagogical exercise is seen to
contain an extremely apt combination of the visual and erotic ele-
ments that dominate Tristram's dialogue with both Locke and
"enlightened" or "Enlightenment" philosophy more generally.
As for the homology between Tristram's treatment of Walker and
Locke, it should be noted that Walter's auxiliaries and remarks on
metaphor are drawn from a chapter in Walker devoted explicitly
to the relation between wit and judgement-the same subject
that governs "The Author's Preface."
Leaving the details of Walter's grammatical pedagogy, we may
observe that the centrality of his theory of language to his phi-
losophy as a whole is suggested by his much vaunted theory of
the active power of Christian names over the persons they de-
note. Though once again not obviously Lockean in significance,
this theory is not without specifically Lockean cues19 and may be

18. This audacious reading had occurred to me, but I was too cautious
to include it in earlier versions of my analysis. Having since read
Sigurd Burckhardt's "Tristram Shandy's Law of Gravity," I am happy to
be able to ascribe responsibility for the pun to him.
19. We are told, for instance, that the name "Tristram" could "produce
nothing in rerum nature, but what was extremely mean and pitiful"
(I.IX:63). Having made the Lockean connection between the unnatural



regarded, at least in part, as mirroring his Lockean anxiety over
the general relation of signs, even proper names, to things. To
name something is apparently to affect it, for good or ill. Still
worse, there are other things-especially in the domain of eros-
that can scarcely be named at all, as Walter pleads with such pa-
thos in the final chapter:

And wherefore, when we go about to make and plant a man,
do we put out the candle? and for what reason is it, that all
the parts thereof-the congredients-the preparations-
the instruments, and whatever serves thereto, are so held
as to be conveyed to a cleanly mind by no language, trans-
lation, or periphrasis whatever? (IX.XXXIII: 806)

Despite Walter's claim that "philosophy speaks freely of every
thing" (IX.XXXIII: 806), he himself denies the possibility of non-
affective or purely denominative language in the realm of eros.
Even philosophical language is sometimes necessarily "elo-
quent," and it is the mediation of eloquence or rhetoric, in Tris-
tram's scheme, that undermines the dichotomies of truth and
beauty, judgement and wit, reason and passion. Angels and
spirits, he tells us, syllogize by intuition, and animals by their
"noses" (III.XL:280). But "the great and principal act of ratio-
cination in man, as logicians tell us, is the finding out the agree-
ment or disagreement of two ideas with one another, by the in-
tervention of a third; (called the medius terminus) just as a man,
as Locke well observes, by a yard, finds two mens nine-pin-alleys
to be of the same length, which could not be brought together, to
measure their equality, by juxta-position" (III.XL:280-81). How-
ever, in a world denied Momus's glass by which men's souls
might be viewed "stark naked" (I.XXIII:82), rhetoric is neces-
sarily a crucial mediator or medius terminus, and rhetoric, as we
have seen, is far from behaving with the passivity of Locke's
yard. It is indeed by the power of rhetoric that the Lockean

association of ideas and the christening of a lusus naturae, the author of
Yorick's Meditations also tells us that the students of such phenomena,
called "natural philosophers," should be called "unnatural philoso-
phers" (92).


medius terminus comes to appear, in the same chapter, as a kind
of "nose."
Read in this perspective, Tristram's portrayal of Walter be-
moaning the impregnability of feminine truth in the following
chapter (III.XLI:178) begins to sound more like the rhetorical
Nietzsche of the opening paragraph of Beyond Good and Evil-
where truth also becomes a woman20-than like an assertion
of the kind of Humean empiricism that, according to Helene
Moglen and others, underlies Tristram's critique of Locke. In the
medius terminus passage, it would seem to be precisely the treat-
ment of the realm of ideas by analogy with visible and empirical
phenomena instead of as a realm invisibly posited by language
that is under attack. Moreover, however much Tristram's critique
of Locke's "rationalist" empiricism might seem to move, as
Moglen would have it, toward Hume's "empirical" empiricism-
where the supreme court of truth is "experience," in the Humean
sense, of the regular conjunction of causes and effects-it should
nevertheless be noted that Hume retains Locke's rationalisticc"
hypostatization of mimesis whereby simple ideas, for example,
are said to be "copies" (ii.xxxi:511). Like Locke, Hume is fond of
attributing the persistence of many purportedly fundamental
philosophical problems (or nonproblems) to the ambiguous and
rhetorical use of language and of insisting that the meaning of
ideas can be decisively cleared up by referring to the "impres-
sions" of which they are copies (Enquiry, sec. 2, par. 17).21 In

20. Nietzsche's famous preface to Beyond Good and Evil begins: "Sup-
pose truth is a woman."
21. Moglen's Humean emphasis is by no means unique among Sterne's
modem commentators, and it finds apparent corroboration in lan
Watt's introduction to the novel (xxxii), where he quotes Hume as call-
ing it "the best book that has been writ by any Englishman these thirty
years." Watt fails to complete the quotation: "-bad as it is" (see Alan B.
Howes, ed. Critical Heritage, 147). Having too little space to deal ade-
quately with Locke, I cannot here explore the juxtaposition of Sterne
and Hume. Quite apart from Hume's empirical, mimetic, and anti-
rhetorical tendencies, however, I would also point to his doctrines on
women and sexuality in the Treastise of Human Nature and elsewhere as
indicating the direction that a Shandean reading of his work might
take. As for Hume's own irony, which admittedly might complicate
such a Shandean reading, I will pass over it in as much silence as does




Tristram Shandy's discussion of truth and its relation to beauty,
on the other hand, it appears that this mimetic conception is pre-
cisely what is put into question:

Writers of my stamp have one principle in common
with painters.-Where an exact copying makes our picture
less striking, we choose the less evil; deeming it even more
pardonable to trespass against truth, than beauty. This is to
be understood cum grano salis; but be it as it will,- as the
parallel is made more for the sake of letting the apostrophe
[in the preceding chapter] cool, than anything else,-'tis
not very material whether upon any other score the reader
approves of it or not. (II.IV:104)

In this passage, the confrontation between beauty and truth is
pointedly staged-as the painterly analogy emphasizes-in
terms of the traditional opposition between performative (or af-
fective) and mimetic uses of language. As such, Tristram's de-
fence of "writers of my stamp" appears to be based on the claim
that striking effects are sometimes more important than the cog-
nitive ideal of mimetic fidelity. On second glance, however, one
notes that this cognitive assertion of performative efficacy is it-
self ironically offered on the basis of its performative function
("for the sake of letting the apostrophe cool"), and that the
whole argument undermines itself in a vicious and amusing
circularity. Moreover, once the concept of performance is thus
negatively reduced to indetermination, the opposition between
aesthetic performance and cognitive mimesis can no longer
maintain stability.22 Indeed, we already know that one of Tris-
tram's foremost concerns is precisely with what cannot be cop-
ied or mimetically represented-with what, like the hypothetical
white bear or the "stark naked" soul, has not or cannot be seen.

22. One may refer, in this connection, to Kenneth Burke's concept of
"persuasion" in A Rhetoric of Motives, where the opposition between
persuasion and "pure information, which is usually contrasted with per-
suasion" (170) is undermined. What Burke would call Tristram's ironic
strategy of "self-interference" in this passage is consistent with what
Burke calls "pure persuasion" or the rhetoric of courtship (267ff.)-a
rhetoric that Tristram himself defines, as we shall see in chapter 2, in
absolutely analogous terms.



The comparison between writing and painting is thus highly
loaded and intentionally misleading, and it explains the strategic
position of the cum grano salis. For it is only if the relationship
between beauty and truth is conceived "beyond" mimesis and
the epistemology of the visible that this granum salis can modify
the "trespass against truth" that is otherwise inevitable in any
departure from mimetic fidelity. It would seem, then, that Tris-
tram conceives his own discourse in a manner that can no longer
be exhaustively defined in the traditional opposition between
rhetoric and mimesis. In fact, this passage provides us with a
pattern of argument pursued consistently throughout the novel,
whereby appeals to mimetic models supported by the appropri-
ate visual illustrations and analogies, as well as to performative
explanations, are subject to a systematic irony.
It is also this granum salis that is missed, as we shall see, by
"empirical" as well as other readings of "The Author's Preface,"
where Tristram compares the relation of wit and judgement to
that of the two knobs on the back of his chair-made, he says,
"to answer one another" (III.XX:236). While the linguistic or
dialogical description is accurate (Tristram is engaged in just
such a witty dialogue with the partisans of judgement), the hy-
postatization by which this dialogical relation is turned into a fe-
licitous visual symmetry is highly ironic. Just as in the case of
beauty and truth, in fact, the relation between wit and judge-
ment is only seemingly resolved by appeal to a visual analogy, an
analogy that is deployed as much for its familiar sedative effect
as for any other. As the two chapters following the preface sug-
gest, the tension between these dichotomies is a special version
of the tension between the theoretical and practical dimensions
of the mind more generally-a tension aptly expressed in the
description of man's "whole life [as] a contradiction to his knowl-
edge" (III.XXI:239). While he continually and eloquently insists
on mending the "hinges" between wit and judgement, beauty
and truth, practice and theory, Tristram makes it quite clear that
there is a great deal of difference between the "moral" and the
"speculative consideration" of this problem (III.XXII:240). Or
rather, it is precisely this difference that makes it advisable for
him to be rather less clear on the subject than he otherwise
might be. For whereas we are given our moral lesson in full-
and are assured "by all that is good and virtuous" that the



"hinge shall be mended this reign" (III.XXI: 239-40)-the prom-
ised speculative consideration dissolves in an abrupt aposiopesis
(III.XXII:240-41). No mere speculative difficulties, we may infer,
will be allowed to compromise the excellent edification we have
just received.
If we have passed over "The Author's Preface" without reading
sufficiently carefully, these following chapters concerned with
"hinges" and "bridges"--where we are also told that "there is
nothing more dishonest in an historian" than the use of meta-
phors (III.XXIII: 244)-might send us back to read it again. It is
precisely the conventional function of prefaces, of course, to
provide a "bridge" between a text and its audience; or, in the
case of fictions, between fiction and the real. Accordingly, "The
Author's Preface" seems to make an attempt to resolve the status
of Tristram's own discourse by staging not only the confronta-
tion and apparent reconciliation of wit and judgement but also
the confrontation and apparent means to reconciliation of him-
self and Locke. However, the intermediary (and thus frequently
polemical or apologetic) function of prefaces is exactly what
makes it unlikely that they achieve the kind of reliable neutrality
they might purport to offer, even supposing this offer is sincere.
The history of the novel (not to speak of other discourses) is full
of examples of deceptive and problematic prefaces: prefaces that
lie outright, prefaces wherein the author seems inexplicably
more deluded than in his own fictions, as well as prefaces that
parody the convention of the preface and frankly draw it into the
order of the fiction itself. By displacing his own preface into the
middle of the chapter, Tristram (or at least Sterne) might be
thought to belong to the latter category. In one sense this gesture
can be regarded as the height of guilelessness, since it provides
fair warning that we are to expect a discourse here no less "witty"
and deceptive than elsewhere. On the other hand, it also dem-
onstrates and exploits the fact that no amount of obvious label-
ing of this kind will prevent the deception of those readers who
are inclined to be deceived. Tristram's strategy here might in-
deed be regarded as paradigmatic of his irony at large, since it
depends on a calculated deception that occurs-as so many criti-
cal readings of "The Author's Preface" demonstrate-despite
every possible open and blindingly obvious indication that de-
ception is afoot. One might therefore say that deception both is



and is not intended; or, in other words, that the responsibility
for such deception seems to fall squarely upon the reader who is
Although Tristram's disagreement with Locke is loudly pro-
claimed in his preface, as I have said, the real problem of the dis-
agreement is systematically concealed. One reason for this is in
fact quite "natural" (in an ironic sense that bears, as we shall see,
directly on the issue) inasmuch as when one is in dialogue with
an antagonist whom one wishes either to persuade or to con-
ciliate, one will be inclined to slip into a rhetoric sympathetic to
him and to present one's case in a way that avoids unnecessary
provocation. In the "paradise upon earth" evoked by Tristram's
tongue-in-cheek ideal of communication between writer and
reader, where both would be wholly "saturated" with endow-
ments of wit and judgement (III.XX:228-29), no such strategy
would be necessary or even possible. In actuality, on the other
hand, both the relation and the level of saturation of wit and
judgement are rather less ideal or felicitous, and sometimes nei-
ther is seen or heard of "for near half a century" (III.XX:232).
Under such conditions it is necessary to be not only "wise" but
"discreet" (III.XX:227), especially, as in the present case, where
the preface is explicitly addressed to "my dear Anti-Shandeans,
and thrice able critics, and fellow labourers" (III.XX:228). The
special rhetorical status of the preface is further signalled, very
ostentatiously, when at its conclusion these same anti-Shandean
"great wigs and long beards" are pointedly excluded from the
rest of the Shandean text: "mark only,-I write not for them"
(III. XX:238).
Though on the one hand, as I shall argue, the main irony of
the preface lies in its use of a Lockean rhetoric of mimesis and
visual illustration to defend Tristram Shandy against the Lockean
condemnation of literary rhetoric, on the other hand it is also
true that Locke himself is in a certain sense less the victim here,
where he seems most clearly cast in the role of deluded antago-
nist, than he is in other contexts where Tristram Shandy seems to

23. Compare Friedrich Schlegel's description of Socratic irony in the
"Selected Aphorisms from the Lyceum," no. 108: "For him who does
not possess it, it will remain an enigma even after the frankest avowal.
It will deceive only those who consider it an illusion" (131).



agree with him.24 Tristram's critique of Locke's critique of rheto-
ric does not in the least dispute, as I have said, the conclusion
that rhetoric is "and ever will be" "a fertile source of obscurity"
(II.II:100). On the contrary, this conclusion is precisely what
proves Locke to be genuinely "sagacious" (I.IV:7). Rather, it is
the fact that Locke fails to criticize his own rhetoric, or that he
apparently believes philosophy able to achieve a "clear" and
"natural" language, that is under attack. This also means ignor-
ing the "fertility" that both literature and philosophy share as
sources[] of obscurity," and it leads to an overconfident, not to
say overanxious, emphasis of the opposition between wit and
judgement and to an accordingly indiscriminate condemnation
of literary rhetoric. On the other hand, however, those who be-
lieve that the relation between wit and judgement, beauty and
truth, or literature and philosophy can be resolved in a symme-
try as felicitous and comfortable as that represented by two chair-
knobs are a good deal more deluded than Locke. To be anti-
Lockean is not to be Shandean, and some would-be "fellow
labourers," who might perhaps be too quickly flattered into dis-
missing Locke's "sagacity," are equally-though less obviously-
victims of Tristram's irony.
Most critical commentators appear to balk at a comprehen-
sively ironic reading of the preface, however, because the felici-
tous resolution of the tension between wit and judgement repre-
sented by Tristram's chair-knobs seems, as it is meant to seem,
so appealing, and also to suit his general position so well. Ian
Watt's judgement that Tristram Shandy represents a resolution of
the discordance between subjectivity and objectivity is thus es-
sentially preserved in a wide variety of philosophical and critical
approaches to the novel, including "empirical" and "phenome-
nological" ones.25 The absence of an ironic reading of the pref-
ace, of course, does not on its own provide any definite indica-
tion of a critic's orientation. On the other hand, the notable
absence of such a reading among the mass of Sternean studies

24. For instance, as we shall see, in the apparently Lockean critique of
Walter's apparently Filmerian defence of patriarchy.
25. In The Rise of the Novel, Watt argues that Tristram Shandy reconciles
the "internal and external approach to character" (294) exemplified by
Richardson and Fielding respectively, and explicitly correlated by him



certainly might be taken as symptomatic of the way in which cer-
tain systematic aspects of the novel's irony have been systemati-
cally overlooked. As we have already seen in the analogy be-
tween writing and painting, and as we shall see again in the next
chapter on the "nose," the irony surrounding Tristram's treat-
ment of what one might call the rhetoric of the visible-both the
affective power of vision and eyes as such, and the way in which
this enters both popular and philosophical language-lies at the
heart of not only his dialogue with Locke but also his analysis of

with the poles of a Cartesian dualism; though he adds that "we may
feel that [Sterne] has undermined [these] methods [or poles] rather
than reconciled them" (293). While many commentators do take Tris-
tram's chair-knobs more or less at face value, Watt's precautionary addi-
tion may also be taken as indicating the dilemma of those ironically
sophisticated readers who find themselves forced to have the relation-
ship between wit and judgement both ways; so that the attempt to rec-
oncile wit and judgement is now raised to the second power, as an
attempt to reconcile at once their reconcilability and their irrecon-
cilability. Frequently this involves Watt's convenient but misguided as-
sumption that it is "hardly reasonable to expect [order] from the work-
ings of the mind of Tristram Shandy" (293). Moglen, for example,
makes a similar assumption about Tristram in general (10, 25) and his
preface in particular (98), though both she (10, 96) and Watt (293) ap-
parently manage to snatch Sterne himself from the abyss of his hero's
unreason. Moglen is not so lucky as her Sterne, however, for she argues
both that Sterne (contra Locke) "finds [the] difference [between wit and
judgement] to be merely apparent" (25) and that "although Tristram op-
poses Locke on this issue (ironically, it is the only time he makes his
opposition explicit), Sterne would seem to side more with the philoso-
pher" (98). Moreover, "while Sterne urges the complementary func-
tioning of wit and judgement, he clearly celebrates [only?] wit through-
out his novel," implying that judgement is "false" because "selective,"
that wit has "validity" (?), that "only the wit" is capable of "dealing" (?)
with the "variety and chaos of the experienced world," and, to boot,
that Tristram, "the man of natural wit who strives for judgement,"
shows this striving to be "hopeless" (25). Hopeless indeed since
Moglen, like Watt and so many others, fails to credit Tristram with the
judgement he so frequently claims, and in particular with anticipating
her own excellent judgement, which his preface deploys, that Locke
"inevitably defines the pivotal words of his epistemology in pictorial
terms" (26). James Swearingen's thoughtful Reflexivity in Tristram
Shandy: An Essay in Phenomenological Criticism wisely credits Tristram
more handsomely, but underestimates his duplicity nevertheless.



the mythical dimension of culture more generally. That the kind
of visual metaphors and analogies characteristic of theories of
mimesis as well as the issue of theoretical illustrations in general
are central to the argument of the preface makes the latter, at
least in this respect, a reliable guide to the novel as a whole.
The pattern of ironic self-undermining at work in the preface is
anticipated, as I have said, in Tristram's discussion of the relation
of truth and beauty. It is also anticipated earlier in the novel,
where he warns us not to mistake the "machinery" of his work
for a kind of natural process:

By this contrivance the machinery of my work is of a spe-
cies by itself; two contrary motions are introduced into it,
and reconciled, which were thought to be at variance with
each other. In a word, my work is digressive, and progres-
sive too,-and at the same time.
This, Sir, is a very different story from that of the earth's
moving round her axis, in her diurnal rotation, with her
progress in her elliptick orbit which brings about the year,
and constitutes that variety and vicissitude of seasons we
enjoy;---though I own it suggested the thought,-as I be-
lieve the greatest of our boasted improvements and discov-
eries have come from such trifling hints.
Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;-they are
the life, the soul of reading; --take them out of this book
for instance,--you might as well take the book along with
them;-one cold eternal winter would reign in every page
of it; restore them to the writer;-----he steps forth like a
bridegroom,-bids All hail; brings in variety, and forbids
the appetite to fail. (I.XXII:80-81)

In contrasting the movement of his work to the movement of
natural bodies, Tristram might be thought of as playing out
Locke's opposition between the "natural" and "unnatural" asso-
ciation of ideas, an opposition that Locke also illustrates by anal-
ogy with the tracks[s" and "trains of motion" (ii.xxxiii:529). In
this scheme the reconciliation of "contrary motions" like digres-
sion and progression, or wit and judgement, is certainly "un-
natural"; though in implying that the analogy between the move-



ment of ideas and of natural bodies is itself "unnatural," Tristram
does not fail to note that such "trifling hints" as metaphorical
analogies underlie "the greatest of our boasted improvements
and discoveries." On the other hand, however, when it comes to
giving us a positive account of his witty and digressive tech-
nique, Tristram immediately lapses into a series of metaphors
that give us no clue as to how the supposed reconciliation of
contrary motions has been achieved. The interrelated metaphors
of light, of the soul, and of the bridegroom belong to an ironic
pattern, as we shall see in the following chapter, that is systemati-
cally deployed throughout the novel. In the present context I
would draw particular attention to the metaphor of summer sun-
shine, since it is a metaphor that also turns up in a strategic posi-
tion in the preface. The fact that Tristram makes an eloquent ap-
peal to this metaphor, having just patiently informed us of its
inapplicability, only forewarns us that its application elsewhere
is likely to be similarly self-undermining and deceptive. The im-
age of sunshine in the preface marks a return to a paradigm of
natural vision belonging to Locke's "natural" rhetoric, which, as I
have said, proposes to explain what "is meant by clear and ob-
scure in our ideas, by reflecting on what we call clear and obscure
in the objects of sight" (ii.xxix:486).
Not by accident, precisely what is entailed and meant by "re-
flecting" forms the basis of the opening passage in "The Author's
Preface," where Tristram also raises the question of the validity
of argumentative illustrations:

Now, Agelastes (speaking dispraisingly) sayeth, That there
may be some wit in [the novel], for aught he knows,-
but no judgment at all. And Triptolemus and Phutatorius
agreeing thereto, ask, How is it possible there should? for
that wit and judgment in this world never go together; in-
asmuch as they are two operations differing from each
other as wide as east is from west.-So, says Locke,-so are
farting and hickuping, say I. But in answer to this, Didius
the great church lawyer, in his code de fartandi et illustrandi
fallaciis, doth maintain and make fully appear, That an illus-
tration is no argument,-nor do I maintain the wiping of a
looking-glass clean to be a syllogism;-but you all, may it
please your worships, see the better for it,- so that the



main good these things do, is only to clarify the under-
standing, previous to the application of the argument itself,
in order to free it from any little motes, or specks of opacular
matter, which if left swimming therein, might hinder a con-
ception and spoil all. (III.XX:227-28)

Now it is doubtless possible to read this passage as an exu-
berant and playful but essentially unironic defence of Tristram's
subsequent illustrative procedure in the preface, including that
adopted in his chair illustration. Note, however, that while ad-
mitting that "an illustration is no argument," he then imme-
diately defends himself by appealing to the illustrative metaphor
of the looking-glass, the mimetic metaphor par excellence, which
he knows to be dear to the hearts and eminently suitable to the
understanding of the judgemental anti-Shandeans. (As Richard
Rorty has demonstrated in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature,
the whole history of the epistemology of judgement is insepa-
rable from the metaphor of the "mirror of nature.") Note, too,
Tristram's assertion that "the main good these things do, is only
to clarify the understanding previous to the application of the ar-
gument itself" (my emphasis), an observation that presumably
also applies to his chair illustration. Yet five pages later, having
openly confessed his perplexity as to "how to bring the point [of
the preface] itself to bear" (III.XX: 230), he brazenly prefaces this
same chair illustration with the claim: "I enter now directly upon
the point" (III.XX :235). In short, just as in the case of the specu-
lative mending of "hinges" (III.XXII: 240), we are never given the
point, and the chair illustration only serves to provide the ap-
pearance of a "natural" resolution to an argument that in fact has
not been in the least bit resolved. For once, we may perhaps in-
fer, the trip to Nova Zembla and North Lapland on which we have
been taken in the intervening pages is genuinely digressive (it is
also digressive in the etymological sense), designed at least in
part to make us forget the warnings we have received about the
difference between arguments and illustrations. If we have not
forgotten, on the other hand, Tristram's irony is unmistakable,
and his claim that the chair illustration "will place what I have to
say in so clear a light, as to let you see through the drift and
meaning of my whole preface, as plainly as if every point and
particle of it was made up of sun beams" (III.XX :235) could not



be more suspiciously hyperbolic, or more obviously directed at
those hobbyhorsical epistemologists for whom meaning is light,
understanding is a mirror, and a dictionary a book of visual il-
lustrations (iii.xi:163). Far from representing a commonsensical
reply to Locke, as it might seem to, Tristram's illustration is de-
signed precisely to flatter Lockean delusions of common sense
and, above all perhaps, to make the rivalry and seriousness of
the rift between wit and judgement as little threatening or dis-
turbing as possible. (This is all the more necessary if one consid-
ers that many potential anti-Shandeans may be not only less
"sagacious" but also less benign and tolerant than Locke him-
self.)26 In fact, as we may infer from the rest of the novel, the
possibility of a consistently felicitous resolution of the tension
between wit and judgement, or literature and philosophy, is no
more promised by Tristram Shandy than a resolution of the ten-
sion between the "nose" and the "fair sex" with which they are
symbolically aligned. Like love and war, "writing and fighting"
(III.XX: 232) go together for at least as long as Locke's peaceful
State of Nature eludes not only the civil but the literary order of
things: and it is this, at least in part, that provides a practical im-
petus for irony and concealment. The genuinely Shandean illus-
tration of the relation between wit and judgement is thus not, of
course, the "ornamental" visual symmetry of two "duplicated
embellishments" (III.XX: 236)-except insofar as this image sug-
gests the double gratuitousness of the opposition between litera-
ture and philosophy, where both duplicate one another's errors
in and despite this very opposition, in a kind of mimetic rivalry
made inevitable by "so plentiful a lack of wit and judgment about
us" (III.XX:230).27 Rather (or consistently with this latter inter-
pretation), the genuinely Shandean illustration of their relation
is the relation of "farting and hickuping" (III.XX: 227). At several
other points in the novel philosophy becomes an incontinent
and indiscreet kind of farting.28 Moreover, it is Didius's defartandi

26. This danger is illustrated by Yorick's fate. It may also play an impor-
tant part, as we shall see, in Tristram's highly oblique handling of
Locke's political philosophy.
27. I attempt to explore this rivalry again in chapter 5 in the section
"Literature and Philosophy."
28. In Slawkenbergius's Tale, for example, natural philosophy is pro-



et illustrandi fallaciis which warns us that an illustration is no ar-
gument, and which (straining the Latin syntax) can be trans-
lated: "Concerning farting and the explaining of deceptions"; or
more simply: "Concerning the deceptions of farting and explain-
ing." 29 It is here, I submit, that Tristram signals the kind of de-
ceptive potential involved not only in philosophy but also in his
explanations that ironically "duplicate the embellishments" of
philosophical rhetoric. To those sufficiently Shandean to take
the illustration of farting and hiccoughing as seriously as that of
the chair-knobs-and considering that Tristram, as we shall see,
refers his own rhetoric to Greek models-one might suggest that
he had the famous hiccoughs of Plato's Aristophanes in mind.

claimed "incontinently," by means of a "trumpet ... upon a stool"
(IV: 305).
29. This ambiguity in the Latin is mentioned by most scholarly edi-
tions of the novel.



Any part of sexual behaviour may be called play but
not coitus itself if adults are involved.
Susanna Millar
-The devil take the serious character of these
people! quoth I-(aside) they understand no more of
IRONY than this-
The comparison was standing close by with his
panniers-but something seal'd up my lips-I could
not pronounce the name-
Tristram Shandy


One of the several untrue reasons that Parson Yorick gives for
riding a broken-winded horse is that "brisk trotting and slow
argumentation, like wit and judgment, [are] two incompatible
movements. --But that, upon his steed-he could unite and rec-
oncile every thing" (I.X:20-21). Alerting us to the untruth of the
claim that such a reconciliation can in fact be achieved, Tristram
Shandy nevertheless also thereby calls our attention to one of
the similarities between his own and Yorick's project: both he
and Yorick may be said to reconcile wit and judgement in jest or
in play. Of all the "hobby-horses" in the novel, Tristram's literary
hobby-horse seems to be the only one that openly acknowledges
the playful character implied by the term "hobby-horse" itself.
Perhaps in deference to his religious office, Yorick's horse is not
explicitly called a hobby-horse; but his link to Shakespeare's fa-
mous jester makes him in certain respects closer to Tristram's
"witty" hobby-horse than the latter is to any of the other hobby-
horses properly so called. By contrast, Walter Shandy, Toby
Shandy, and Dr. Slop all seem to ride their respective hobby-



horses in deadly earnest, as though unaware of their hobbyhorsi-
cal character. They remind us of the lament in Hamlet, which
Tristram almost certainly has in mind in his coinage of the term:
"For, 0, for, 0, the hobby-horse is forgot" (3.2.135).1
One of the most earnest of the riders is of course Walter Shandy,
the (at least part-time) Lockean philosopher. Insofar as Locke's
philosophy leads to the conclusion that "all knowledge depends
on labor and is labor" (Strauss, Natural Right, 249), the concept
of the hobby-horse as play may be interpreted in direct counter-
point to Locke and may be said simply to indicate everything in
the realm of knowledge that Locke has, or may have, "forgot-
ten."2 Understood as such, the category of hobbyhorsical play

1. The meaning of hobby-horse associated with its Shakespearean and
more original usages makes a valuable addition to the well-recognized
Shandean connotation of child's play. The hobby-horse was one of the
principal figures in the morris dance, the name deriving from the
equine wooden figure attached to a dancer, whose lower body, legs,
and feet were also entirely concealed. Another common and Shake-
spearean meaning of the term designated a prostitute. Both the sense of
a concealing costume and of sexuality, as we shall see, may be brought
directly to bear on Tristram's usage. That the term has both feminine
and masculine applications may also be considered as of at least inci-
dental interest. (It might be noted that, along with the hobby-horse
and the fool, one of the principal and original figures of the morris
dance included a boy dressed as a girl, and that the May Day festivities
at which such dances were performed featured the phallic maypole.
Richard Griffith's chapter on the "Origin of Tristram Shandy," in The
Posthumous Life of a Late Celebrated Genius, tells us that every chapter of
Tristram Shandy ends with "this line from Midas, to [its] ass-eared audi-
ence, 'Round about the may-pole how they trot'" [1: 170].)
2. As observed in chapter 1 perhaps the most important indication of
the underlying Lockean dimension of Walter's philosophy occurs when
the Lockean right of property by labour in the State of Nature is said to
be applied by Walter to "all his opinions" (III.XXXIV: 264). This ironic
generalization of the concept of labour from the material to the intel-
lectual domain is in fact precisely consistent with Leo Strauss's for-
mulation: "Understanding and science [in Locke] stand in the same re-
lation to 'the given' in which human labor, called forth to its supreme
effort by money, stands to the raw material" (Natural Right, 249).
Among others, Richard Lanham and James Swearingen have strongly
emphasized the concept of play in their books on Tristram Shandy,
though with significant differences from one another and the present
treatment. One of the advantages of regarding hobbyhorsical play spe-



thus includes much more than wit and jest, or anything that
could be called ludic in the obvious sense, such as Tristram's lit-
erary technique. Rather, it potentially includes everything left
un- or overdetermined by Locke's theory of knowledge and
might be defined as the reciprocal "other" of all Lockean labour
or work, an "other" that would therefore go well beyond the mere
opposition between "seriousness" and "jest." It is for this reason,
perhaps, that Tristram elaborates the dynamics of the hobby-
horse most extensively in connection with neither himself nor
his father-the two apparent extremes of seriousness and jest-
but rather in connection with the more neutral Uncle Toby:

A man and his HOBBY-HORSE, tho' I cannot say that they
act and re-act exactly after the same manner in which the
soul and body do upon each other: Yet doubtless there is a
communication between them of some kind, and my opin-
ion rather is, that there is something in it more of the man-
ner of electrified bodies, --and that by means of the heated
parts of the rider, which come immediately into contact with
the back of the HOBBY-HORSE.-By long journies and much
friction, it so happens that the body of the rider is at length
fill'd as full of HOBBY-HORSICAL matter as it can hold; ----so
that if you are able to give but a clear description of the na-
ture of the one, you may form a pretty exact notion of the
genius and character of the other. (I.XXIV:86)

cifically in opposition to Lockean labour is that it makes problematic
the tendency (evidenced by Lanham in Tristram Shandy: The Games of
Pleasure, for example,) to weld this play to the "pleasure principle" and
to identify Tristram's position as "hedonism." As Strauss reminds us in
Natural Right and History, it is rather Locke who is the "hedonist" (249);
and I see no good evidence for Helene Moglen's unsupported assertion
that Sterne "accepted, somewhat simplistically, Locke's pleasure-pain
principle as fundamental cause and, relating this to the theory of rul-
ing passions, developed his concept of character" (50). Rather, the
anonymous Supplement to the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy pro-
vides a good guide when it has Tristram say: "I had been happy if
there had been good sport at my getting" (14). The idea of (sexual)
pleasure as first cause is thus reduced to the same ridiculous and
mythical status as Walter's idea of (sexual) labour.



The soul/body analogy, though admittedly "inexact," sug-
gests both the extensiveness and the limitations of the idea of the
hobby-horse. Inasmuch as the problem of the dualism of body
and soul, matter and mind, extends well beyond Locke to say the
least, so the hobby-horse acquires a similar extension. However,
the pseudoempirical, physiological, or electrostatic explanation
of the interaction of man and hobby-horse has a definite Lock-
ean flavour and calls our attention to the particular form taken
by the dualistic problem in the context of a Lockean empiricism.
This is not to say that the notion of the hobby-horse is "idealist"
in orientation, for Tristram Shandy also parodies numerous ide-
alisms, from Platonism to Malebranche, some of which are the
butt of Locke's own arguments. Rather it is to focus (within the
terms of the analogy) on the problem of the relation of body and
soul, the empirical and the ideal, matter and mind, and particu-
larly on the way this relation affects "the heated parts of the
rider"-which are apparently situated at a strategic juncture be-
tween the two poles. Inasmuch as there remains a certain essen-
tial indeterminacy about this juncture, one might also say that
the hobbyhorsical operation is predicated on this indeterminacy.
The hobby-horse situates itself in the "gap," so to speak, be-
tween body and soul; a gap which, like that between body and
clothes (to which comparison is so consistently made), seems
erotically charged. "The soul and body are joint-sharers in every
thing they get: A man cannot dress, but his ideas get cloath'd at
the same time" (IV.XIII: 764).
For all their differences, all the hobby-horses in the novel-
and even Yorick's horse-share a remarkable erotic dimension,
which can be summed up in their apparently unfortunate rela-
tion to the "nose." Regarding hobbyhorsical play as a counter-
point to Lockean labour, we have already seen something of why
this should be, inasmuch as Locke's masculinity is consistently
emphasized and his medius terminus, for example, is imaged as a
kind of "nose." In every case, then, the hobby-horse is associ-
ated with a threat to this"no a hreatthat variously takes the
form of Unc eToby'__wound inhe groin, Tristram's traumatic
rci e -tr ncoiintersa with D-r. op ostrcal fiorcepS-arnd--
Susannah's wind -sasand the sad condition of Wailre-'stud-
bu4- e end of the novel. Walter, beingaLockean thReristioTi
------_ .



the nose,3 staunchly clings to his masculinity throughout the
novel, and ends by attempting to shift blame for his bull's sorry
performance onto the barrenness of the cow (IX.XXXIII:808).
Both Toby and Tristram, on the other hand, are associated with
an "impotence" that seems specifically, though ambiguously,
feminine in character. Toby's wound in the groin is given as the
origin of that modesty which almost equals, "if such a thing
could be, even the modesty of a woman" (I.XXI: 75); while Tris-
tram, as we shall see, defines his rhetoric in terms of both femi-
nine coyness and the power of childbirth.
Viewed hobbyhorsically, the opposition between philosophy
and literature now centres around the kind of allegory of eros I
anticipated in the previous chapter, in connection with the red
sealing wax and Walter's truth-as-a-woman. Showing himself
consistent with Locke's condemnation of rhetoric as akin to femi-
nine charm, Walter regards puns as being as bad as a "fillip upon
the nose;-he saw no difference" (II.XII:128). Moreover, while
his Lockean attempt to master rhetoric, like his belief in the tim-
idity of women (VIII.XXXIV: 726), goes some way to assuage
his anxiety in this respect, his favourite philosopher Slawken-
bergius, whose text he utterly fails to master, ironically high-
lights everything in the domains of both eros and rhetoric that he
would most like to forget. In case we overlook the inextricable
connection between Walter's theories of "NAMES and ...

3. It will be rightly observed that the sources and contexts for Walter's
opinions on this subject are very diverse and seem indeed to merit al-
most every label but "Lockean." (It lies beyond the scope of this lim-
ited analysis to explore the systematicity of these sources and con-
texts, even in their relation to the novel's specifically Lockean aspects.)
But we cannot ignore that it is explicitly in connection with Walter's
theory of noses, plagiarized from every conceivable non-Lockean
source, that his opinions are said to be "his" by virtue of the Lockean
doctrine of right to property by labour. In short, Walter's "own" theory
of noses as such depends for its existence directly on a Lockean doc-
trine whose source, to make the irony complete, is not identified in the
text. (Incidentally, it may also be noted that the first scholarly essay on
the sources of Shandean nosology, John Ferriar's Illustrations of Sterne,
links the theory of noses to an "expression of anxiety in Locke's por-
trait" (138) via a brief description of a nosologist and face-reader called
Lavater. That this Lockean linkage appears almost wholly accidental in
Ferriar's text is perhaps disappointing, but not without interest.)



NOSES," in fact, we are told that Slawkenbergius's Tale hits the
two "nails ... upon the head at one stroke" (IV.Sl. Tale: 312).
In Walter's case especially, it is tempting to regard hobby-
horsical activity from a psychoanalytic point of view, a "sub-
limation" predicated on "repression."' On this basis, the theory
of the hobby-horse would appear as an extraordinarily perspic-
uous anticipation of psychoanalytic theory, in which Tristram
correctly reads the philosophical and military hobby-horses
of his father and uncle as providing an allegory of repressed
sexual desire. Tristram himself would thus represent the psy-
choanalyst's overcoming of repression, an overcoming that per-
mits him to analyse the primacy of sexuality in the constitution
of culture and personality quite consciously. Indeed, his account
of his own childhood, natal, and even prenatal traumas seems to
imitate a psychoanalytic narrative to the point of parody, offering
an open-and-shut case of an oedipal castration complex. Were
Tristram writing in a post-Freudian age, one would have to re-
gard him as providing a parody of Freud akin to that one finds in
such novelists as Nabokov, where a psychoanalytic reading is
preempted by being made all too easy and self-fulfilling. From
this point of view, in fact, there is perhaps no a priori reason for
regarding him as anticipating Freud rather than parodying Freud
or for assuming that a psychoanalytic interpretation of his text
would not be caught in a number of the same traps that he has
consciously laid for prepsychoanalytic readers.
Since our concern is here with the Lockean philosophy of the
"nose" rather than the Freudian one, I will not attempt to ex-
plore in depth the interesting territory opened up by a juxtapo-
sition of Tristram Shandy with Freudian and post-Freudian psy-
chological theory." On the other hand, since what Locke and

4. For example, in his Reflexivity in Tristram Shandy, James Swearingen
speaks of the "unflagging energy" with which Tristram "exposes [the]
sublimation and repression [of eros] in all dimensions of life" (216).
5. With the possible exception of a very brief remark by Jean-Luc
Nancy (cited in note 35 below), I know of no Sternean commentator
who has recognized even the ludic possibility of reading Tristram
Shandy as an anticipatory critique not only of Freud but also of certain
apparently sophisticated modern attempts to move beyond Freud.
Where Freud is invoked he is inevitably invoked in support of Tristram
or Sterne. For example, Lanham: "The self persists [in Tristram Shandy],


Freud share is an attempt to determine-however differently-
the "nature" of the "nose," it is perhaps worth indicating briefly
how the text resists an unambivalently "dirty" (repressed sex-
ual) determination even at the moment that it seems to dispose
decisively of the "clean" one (cf. III.XXXI:258). As Nietzsche re-
marked, the novel's mastery of "the double meaning .. reaches
far beyond those of sex";6 and we might accordingly take Tris-
tram's refusal to resolve fully the meaning of his double entendres
more seriously than a psychoanalytic reading might be inclined
to. By arranging his allegories so that a wholly sexual interpreta-
tion appears to encounter no genuine resistance upon which it
could test itself, Tristram ensures that such an interpretation
gains a purely pyrrhic victory over the determined ambivalence
of his text, a victory that occurs only insofar as it is presupposed.
From this point of view, it is thus perhaps convenient to distin-
guish between an erotic and a sexual interpretation of the "nose,"
where the latter is understood as presupposing the nature and
natural object of sexuality (even if this object is repressed and
transformed). The nature of eros, by contrast, might be under-
stood in a rather more liberal and classical sense, whereby one
could speak of the eros of money-making, of philosophy, of po-
etry, and so forth, without implying the modern machinery of
repression and sublimation as such nor yet losing sight of the
manner in which these are bound up with sexuality.
It is in the case of Uncle Toby's hobby-horse that the question
of the primacy of the sexual instinct is most comprehensively
raised. It could be shown, though I shall not attempt to show it
here, that the allegorical relation between Toby's amorous and
military campaigns is portrayed in such a way that it appears en-
tirely reversible: everything in one domain has its "double" in
the other, which makes it apparently impossible to decide which
domain has priority. In effect, neither love nor war, eros nor vio-

if by it we mean Freud's tireless seeker after pleasure" (157). Moglen
remarks that Locke's notion of simple ideas acquired in the womb is
akin to Freud's (154), but she fails to observe that Tristram reduces such
a Lockean-Freudian notion to absurdity by extending it to preconceptual
as well as prenatal experience.
6. Nietzsche's remark is quoted in Ian Watt's introduction to Tristram
Shandy, xxxii.




lence seems to be given definitive priority, inasmuch as Tris-
tram's rhetoric allows for an indiscriminate identification of the
two, and inasmuch as both seem inseparable in determining
Toby's modesty. The situation here might be compared (if I may
state a point without demonstrating it) to the problem encoun-
tered by the later Freud, which caused him to supplement the
"sexual instinct" of eros with the extremely unsatisfactory "death
instinct," thanatos. In Tristram Shandy the problem of this recip-
rocal dualism is played out in the formal impossibility of decid-
ing between literal (military) and allegorical (erotic) interpreta-
tions of such terms as "horn work," "covered-way in," "Curtin,"
"cuvette," and so forth. Uncle Toby's insistence on the military
meanings seems to have as little or as much justification as Dr.
Slop's insistence on their erotic double entendres (II.XII:
128-29), since either insistence presupposes the primacy of ei-
ther love or war, eros or violence, in the traditional rhetorical
analogy between the two. As the mythical birth of Eros from the
union of Venus and Mars might suggest, moreover, it is by no
means certain that the question of primacy is not altogether mis-
placed. "Love" and "war" may be in a sense coeval with one an-
other, while a different kind of "love" may be determined by
their interaction.
The displacement of Uncle Toby's individual history onto the
history of the race is made possible by the fact that the account of
the genesis of his modesty is left suspended between history
and allegory. This suspension is a fundamental correlate of the
allegorical disruption of clock-time that begins with Walter's fail-
ure to wind the Shandy clock in chapter 1, and it relates to the
difficulty of deciding in what sense "this modesty of [Toby's] was
natural or acquired" (I.XXI:74). It also relates to the difficulty,
however, of deciding whether the movement from Toby's wound
in the groin at the siege of Namur in volume 1 to his wounding in
the siege of the Widow Wadman in volume 9 is genuinely pro-
gressive at all, or whether it is merely circular. The latter is ap-
parently made possible by an allegorical reading of the "horn
work," from which Toby receives his wound by rebound at the
siege of Namur (I.XXI:75), in terms of the horns of cuckoldry
that must certainly figure in the new diffidence that Toby ac-
quires after his humiliating encounter with the Widow Wadman.
From an allegorical point of view, both these "wounds in the



groin" might thus appear identical-both deriving, by rebound
so to speak, from the same "horn works." Indeed it is no acci-
dent that, during the siege of the Widow Wadman, Tristram
claims that Toby's hobby-horse is itself to be caught or portrayed
only "by rebound" (IX.XII:761).
It is precisely this portrayal "by rebound," however, that makes
one wonder whether the sexual dimension of Toby's original
wounding is not also placed there by rebound, or ex post facto.
After all, Toby is supposed to be originally quite ignorant of sex-
uality, except insofar as it concerns natural procreation, and the
fact that his modesty concerns his groin rather than some other
wound might perhaps be regarded as an accident of war. Later
in the novel, when Toby is already on the brink of falling in love
with the Widow, he and Trim argue "whether the pain of a
wound in the groin (caeteris paribus) is greater than the pain of a
wound in the knee" (VIII.XIX:696)-an argument suggestively
left unsettled "to this day." The irony, of course, is that the
caeteris paribus clause only applies insofar as the primary impor-
tance of sexuality is not presupposed, whereas by this time the
siege of the Widow Wadman is already well on the way to dis-
placing the supremacy of military matters in Toby's mind. The
reading of sexuality into his original wounding, made possible
by the rebound from the "horn works," might thus be taken
as an indication of the difficulty of isolating a stage of history
before which sexuality attained its central importance as the
hobby-horse or "ruling passion" par excellence. Because Uncle
Toby is an eighteenth-century gentleman, not a hypothetical
"pre-erotic" man, his original ignorance of sexuality is neces-
sarily subject to the ambivalence that Tristram's allegorical double
entendres play out.7

7. One might perhaps offer, at least for its own sake, a whimsical paral-
lel to this in Locke. Contrasting "arbitrarily" or "unnaturally" con-
structed mixed modes to natural substances, Locke invents a story of
the origin of the Hebrew words kinneah and niouph (jealousy and adul-
tery), or in Shandean translation, "horn works." Adam "in a strange
country ... observes Lamech more melancholy than usual," and,
imagining such melancholy to derive from Lamech's suspicions as to
his wife's fidelity, "in . discourses with Eve . makes use of these
two new words." Thus originate the mixed modes "jealousy" and



If we follow the chronology of the text, we observe that Toby's
passage from military to erotic matters is mediated by the ludic
representation of war on his bowling green, and that it is in such
military representation, rather than military matters per se, that he
is said to acquire his hobby-horse proper (11.1:96). In short, it is
only by the power of representation that the superimposition of
the erotic and military domains can take place-something that
is forcefully brought to our attention when we attempt to fix
upon a single and stable interpretation of such terms as "horn
work." One might therefore say that we are made to share Toby's
confusion between military and erotic matters and that this con-
fusion derives from the ambiguity of representation as such.
This ambiguity is inseparable from the power of representation
to posit and create meanings as well as simply to represent them;
inseparable, in short, from rhetoric. But this also means that,
once created, a given meaning-say the erotic meaning of "horn
work"-can be projected backward into the past and can thus
appear to represent a state of affairs that it has in fact created. It
is because Toby's hobby-horse is thoroughly representational in
character that it is emphatically linked (in a manner that seems
otherwise obscure) to the jeopardies not of ideas, but of words
(II.1: 101).
If we regard Toby's sexual eros as the ludic or peaceful form
taken by his military eros, then the relative natural primacy of
one or the other depends on whether the state of war or the state
of peace is regarded as more "natural." Locke's Second Treatise of
Government is famous for the argument that the State of Nature is
a state of peace (in notable reversal of Hobbes's argument that it
is a state of war). Toby, on the other hand, defends the "infinite
delight" that attends his idea of military glory-a delight earlier
portrayed in remarkably erotic terms (II.V:113)-by arguing
that man is shaped for war "by NECESSITY" "if not by NATURE"
(VI.XXXII:557). It might appear, then, that the military eros is at

"adultery," though it turns out that Lamech is in fact melancholy be-
cause he has killed someone (iii.vi: 91). Here, then, jealousy originates as
a fiction arising from a misreading of a scene of violence, and only a
slight modification or extension of this paradigm is required to make it
suit perfectly the originary double entendre of Toby's "horn works."


least as necessary-and thus in this sense as "natural"-as the
sexual eros. Indeed, if Uncle Toby is any guide to the devel-
opment of man more generally, military ideals take temporal
priority over sexual ones, something also suggested by Ovid,
among others, when he describes the displacement of epic in-
spired by Mars in favour of amorous elegy inspired by Cupid
(Amores, 1.1).
From this point of view it is important to take cognizance of
the crucial role played by Toby's servant, Trim, in leading his
master out of war and into love. Trim, as we shall see more fully
later, figures in many respects as an ironic image of the Lockean
"natural man," and it is no accident that he is an essential part of
the therapy that prepares Toby for a state of peace (and, in psy-
choanalytic terms, a "recognition" of his sexuality). It would ap-
pear, however, that without Trim's ever ready guidance, Toby
himself is remarkably lacking in any goals other than deter-
minedly military ones. The shift from military goals to sexual
goals is accomplished not so much naturally as through a system
of symbolic substitutions, where Trim supplies one "succed-
aneum" after another (VI.XXIII:541) until the transition is com-
plete. Once Toby has been confined to military representation
rather than the real thing, his goal is simply to reproduce the real
war without being concerned that the towns he conquers are
now purely symbolic (and indeed at first not even represented
on his symbolic battlefield). In short, his hobbyhorsical play
might be said to have no goal other than pure imitation. Not by
coincidence, it is Trim who first insists that "to talk of taking so
many towns, without one TOWN to show for it,-was a very non-
sensical way of going to work" (VI.XXIII: 539). Trim then makes a
model town composed suggestively of painted "slit deals," and
in no time this town is acting as "many parts [as] Sodom and
Gomorrah" (VI.XXIII: 540).
If this production of a representational goal is an important
stage on the road from war to love, Toby is nevertheless not yet
ready to dispense with Trim's models or Trim as model. When
Toby at last finds himself in love, Trim pointedly notes that he
was not in love only "the day before yesterday, when I was telling
your honour the story of the King of Bohemia" (VIII.XXVIII:
711). Trim's story, which he admits to be a fiction, may perhaps
be read as a disguised allusion to Locke's State of Nature and re-




lated accordingly to Toby's initiation into "natural" sexuality.8
Like the State of Nature of Locke's Second Treatise, this fiction is
ambiguous in its temporal dimension: Trim begins by setting it
in the prehistoric past, "a little before the time . when giants
were beginning to leave off breeding" (VIII.XIX:685), but ends
by giving up the problem of dating altogether. The fact that the
story concerns a king may also be related, through Locke's con-
cept of natural sovereignty, to this temporal ambiguity, since
Locke claims (in reply to the objection that the State of Nature
has never existed) that "all princes and rulers of independent gov-
ernments . are in a state of nature," so that the "world never
was, nor ever will be, without numbers of men in that state"
(ii.14:317).' From the present point of view, however, this is less
important than the theme of the story itself, which concerns
how the king finds an outlet for his passion for "sea-affairs" not-
withstanding the landlocked character of Bohemia. His situation
is obviously akin to that of Toby, who must find a "natural" out-

8. I cannot, of course, conclusively demonstrate the allusion to Locke's
State of Nature, precisely because the text is so designed as to make
any interpretation of Trim's story seem far-fetched. Trim tells us, how-
ever, that all his other stories are true and concern himself (VIII.XIX:
681), which might lead one to suppose that the story of the king is to
be understood (especially since it eventually dissolves into autobiog-
raphy) as an untrue story that also concerns himself. According to my
hypothesis, the story of the king is an allegory of natural "sovereignty"
and is accordingly related to Trim's natural "potency." (This hypothesis
is supported by Toby's "looking earnestly towards Dunkirk and the
mole again" [VII.XIX: 682] while discussing whether the story is to be
"merry" or "grave." For more on Trim, sovereignty, and the "mole,"
see appendix 1.) The story's ambiguous temporal, fictive, and ap-
osiopesic qualities-which, along with the "theme" of the tension
between sovereignty and natural determinations that threaten to frus-
trate sovereignty, almost exhaust its "content"-are all notable char-
acteristics of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century States of Nature,
notably Locke's. I will say more subsequently about this aspect of
Locke, in the hope that as the relevant evidence builds up my inter-
pretation will become increasingly plausible.
9. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, edited by Peter Laslett (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1963). References to the Second
Treatise are marked in the text by a lowercase Roman numeral indicat-
ing Locke's chapter number, followed by Locke's section number and
the page number in this edition.



let for his military passion in a state of peace. Though the story is
aposiopesic and incomplete in the extreme, we are told enough
to know that whatever its outcome, this outcome contains an es-
sential element of "contingency" or "chance" (VIII.XIX:693). In
terms of the allegory, we may infer that neither Uncle Toby nor
"natural" man chooses the objects of his eros in a way that is
naturally determined without this contingent element. In Toby's
case this is obliquely illustrated by the way in which Trim di-
gresses from the story of the king into the story of his own love
affair, thus not only making the latter into the formal substitute
for the "natural" solution of the king's dilemma but also unwit-
tingly providing a contingent model for the solution of Toby's
own. It is no accident, we may infer, that Toby falls in love almost
immediately after hearing of Trim's love: just as in the case of the
bowling green war he is simply imitating a model.10 Nor is it an
accident, however surprising it might seem, that Trim has to per-
suade him that since "love is exactly like war" (VIII.XXI: 700), he
had better conduct his love in a military fashion rather than
"civilly" (VIII.XXVIII:712). Even the military interpretation of
sexuality, which one might expect to follow naturally from Toby's
hobby-horse, is actually supplied late in the game by the "natu-
ral" Corporal Trim.
Since Trim is said to be "Non Hobby-Horsical per se" (II.V: 109),
none of the determinations supplied by him can be said to be-
long to Toby's hobbyhorsical play per se. Rather this hobby-
horsical play consists, it seems, simply in the indeterminacy and
power of symbolic substitution that accompanies his representa-
tions or "theatre" (VI.XXIX:549), even when these seem most

10. The imitative relation between master and servant, the hobby-
horse and its contrary, works in both directions. Trim is also said to be
liable to "incontinent" imitation of Toby, and Tristram calls his por-
trayal of their respective love affairs a portrayal of "an amour .. nobly
doubled, and going upon all four, prancing throughout a grand drama"
(III.XXIV: 246). The dramatic technique might remind one of Shake-
speare or Cervantes, and also of the structure of "doubles" and "mi-
metic desire" as explored by Rene Girard, with particular stress on
these authors, in his Deceit, Desire and the Novel and To Double Business
Bound. In these terms, the hierarchy of master and servant would also
here prevent what Girard (or Kenneth Burke) would call direct mimetic
rivalry or conflict between the two.



conscientiously "representational." The same goes in a more ob-
vious fashion, as we have seen, for both Tristram's and Walter's
hobby-horses, since both literature and philosophy are more ob-
viously bound together in rhetoric and representation. Con-
ceived as such, however, the hobby-horse cannot be regarded-
as critics have been tempted to regard it-simply as a kind of
sickness or alienation, whether psychosexually or otherwise de-
termined.11 The "impotence" associated with the hobby-horse is
in fact essentially allegorical or symbolic in character; and in-
asmuch as the natural status of sexuality is put in question, not
merely in its Lockean form but in general, one might also say
that it resists Freudian interpretation. The advantage of the cate-
gory of play is thus not only, as I have said, that it determines the
hobby-horse as a reciprocal correlate of Lockean labour but also
that it resists any attempt to categorize the hobby-horse in terms
of the opposition of sickness and health. The "impotence" of the
hobby-horse is a symbolic category arrived at by negating the
sovereign "potency" of the (Lockean) State of Nature, and it ac-
cordingly shares the referential uncertainty of the latter. It is the
"nature" of this "potency" that we must therefore now further


The close interrelation and interdependence of Uncle Toby and
his servant, Corporal Trim, may be taken as indicating the corre-
sponding interdependence of the hobby-horse and its converse,
of play and work. As I have said, Trim is explicitly characterized

11. This temptation, in various guises, is virtually ubiquitous among
Sterne's commentators, and may be illustrated by one of the best,
James Swearingen, whose phenomenologicall" analysis of the novel
ultimately resolves itself around the dichotomy of health and sickness
(cf. 256). What truth and relevance this "medical" view represents is
perhaps best elucidated, once again, by the excellent Yorick's Medita-
tions, where the novel's medicinal pretensions are strictly and ironi-
cally circumscribed: "If then a book be the physic of the soul, we au-
thors ... may be allowed to look upon ourselves as physicians, and if
we do not cure our patients as often as other physicians, at least we
may safely say we do not kill them as often" ("Meditation upon Medita-
tions," 109; my emphases).



as "a body servant, Non Hobby-Horsical per se" (II.V:109); and the
fact that his real name is "Butler" perhaps emphasizes the man-
ner in which his status as a servant, or as the novel's working-class
figure par excellence, is to be understood as intrinsic to his posi-
tion in its symbolic structure (see appendix 1). On this basis, one
might be inclined to view the nonhobbyhorsical worker as de-
fined by his subordination to the hobbyhorsical and gentleman
player; and in fact, as we shall see, this is a relevant aspect of
Tristram Shandy's critique of Lockean labour as it applied to the
social rather than the intellectual domain. On the other hand,
however, Tristram's conspicuous idealization of Trim seems at
first to confirm an interpretation that runs in a very different di-
rection. For Trim seems to offer an open-and-shut case for inter-
preting the hobby-horse as a kind of sickness or alienation, in
contrast to which he appears as the very model of natural health.
In opposition to hobbyhorsical aberrance and "impotence," he
appears to epitomize all the triumphant glories of nonhobby-
horsical "potency," a potency that extends equally to the do-
mains of both rhetoric and eros. Everything that the Lockean
Walter Shandy fails to achieve through philosophy, Trim osten-
sibly achieves "naturally"; and it is accordingly tempting to inter-
pret him, as most critics have done, as providing an unironic
ideal of nature opposed to the ideal of nature produced by the
artificial abstractions of (Walter's) philosophy.12 As we shall see,
however, the apparent antithesis between these two ideals of na-
ture, health, and potency in fact conceals their intrinsic in-
terconnection as it is systematically portrayed in the novel; so

12. Even where the ironic or problematic cast of Trim's "nature" has
been partially recognized, its relation to Walter's and Locke's philoso-
phies has not been properly detected. Moglen, for example, observes
that "a central irony of [Trim's] characterization grows out of the para-
dox developed between art and nature" (90). But this does not prevent
her apparently unqualified opposing of Trim's "normal sexual plea-
sures" to "escapes," and from identifying Tristram's escape with his
"art" and his "harmless but frustrated sentimentality" (92). Nor does
she balk at interpreting Trim's natural "potency" without irony: "Sterne
demonstrates that sexual potency, as an alternative mode of communi-
cation, is a function of the whole man, reflecting his capacities and the
balance of his faculties" (93). I hope to show that such a reading is im-
possible to sustain, and to cast a Shandean light on terms like "capaci-
ties" and "faculties."



that one can say that Trim, despite all appearances, is neverthe-
less ultimately inseparable from Walter's Lockean conception of
"natural man."
The relation between Walter Shandy's attempt to arrive at a
speculative overcoming of the hobby-horse and Trim's appar-
ently natural success in achieving a practical overcoming of this
kind can helpfully be seen in light of the relation between Locke's
Essay Concerning Human Understanding and his Second Treatise of
Government. Both of these are of course philosophical and specu-
lative works, and both belong to Walter's stock arsenal of philo-
sophical arguments. The Second Treatise, however, posits a State
of Nature that must be distinguished from the "natural" reason
achieved or approximated through the labour of philosophical
reflection, since it apparently belongs to man or to human na-
ture as such. Moreover, this State of Nature is identified with a
number of apparently benign and edifying human characteris-
tics that remind us, despite his military rank, of Trim. The State
of Nature is as far distant from the State of War, Locke tells us,
"as a State of Peace, Good Will, Mutual Assistance, and Preser-
vation, and a State of enmity, Malice, Violence, and Mutual
Destruction are from one another" (iii.19: 321). To reduce this
nature to the jurisdiction of the hobby-horse, we may well imag-
ine, is to risk a demoralization far more dangerous than any-
thing likely to occur through a hobbyhorsical portrayal of philos-
ophy or philosophers per se.'3 The latter, after all, are always
likely to appear somewhat laughable to the general public, and
even to one another or a more sympathetic audience; and the
greater danger, as Tristram and Yorick both insist, is that philo-
sophical doctrines be disseminated by those who use "gravity"
to conceal their own moral and intellectual deficiencies (I.XI:
28). Inasmuch as the natural "good will" and/or "sovereignty"
of man is such a doctrine, however, discretion-not to speak of
moral enthusiasm-might well be inclined to exempt it from

13. In Yorick's Meditations, Toby Shandy makes explicit the danger of
providing no appearance of an alternative to the hobby-horse: "Why?
nephew, says he, at this rate people may at last be brought to look upon
government as a hobby-horse, religion as a hobby-horse; the good of
the nation as a hobby-horse; and then-and then, what will become of
us all?" (54).



open inclusion in the domain of the hobby-horse. If the "po-
tency" represented by an apparently nonhobbyhorsical Trim is
not quite what it seems, Tristram nevertheless takes care to sub-
vert it with an irony that is more oblique, or at any rate more
easily overlooked in its general outline, than usual. The edifying
pathos of the sentimentalismm" that the reading public (and
often those otherwise disapproving of the novel's moral charac-
ter) so admired in Corporal Trim is precisely what Tristram in-
tends to keep uppermost in the mind of the casual reader.
It is in connection with Trim's eloquence that Tristram most
eloquently apostrophizes Trim's "potency," a potency measured
in relation to Tristram's own lack of it: "O Trim! would to heaven
thou had'st a better historian!-would!-thy historian had a
better pair of breeches!" (V.VI: 429). Though Trim's eloquence is
defined in opposition to Walter's, which is said to proceed "by
metaphor and allusion" instead of "going strait forwards as na-
ture could lead him, to the heart" (V.VI: 429), it is not difficult to
see that this definition of the "natural" use of language is itself
predicated on a condemnation of rhetoric quite consistent with
Walter's Lockean presuppositions. If Locke's own rhetoric, as we
have seen, privileges visual metaphors and verbal "pictures,"
Trim may be said to take this predilection for the visible one step
further; for the paradigm of his eloquence is in fact not verbal at
all, but rather visual. In Trim's sentimental oration on the occa-
sion of the death of Tristram's brother, it is the visible gesture of
Trim's dramatic dropping of his hat (to signify the inevitability of
death) that Tristram singles out for extensive commentary. This
commentary both makes much of the privilege of the sense of
sight over the other senses and is explicitly designed as a lesson
in "health":

Now as I perceive plainly, that the preservation of our
constitution in church and state,-and possibly the preser-
vation of the whole world-or what is the same thing, the
distribution and balance of its property and power, may in
time come to depend greatly upon right understanding of
this stroke of the corporal's eloquence-I do demand your
attention,-your worships and reverences, for any ten
pages together, take them where you will in any other part
of the work, shall sleep for it at your ease.



I said, "we were not stocks and stones"-'tis very well. I
should have added, nor are we angels, I wish we were,-but
men cloathed with bodies, and governed by our imagina-
tions;-and what a junketting piece of work of it there is,
betwixt these and our seven senses, especially some of
them, for my own part, I own it, I am ashamed to confess.
Let it suffice to affirm, that of all the senses, the eye, (for I
absolutely deny the touch, though most of your Barbati, I
know, are for it) has the quickest commerce with the soul,-
gives a smarter stroke, and leaves something more inex-
pressible upon the fancy, than words can either convey-or
sometimes get rid of.
-I've gone a little about-no matter, 'tis for health-
... Ye who govern this mighty world and its mighty
concerns with the engines of eloquence,-who heat it, and
cool it, and melt it, and mollify it,- and then harden it
again to your purpose-
Ye who wind and turn the passions with this great wind-
lass,-and having done it, lead the owners of them,
whither ye think meet-
Ye, lastly, who drive and why not, Ye also who are
driven, like turkeys to market, with a stick and a red clout-
meditate-meditate, I beseech you, upon Trim's hat. (V.VII:

The urgent demand that Tristram makes upon the attention of
his readers in this passage and the passage that follows it con-
tains the kind of equivocation characteristic of those moments
where he most blatantly underlines the significance of what he is
about to say. On the one hand, he is quite serious in advising us
to stay awake here, even if we sleep for the rest of the volume.
On the other hand, he stages his homily "for health" in a context
designed to mislead us if we are feeling in the least sleepy and
inattentive. For we may well be inclined to suppose, given the
sentimental context of Trim's stroke of eloquence, that the health
at stake here is linked to a simple valorization of natural feel-
ing and of an eloquence which "goes strait forwards . to the
heart." The idealization of visual eloquence, by the same token,



would be aimed at an encouragement of the straightforward ex-
pression of such feeling, unencumbered by the hobbyhorsical
dangers and abstractions of language. We are explicitly told that
the eye "has the quickest commerce with the soul,-gives a
smarter stroke" than either words or the sense of touch; and
there is no reason not to take Tristram Shandy at his word in his
insistence on this special power of vision over the souls of men.
It is precisely the "nature" of this power as described by Tris-
tram, however, that might give us pause. As we shall see shortly,
neither the image of "commerce" nor that of the "stroke" is with-
out systematic ironic resonance in his portrayal of this nature,
and neither suggests the kind of healthy organicism that one
might expect in this context, let alone a benign and spontaneous
overflow of the heart's feeling. In connection with the purport-
edly nonhobbyhorsical privilege associated with the visual do-
main both in Locke's theory and Trim's practice, one may note
that painting is nevertheless consigned to the hobbyhorse early
on in the novel (I.VII: 12). By its end, moreover, not only is look-
ing into people's eyes said to be "as bad as talking bawdy" (IX.III:
741) but the eye is said to be "for all the world exactly like a can-
non" (VIII.XXV: 707); and this aggressive or coercive quality is
also preserved in Tristram's depiction of Trim's visual eloquence.
According to Tristram, the "preservation of the whole world" de-
pends on a "right understanding" of this eloquence (V.VII: 431).
Curiously enough, however, the "whole world" in this case
turns out to mean not the world of true sentiment as one might
expect, especially given the sentimental substance of Trim's ora-
tion, but rather the "distribution of [its] property and power."
The most "natural" eloquence is described, in fact, in the most
apparently artificial, mechanistic, and unbenign of terms, as
an "engine" by which those who "govern this mighty world"
achieve their "purpose" (V.VII: 433). Here the metaphorical "com-
merce" and "smarter stroke" associated with the power of vision
become uncomfortably literal in extension; for these "engines of
eloquence" are said to be the means by which the powerful suc-
cessfully drive the rest "like turkeys to market, with a stick and a
red clout" (V.VII: 433).
Although Locke is not mentioned in this context, Tristram
Shandy's somewhat perplexing yoking of natural sentiment with
the political and economic engines of power might warn us that



the nonhobbyhorsical nature he has in mind is less distant from
Locke than it seems. If the "natural" Corporal Trim reflects the
edifying picture of good will and mutual assistance offered by
Locke's State of Nature in the Second Treatise, he also reflects
some of the political and economic ideas which that State of
Nature is designed to sustain. In particular, as I have said, we
may regard his working-class status as body-servant as funda-
mentally linked to the concept of labour that the Treatise uses to
establish natural models of ownership and authority, a concept
that is parodied elsewhere in the novel, as I have also said, with
specific (though inexplicit) reference to Locke's chapter "On
Property" (III.XXXIV: 263-64).14 The peculiar insistence on the
connection of Trim's natural eloquence to markets, public in-
stitutions, and "the distribution of property and power" in
general-and this in the grotesquely inappropriate context of
the death of Tristram's own brother-only begins to make sense
if we perceive its systematic playing out of the "economizing" of
nature that Locke undertakes in order to provide the basis and
justification for his view of civil or political society. In this con-
nection, it is no accident that Trim's interpretation of the fifth

14. Walter's intellectual application of this concept, however signifi-
cant, should not distract us from its material and social applications.
Despite his careful distinction between servants and slaves in the Sec-
ond Treatise and his humanitarian concern for the treatment of servants
in Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Locke does remind us that good
treatment will make "Love in Inferiors ... [have] a share in their Sub-
mission," only increasing the master's "distinction" and "authority"
(sec. 117). He also warns against servants' characteristic "foolishness,"
"perverseness," "foolish flatteries" (sec. 59), "clownishness," "vicious-
ness," "lack of breeding," "debauchery"; as well as the dangers of
allowing children to be alone in their company, exposed to the "con-
tagion" and "infection" of their example, and the possibility of receiv-
ing "drink, wine, fruit, play-things, and other such matters, which
may make them in love with their conversation" (sec. 68-69). All this,
be it noted, is to be found in one and a half short pages of Locke's
Thoughts (hereafter marked in these notes as TCE, followed by Locke's
section number). Contrast Toby's love for Trim's conversation and the
picture of Trim at work on the bowling-green where "the nature of the
soil,-the nature of the work itself,-and above all, the good nature of
my uncle Toby . left LABOUR little else but the ceremony of the
"name" (VI.XXI: 535). Walter's attitude is not so benign.



commandment ("honour thy father and mother") is flanked on
the one side by Walter's Lockean model of the origin of civil
society and on the other by Walter's apostrophe "O Blessed
health!" (V.XXXIII: 471), and that this interpretation (though ex-
ploited by Yorick for purposes of edification) is frankly economic
in character (V.XXXII: 470)."1 Nor is it coincidental, considering
the nonhobbyhorsical status of the servant per se, that it is in a
short section of Locke's Treatise that treats the natural basis of the
relation of master and servant that we also read: "the chief end
[of civil society] is the preservation of property" (vii.85: 366). The
"nature" that leads Trim's eloquence "strait forwards .. to the
heart," and that Tristram professes so much to admire, is in fact
very much akin to a Lockean nature that threatens to turn "the
preservation of the whole world" into "the same thing" as a
preservation of "the distribution and balance of its property
and power" (V.VII: 431). In such a world, evidently, the "un-
natural" claims of hobbyhorsical play would be banished with a
In identifying one Lockean dimension of Trim's "natural
health," we are now in a position to hypothesize that the novel's
idealization of his nonhobbyhorsical nature is ironically de-
ployed, and that it must be regarded as a mythical idealization of
work by the philosophy of work. Moreover, through Tristram
Shandy's linkage of the theme of visual eloquence to the concrete

15. Besides discussing the fifth commandment at length in the First
Treatise, Locke also recommends (TCE, 157) that children learn the Ten
Commandments by heart-a recommendation that has apparently
been followed in Trim's case (cf. Florida Notes, 381). As regards the eco-
nomic and practical character of Trim's notion of honouring his par-
ents, I do not propose that Yorick's approval be ignored, but rather that
it be regarded as following a pattern whereby he uses Trim's "nature"
for religious or supernatural purposes (as when Trim reads his ser-
mon). Yorick's approval may thus be viewed as ironic in the sense that it
transcends nature and natural economy, while still appearing to allow
the validity of a natural or secular perspective. It thus differs from Tris-
tram's ironic idealization of Trim that allows for no transcendent or
properly religious recuperation-or sacrificial loss. Anticipating part 2
of my discussion, one might perhaps cite Kierkegaard's view of the re-
lation between Christ and the ironic Socrates as a possible model here,
where he says that their difference resides in their similarity, their simi-
larity in their difference.



world of economics, labour, and power, we are also able to per-
ceive the "natural" connection between the doctrines of the Es-
say and the Treatises. From this point of view, the theoretical doc-
trine of mimesis that leads to Locke's condemnation of literary
rhetoric (as well as his adoption of a special visual rhetoric) in
the Essay is as much part and parcel of the ideology of labour as
the Second Treatise, which adopts the term explicitly and returns
to it at every critical juncture. The Lockean philosophy of work,
as it is to be understood here, covers the economy of language
and the idea as well as the political economy and can be summa-
rized in its doctrine of nature in which "the hobby-horse is for-
got." Tristram's nature, by contrast, is a "dame [who] has her
frolicks as well as other females." '
Having said all this, however, we still have not explained the
relation between the erotic dimension of Trim's nonhobby-
horsical "potency" and the Lockean doctrine of the State of Na-
ture. This dimension is actually brought to our attention ob-
scurely but ultimately unmistakably in connection with Trim's
stroke of natural eloquence, where in the following chapter Tris-
tram identifies his discussion of this eloquence as "nothing, an't
please your reverences, but a chapter of chamber-maids, green
gowns [whores], and old hats [female genitals]" (V.VIII: 434).
Speaking in significantly economic terms, Tristram reminds us
that he owes us a "book-debt" of a chapter upon "chamber-maids
and button-holes," and asks that we "accept of the last chapter in
lieu of it" (V.VIII: 434). After all the recent talk of property and
markets, the system of symbolic substitution and economic ex-
change here proposed is doubly suggestive, especially when we
consider that the exchange of the chapter on chambermaids and
buttonholes for the chapter on eloquence, property, and power
is itself said to involve augmenting the chambermaids and but-
tonholes (which may perhaps be regarded as equivalent to cham-
bermaids and "old hats") with "green gowns." For these green
gowns are themselves the very emblem of the literal exchange of
sex for money that Tristram seems to perform, on a symbolic
level, in exchanging a chapter on eros for a chapter on property

16. I take this phrase from the "Meditation Upon Virtu" in Yorick's
Meditations, 92.



and power. What is at stake in this substitution, we may infer, is
precisely the way in which the domains of eros and work interact,
or the way in which eros is subjected to the constraints of a
"natural" economy. We have already seen something of this in
Trim's central role as mediator between Toby Shandy and the
world of sexuality (Walter Shandy also tries to play this role).
But the basic significance of Trim's "natural potency" only be-
comes explicable when we turn to Walter's own account, echoing
Locke's Second Treatise, of how the foundation of political or civil
government was "laid in the first conjunction betwixt male and
female, for procreation of the species":

The original of society, continued my father, I'm satisfied
is, what Politian tells us, i.e. merely conjugal; and nothing
more than the getting together of one man and one woman;-
to which, (according to Hesiod) the philosopher adds a ser-
vant: but supposing in the first beginning there were
no men servants born- he lays the foundation of it, in a
man,-a woman-and a bull.- I believe 'tis an ox, quoth
Yorick, quoting the passage (oixov ~L v 7Trpwotxa, Yvva-Xa
re, BovU 7' dpoTnrpa.)- A bull must have given more
trouble than his head was worth. But there is a better
reason still, said my father, (dipping his pen into his ink)
for, the ox being the most patient of animals, and the most
useful withal in tilling the ground for their nourishment,-
was the properest instrument, and emblem too, for the new
joined couple, that the creation could have associated with
them.-And there is a stronger reason, added my uncle
Toby, than them all for the ox.-My father had not power to
take his pen out of his ink-horn, til he had heard my uncle
Toby's reason.-For when the ground was tilled, said my
uncle Toby, and made worth inclosing, then they began to
secure it by walls and ditches, which was the origin of for-
tification.- True, true; dear Toby, cried my father, strik-
ing out the bull, and putting the ox in his place.
My father gave Trim a nod, to snuff the candle, and re-
sumed his discourse. (V.XXXI: 466-67).

Before coming to the part of this anthropological allegory that
most concerns Corporal Trim (the part dealing with the servant),



it is important to clarify its deceptive relation to Locke and to
make one or two general remarks about the conceptual scheme it
proposes. The reference to Locke is to chapter 7 of the Second
Treatise, "Of Political or Civil Society," where Locke writes: "The
first Society was between man and wife, which gave beginning to
that between parents and children; to which, in time, that be-
tween master and servant came to be added" (vii.77: 362). Like
Locke, Walter Shandy founds the conjugal relation exclusively in
the production or reproductive teleology of procreation and the
"continuation of the species" and uses it to provide conceptual
passage from the State of Nature to society regarded as a "volun-
tary compact" (vii.77: 362). It is not long after this, in Locke's ac-
count, that we read that the chief end of society is preservation
of property-a preservation that greatly appeals to Toby Shandy
inasmuch as it provides the perfect justification for the origin of
fortification. In general, in fact, it is obvious that society is here
conceived in a manner that privileges labour (agriculture, for-
tification) and the law of work above all else, and that therefore
also provides for the "economizing" of eros that I spoke of in con-
nection with the chapter of "chamber-maids, green gowns, and old
hats." Accordingly, the eros of the conjugal relation is reduced to
the teleology of labour and reproductionn and is emblematized
by the most useful labouring animal, the ox. In this scheme, one
may say that procreation takes on its special conceptual function
in appearing as simultaneously the "last" act of nature and the
"first" act of voluntary societal work. Sexual reproduction, in
short, is the ground on which nature and labour are seen to
Already we are beginning to arrive at an explanation of the
curious substitution of the domains of eros and property and
power in the "natural" eloquence of the working Trim or "Butler."
However, we have not yet touched upon the real irony of Walter's
anthropology, which concerns not merely the working teleology
that is adduced to link natural sexuality and civil society but
more particularly the structures of authority that occupy a simi-
larly pivotal position. Above all, the authority at stake is that of
paternal or patriarchal authority: Walter's account of "the origi-
nal of society" is explicitly given in order to "shew the foun-
dation of the natural relation between a father and his child"
and the "right and jurisdiction" he thereby acquires (V.XXXI:


467-68). What is more, in attempting to demonstrate the genu-
inely natural basis of this jurisdiction (in procreation) as well as
its civil or legal basis (in marriage, adoption, and legitimation),
Walter is driven to assert that "the offspring, upon this account,
is not so under the power and jurisdiction of the mother" (V.XXXI:
468). In response to Yorick's feminist objection that the authority
derived from the act of procreation "equally holds good for her,"
he replies that the mother "is under authority herself," and
moreover-"laying his finger upon the side of his nose"-that
"she is not the principal agent, Yorick" (V.XXXI: 468). The natural
right and jurisdiction of man, it seems, depends ultimately on
his "potency."
The general irony of Walter's account of the original conjugal
society is that it appears to contain an impossible mixture of the
views of Locke and Sir Robert Filmer, Locke's principal antag-
onist in the Treatises. In section 62 of the First Treatise, Locke ex-
plicitly quotes and attacks Filmer's theory of man's natural "Sover-
eignty over the Woman, as being the Nobler and Principal Agent
in Generation" (Two Treatises, 222)." In "Of Paternal Power," the

17. The only analysis of the Lockean-Filmerian dimension of this pas-
sage I know is contained in Wilfred Watson's "The Fifth Command-
ment." Watson notes that the reference to Politian and Hesiod, as au-
thorities for this "original of society," serves in part to camouflage the
seventeenth-century, Lockean-Filmerian context. But neither he nor
anyone else, to my knowledge, mentions the possibility of the ambiva-
lence between Locke and Filmer that I consider crucial to Walter's posi-
tion. Rather, Walter is portrayed as playing Filmer to Yorick's Locke. As
regards the fifth commandment itself, Walter's apparently Filmerian
views of the "principal agent in generation" rightly lead Watson to
consider the First Treatise, where Filmer's omission of the mother in his
deployment of the fifth commandment is one of Locke's key points of
attack on Filmer's use of biblical authority. What Watson does not ob-
serve, however, is that Walter's admission that "the son ought to pay
[his mother] respect" (V.XXXI: 468) is referred not to biblical authority
but to a secular source (Justinian) elsewhere used as an authority for
the arguments on labour and property that are definitely Locke's
(III.XXXIV: 263). (In the relevant sections of the Second Treatise, it
should be noted, Locke makes minimal and almost peremptory or
purely conventional use of biblical arguments, preferring to develop
his position in "natural" terms.) Moreover, the reference to Justinian
does not support the maternal respect that Walter claims. Finally,




chapter that immediately precedes "Of Political or Civil Society"
in the Second Treatise, Locke again painstakingly refutes a Fil-
merian view of patriarchal power, a view that is also used to pro-
vide a natural justification for the political system of absolute
monarchy. It would seem, then, that Walter Shandy quotes al-
most verbatim from the opening passage of "Of Political or Civil
Society" only in order to justify Filmer's conception of pa-
triarchal power that Locke has just so thoroughly demolished.
By the same token, it might also seem that Tristram Shandy and
Yorick are in this case siding with Locke, as they sometimes do
elsewhere, rather than against him, and that Walter Shandy is no
longer here the novel's Lockean representative.
Readers may certainly be forgiven for adopting the latter view,
since, as I mentioned in chapter 1, Walter Shandy is elsewhere
explicitly said to be "entirely of Sir Robert Filmer's opinion" on the
question of the relation between patriarchal and monarchical au-
thority (I.XVIII: 54). This opinion is attributed to him in the con-
text of his attempt to impose his will on Mrs. Shandy over the
issue of employing a male midwife for Tristram's delivery. He
believes, we are told,

that the plans and institutions of the greatest monarchies
in the eastern parts of the world, were, originally, all stolen
from that admirable pattern and prototype of this house-
hold and paternal power [which Walter is presently at-
tempting to uphold];---which, for a century, he said, and
more, had gradually been degenerating away into a mix'd
government;- the form of which, however desirable in
great combinations of the species,- was very trouble-
some in small ones,-and seldom produced any thing, that
he saw, but sorrow and confusion. (I.XVIII: 54-55)

though Walter is loth to be interrupted by Trim's recitation of the Ten
Commandments by rote (something that is consistent, as I have said,
with Locke's recommendation that children be taught them in this
manner), he nevertheless offers a specifically Lockean challenge to
Trim's ability to annex "any one determinate idea" to the words he is
repeating (V.XXXII: 470). This intra-Lockean confusion, as we shall fur-
ther see, is the crux of the entire episode.



Although this passage seems at first to justify the Filmerian
perspective attributed to it, on closer scrutiny it appears rather
less Filmerian. For although "degenerating ... into a mix'd gov-
ernment" suggests Filmer's absolute monarchism, "desirable in
great combinations of the species" suggests a Lockean approval
of mixed government.'" Moreover, if we understand "great com-
binations" to mean nations and "small ones" to mean families,
then we arrive at a view a good deal closer to Locke than to
Filmer-or at any rate a view that takes an ambiguous position
between the two. Just as when Walter begins by playing Locke
(in his "original of society") he ends by sounding like Filmer, so
here, when he starts from apparently Filmerian premises he
ends by sounding more like Locke. One begins to suspect, in
fact, that Tristram's attribution of Filmer's chauvinistic views
to the Lockean Walter is not to be regarded simply as part of
the realistic portrayal of a confused philosopher called Walter
Shandy, who is sometimes like Locke and sometimes like Filmer,
but rather as part of a systematic ironic strategy whereby Locke
and Filmer are identified with one another. Inasmuch as it dis-
tracts from the Lockean dimension of Walter's philosophy (even
when that philosophy seems to contradict Locke outright), Tris-
tram's explicit yoking of Walter and Filmer might thus be re-
garded as intentionally misleading. For what is at stake, we may
infer, is not so much the difference between Locke and Filmer as
the ironic resemblance or underlying locus of agreement be-
tween them.
Though Locke and Filmer differ in their interpretations of the
conjugal and familial relation, as well as of the political struc-
tures for which this relation provides the keystone or prototype,
they share the appeal to this same keystone or prototype as
such. Where Filmer appeals to absolute patriarchal power as a
model of absolute monarchy, Locke argues for the natural limita-
tions of paternal and conjugal authority consistent with his con-

18. The Florida Notes (91) confirm that nowhere in his writings does
Filmer retreat from his consistent position "that mixed governments
are a mere impossibility or contradiction (Two Treatises, 93)." But they
fail here to observe, either because of editorial reticence or for other
reasons, that Locke's critique of Filmer is conducted in large part to jus-
tify such mixed governments.



ception of the natural limitations of political authority. Despite
their manifest differences, however, both Locke and Filmer never-
theless agree that conjugal authority should be placed in the
man's hands-even though Locke insists that the "wife has in
many cases a liberty to separate from him," and that she has
"full and free possession of what by contract is her peculiar
right" (vii.82: 364). (We may note that Walter Shandy has entered
into just such a contract and is far from attempting, at least in
theory, to impose Filmer's absolute authority.) Since husband
and wife have "different understandings, [and] unavoidably
sometimes .. different wills too," Locke regretfully tells us, "it
therefore [is] necessary that the last determination, i.e. the rule,
should be placed somewhere"; and this rule "naturally falls to
the man's share, as the abler and the stronger" (vii.82: 364; my
emphasis). For all his enlightened rejection of Filmer's notion
that this is like the rule of the absolute monarch, or based on
man's being the "nobler and principal agent" in the act of pro-
creation, Locke's appeal to the superior natural "ability" of man
(in uncomfortable tandem with-what might be more easily
granted-his superior natural strength) is in fact as mystified or
mystifying as Filmer's appeal to his superior natural "nobility." 9
Given that all this occurs, in the Second Treatise, only a page after
the opening of chapter 7 to which Walter Shandy refers, it is
scarcely surprising that Tristram ironically portrays his father as
passing from Filmer to Locke and back again without even notic-
ing the difference. Though Locke does not come as close as
Filmer to basing the natural authority or "potency" of man on
the "nose" in its frankly phallic interpretation, we might never-
theless observe that this flexibility of meaning is allowed for in
Tristram's conveniently allegorical and aposiopesic technique.
For since Walter does not specify precisely what activity man is
supposed to be the "principal" in, and Tristram refuses to tell us

19. It should be observed here that some interpreters of Locke have
regarded his implication, against the apparent letter of his text, as
being that the husband's right "arises solely from superior power" (cf.
Laslett's notes to the Two Treatises, 364). This raises the whole question
of Locke's own irony and discretion which, because it would so compli-
cate my already complicated analysis, I have only once briefly men-
tioned. I return to this important question in note 37.



what he means by the "nose" that Walter touches while making
his assertion, one could actually interpret both of these in an or-
thodoxly Lockean manner. In a certain sense, the difference be-
tween Filmer and Locke is erased in the very allegoric sliding of
meaning that their valorization of the natural "potency" of the
"nose" (qua masculinity) makes possible. Nevertheless, it is a
Lockean rather than a Filmerian conception of the "first part .
of paternal power, or rather duty, which is education" (vi.69: 356)
that underlies Walter's Tristrapaedia, where his account of the
foundation of civil government is to be found.20
Returning now to the issue of Trim's natural or nonhobby-
horsical "potency," we remember that Walter's addition of a ser-
vant to the original familial society once again echoes Locke. But
the substitution of an ox, which Walter mistranslatess" as a bull,
is of course a Shandean modification of central importance

20. Though the Tristrapaedia is not conclusively Lockean in inspiration
or implication, one would certainly call it Lockean rather than Fil-
merian (if a choice between these two sources alone had to be made).
As I have suggested, moreover, Walter's appropriation of other people's
opinions, according to the Lockean doctrine of right of property by
labour, makes it possible to read any plagiarized source as "Lockean"
provided that the source exhibits some correlation with Locke-even
where (as in the case of Filmer) Locke is presented as propagating a
prejudice with which he thinks himself in disagreement. In the case of
Locke's work on education, this position perhaps finds particular sup-
port, not least because Locke concludes the work with an explicit ex-
hortation to educators "to consult their own reason . rather than
wholly to rely on old custom" (TCE, 217). But editors and commen-
tators have long ago recognized significant points of correspondence
between Locke's educational maxims and those of Rabelais and Mon-
taigne, to name only two venerable sources much used by Sterne.
(This is also true of Obediah Walker, who provides perhaps the most
extensive source for the Tristrapaedia, but whose doctrines, as I have
noted, are sometimes subject to pretty obvious Lockean "doctoring.")
Locke's similarities with Montaigne occur despite his condemnation of
Montaigne: "He reasons not, but diverts himself and pleases others;
full of pride and vanity" (cf. TCE, li). In the chapter on the origin
of society and the ones following it, Lockean sources are certainly
dominant-though it is precisely here that Walter appears most anti-
Lockean or un-Lockean, using weapons that nevertheless all have their
possible Lockean dimension. I suggest that everything in these chap-
ters, at least, be read with this in mind. (See also appendix 2 for the
Molyneux connection on education.)



(V.XXXI: 466). On the one hand, this bull-turned-ox is a general
token of his failed attempt to establish continuity, through natu-
ral "potency," between nature and civil society founded on the
teleology of labour. In this sense, the ox correctly substituted by
Yorick shows this allegory of natural work to be shadowed at its
very origin by castration, the sign of hobbyhorsical play. On the
other hand, however, Yorick also suggests why Walter himself
might be somewhat relieved at this substitition: "a bull must
have given more trouble than his head was worth" (V.XXXI: 466).
Since the bull-turned-ox replaces the servant in the allegoric
scheme, we may perhaps infer that Walter would really prefer his
servants to be rather less "potent" than his theory initially sug-
gests. In fact, the link between the castrated ox and the servant is
further emphasized here by Trim's "snuff[ing] the candle" on di-
rections from Walter.21 Far from bearing out the promise of the
"potency" that Tristram seems to attribute to him and that seems
conclusively proved in the contrast between his own and his
master's love affairs, it would appear that the servant per se is
afflicted with an "impotence" that threatens to undo or belie
the very symbolic opposition between the hobby-horse and its
This supposition is prettily confirmed by a closer look at Trim's
affair with "Mrs. Bridget." In the latter's name we possibly en-
counter one of the most surreptitious of Tristram Shandy's refer-
ences to Locke, but one (if it is so) that also demonstrates how

21. Trim snuffs the candle twice: once before and once after Walter's
account of the servant as a bull-turned-ox; first of his own accord, sec-
ond at Walter's command. Besides noting the possible gratuitousness
of the first occasion (since Walter is reading, he surely needs more light
rather than less) and the double gratuitousness of the second occasion
(why snuff the same candle or even another one?), one should also
observe the appropriate double double entendre of snuffing the candle-
signifying either potency in the sexual act or potency destroyed. I hesi-
tate to explicate this extraordinarily pregnant sentence, except by say-
ing that it is appropriate that Walter should develop his theory in the
darkness cast by Trim's act, and also that the possible identity between
"potency" and "impotence" now becomes clear in this darkness. Fi-
nally, it should be observed that (before the first snuffing) Walter point-
edly excludes Trim from his "compliment" to Yorick and Toby-to the
effect that he has often thought of reading his text to them-but that
Trim "bows [in] obeisance" nonetheless (V.XXX: 465).


deeply and deceptively the novel is saturated by Locke. Quite
appropriately, given the "potency" at stake, the correlation is to
chapter 22 of Locke's Essay "Of Power," and more particularly to
the image by which Locke illustrates the case of a person who
"has volition" but is not "a free agent" (ii.xxi: 317). The image is
that of "a man falling into the water, (a bridge breaking under
him)"; it is this image that may motivate not only Mrs. Bridget's
name but also the episode in which she and Trim fall into the
fosse together, breaking one of his and Toby's fortificatory bridges
(III.XXIV: 248).22 Like "noses," these "bridges" must be placed in
quotation marks for reasons that appear in the following chapter;
for example, where the "natural remedy" for the broken bridge
(which is, however, rejected in this case) is said to be to fasten the
bridge "only at one end with hinges, so that the whole might be
lifted up together, and stand bolt upright" (III.XXV: 251). Trim's
"natural potency," we may infer, is no more a genuine power
than that possessed by Locke's falling man, and his situation is
no more susceptible to the "natural remedy" than the broken
bridge. On the contrary, his "natural" or nonhobbyhorsical status
is inseparable from his working-class subjugation to power: his
own eloquence, as we have seen, is part of the machinery that
drives "turkeys"-or "oxen"-to market.

22. Because the specific Lockean reference here is one I am effectively
unwilling or unable to defend against charges of mere coincidence, I
will limit myself to quoting Tristram's invocation of the potencies of
storytelling just before he begins the chapter in which I claim it occurs:
"O ye POWERS! (for powers ye are ... ) ... that kindly shew ... what
... to put into [a story],-and what to leave out,-how much ...
to cast into shade,-and whereabouts .. to throw . light!...
I beg and beseech you . that where-ever . three several roads
meet in one point . that at least you set up a guide-post, in the cen-
ter of them, in mere charity to direct an uncertain devil" (III.XXIII:
244-45). Some charity indeed, if my hypothesis is correct!
It should also be noted, however, that in the passage where Tristram
denies that by Trim he means the duke of Ormonde, he immediately
follows this denial by a further denial that his book is "wrote against
predestination, or free will, or taxes" (IV.XXII: 360). If Trim is con-
ceived as Locke's "natural man," as I suggest, then the first denial con-
cerning Ormonde is by no means simply ironic. Moreover, the Lockean
reference I am here proposing is precisely a reference to Locke's dis-
cussion of free will and determinism.




Such various considerations clinch, I hope, the ironic inter-
pretation of Trim's healthy, nonhobbyhorsical nature on which I
have tried to insist. At the same time, the obliquity with which
Tristram Shandy undercuts this myth of nature, and the over-
coming of the hobby-horse that goes with it, is surely an indica-
tion that he expected his irony to be overlooked by the vast ma-
jority of his readers (an expectation that has been extensively
confirmed in the critical literature).23 The ironic and sentimental
portrayal of Trim is indeed undertaken, we may infer, "for health"
(V.VII: 432)-but a health less in the natural domain of the doctor
of medicine than the supernatural or "unnatural" domain of the
doctor of religion (cf.V.X: 436). Trim's combination of natural po-
tency with natural goodness, like the "good will" of Locke's State
of Nature, is sadly but a (partially) edifying fiction (cf. n. 37 be-
low). Moreover, his natural self-confidence is easily compro-
mised by the actions or disapproval of women (V.X: 435), and his
somewhat conceited susceptibility to the "potency" of his own
eloquence is said, finally, to be "the only dark line" in his charac-
ter (II.V: 109).


The pivotal position occupied by both rhetoric and eros in the con-
frontation between Tristram Shandy and his father (Locke) is per-
haps most explicitly signalled in Slawkenbergius's Tale, in which
the two themes of "names" and "noses" are brought together
(IV.Sl.Tale: 312). The "nose" itself in fact combines these two
themes, since its obvious erotic and phallic dimension (equivalent
to the erotic dimension of "potency") by no means cancels its
referential indeterminacy (equivalent to the vagueness of Locke's
masculine "ability" or Filmer's masculine "nobility") as the source

23. Conscious of the errors this may imply, I nevertheless am unaware
that any of the many books and articles on Tristram Shandy confirm or
even mention any of the essential crutches of my argument concerning
Trim, let alone its more hypothetical and uncertain offshoots. The the-
ory, I should observe, was generally composed in advance of recogniz-
ing what I regard as the overwhelming character of the evidence. I
await correction, in matters of either fact, interpretation of fact, or of
my ignorance of earlier investigators of the field.


of erotic value. On the contrary, it would seem to be precisely
this determined indeterminacy that allows the "nose," in Tris-
tram Shandy, to become the "medius terminus" that mediates all
value (III.XL: 281), and that underlies Tristram's ambivalent but
determined refusal to decide between its "dirty" and "clean"
meanings. Erotic or "nasal" value is here essentially inclusive
rather than reductive: sexuality as such becomes the symbolic
focus rather than the source of the diverse values it supports. In
this sense, the novel's allegorical portrayal of the "nose" is by no
means simply a technique of presentation. For even if we at-
tempt to insist on the most narrowly sexual interpretation of the
allegory, making the phallus its literal referent, the novel never-
theless makes it quite clear that the literal functions of the phal-
lus depend very largely on its symbolic and allegoric character.
Inasmuch as the "nose" threatens to become a medius terminus
of all value, moreover, so much the more does it become-like
"truth" or "soul"-essentially symbolic and allegoric in charac-
ter, refusing to be confined to any definite or finite referential
It is the special indeterminacy surrounding eros, we may infer,
that makes Slawkenbergius's allegory of the "nose" into the
shared but contested ground-like rhetoric-of both Tristram's
and his father's systems, of both literature and philosophy.
Though Walter Shandy himself utterly fails to penetrate his
favourite text, Tristram is far from suggesting that this text is
without philosophical interest and rigour. On the contrary, he
remarks explicitly that "philosophy is not built upon tales; and
therefore 'twas certainly wrong in Slawkenbergius to send [his
tales] into the world by that name" (III.XLII: 286). Since Tristram
also places his own discussion of "noses" under the shadow of
the marbled page, emblem of fictivity or textuality ("motly em-
blem of my work!"), we may deduce that this emblem functions
in much the same duplicitous way as Slawkenbergius's label of
"tale." Only by "much reading, by which your reverence knows, I
mean much knowledge," he tells us, will we be able to "penetrate
the moral" of this marbled page-a moral as difficult to pene-
trate as "the many opinions, transactions and truths which still
lie mystically hid under the dark veil of the black one [both the
devil and death]" (III.XXXVI: 268). The status of the "tale" or lit-
erary fiction, in this case, derives not from any genuine suspen-




sion of the referential function or from any lack of rigour or sys-
tem that philosophy could supply, but rather from a referential
uncertainty that affects all texts on the "nose," literary and philo-
sophical alike, and that could be resolved only by a lifting of this
"dark veil." Literature and philosophy share a reference to what
they are unable to refer to and an orientation toward the future
in which this "Paraleipomenon" (thing omitted) might be sup-
plied (III.XXXVI: 268).
Although a detailed reading of Slawkenbergius's Tale would be
too lengthy for the present purposes, it will be helpful to sum-
marize some of its more important implications. First, despite or
because of the universal fascination exerted by Senor Diego's
"nose" in Strasburg, it stubbornly resists adequate and univocal
determination even among "the more curious and intimate in-
quirers after nature and her doings":

The more curious and intimate inquirers after nature and
her doings, though they went hand in hand a good way to-
gether, yet they all divided about the nose :t last, almost as
much as the faculty itself.
They amicably laid it down, that there was a just and
geometrical arrangement and proportion of the several
parts of the human frame to its several destinations, of-
fices, and functions, which could not be transgressed but
within certain limits-that nature, though she sported-
she sported within a certain circle;-and they could not
agree about the diameter of it. (IV.Sl. Tale: 308)

Here the indeterminacy of the "nose" is defined, in terms
with which we are already familiar, as standing suggestively on
the border or no-man's-land between nature conceived as work,
in terms of its teleology and function, and nature conceived as
the "transgression" of work-a "sportive" or ludic nature. This
peculiar cognitive indeterminacy of the "nose" also seems to
have some quite determinate aesthetic and moral corollaries. De-
spite or because of the fact that they are unable to agree on
whether Diego's "nose" is "true" or "false," "live" or "dead,"
natural or artificial, a number of Slawkenbergius's Strasburgers
(who have seen it at first hand) nevertheless unanimously agree
that its owner is "one of the most perfect paragons of beauty"



(IV.Sl. Tale: 304). It is perhaps because "every eye in Strasburg
languished to see it- every finger-every thumb in Strasburg
burned to touch it" (IV.S1. Tale: 304) that the "civilians" en masse
find themselves offering something "more in the nature of a
decree-than a dispute" concerning the "nose" (IV.S1. Tale: 309).
Despite or because of its beauty, whether true or false, the "[nose]
could not possibly have been suffered in civil society"; and "the
only objection to this," according to Slawkenbergius, "was, that
if it proved any thing, it proved the stranger's nose was neither
true nor false" (IV.Sl. Tale: 309). It is precisely this resistance to
cognitive determination, we may infer, that is an essential ingre-
dient of its extraordinary affective power. A genuine philosophi-
cal "solution of noses" would ultimately be, in accordance with
the pun so detested by Walter Shandy, a "dissolving of noses"
(III.XLI: 282).
Second, according to Diego himself, he has acquired his "nose"
at "the Promontory of Noses," a phrase that the "commissary
of the bishop of Strasburg" interprets as "a mere allegoric ex-
pression, importing no more than that nature had given him a
long nose" (IV.Sl. Tale: 309-10). Yet if the scholar Prignitz is
to be believed, the natural dimensions of "noses" are "much
nearer alike, than the world imagines;- the difference amongst
them, being, he says, a mere trifle, not worth taking notice of"
(III.XXXVIII: 275). Some other factor must therefore play an im-
portant part in determining the "rank" and "price" that distin-
guishes one "nose" from another (III.XXXVIII: 275) and that
magnifies the mere trifling natural difference between them into
something apparently impossible not to take notice of. Precisely
because of its ludic indeterminacy, it is all the more necessary or
inevitable that the "nose"-as the basis not only of the sexual
difference but of whole systems of philosophy and political
economy-be bound into an economy of value that strictly regu-
lates its function. In Slawkenbergius's Tale this economy seems
to work, both at the civil and the psychological level, at least
partly on the basis of taboo, or of play conceived as "trans-
gression" (IV.S1. Tale: 308). The attempt to ban the "nose" from
civil society altogether seems to be the analogue, in the public
sphere, of the notable personal modesty and anxiety evinced by
Diego himself (IV.S1. Tale: 295, 299).
It is doubtless because the "Promontory of Noses" is designed



in one sense to appear as pure tautology (the nose is itself a fa-
cial promontory) that, despite his reticent modesty, Diego very
readily gives this explanation of his "nose" and its origin "ex
mero motu" (IV.S1. Tale: 309). In this sense Diego merely repeats
Tristram Shandy's own coy tautology, where he defines the
"nose" as "a Nose, and nothing more or less" (III.XXXI: 258) and
reinforces the determined indeterminacy of origin and defini-
tion that characterizes all properly "nasal" phenomena.24 On the
other hand, however, the apparently imitative or reproductive
relation that obtains between the "nose" and the "promontory"
can perhaps also be interpreted in a manner consistent with a
more concrete interpretation of this promontory itself. For the
latter might be taken as suggesting a kind of marketplace or
showing-place of "noses"--somewhat akin, one might suppose,
to Nevsky Prospect in Gogol's nose-ridden St. Petersburg or to
the "nose fair" in Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel (1: 40).25 If
this suggestion were accepted, then it would also account for the
reproductive or mimetic origin of the "nose" in the sense that its
value would be derived, for an individual like Diego, from the
copying and comparison of other "noses" whose rank and price
seem high. The "promontory" would thus signify the Nose-as-
Model, and would operate according to representational mecha-
nisms that we have already encountered in Toby Shandy's use of
models supplied by the "natural" Corporal Trim. Like Toby's, in

24. The "nose" might thus be said to share a logical peculiarity with
Locke's simple ideas, which are said to be "incapable of being defined"
(iii.iv: 34) except by tautology. One might also identify its essentially
formalistic or symbolic dimension in these terms (just as mathematics,
considered purely as a formalism, is said to be a system of tautologies).
25. In Gogol, I am thinking of the story "Nevsky Prospect" in particu-
lar, though "The Nose" naturally also comes to mind. But practically
all of Gogol's work, including Dead Souls, could be brought directly to
bear on a comparative reading of Sterne (as well as vice versa) and is
full of the mimetic "doubling" that always accompanies "nasal" phe-
nomena. (Dostoyevsky's The Double, for example, begins as a rework-
ing of "The Nose.") The suggestion, kindly made to me by Louis
Mackey, that the promontory is the mount of Venus seems to me to
amount to more or less the same tautological reciprocity given above
(when taken generically) and the same mimetic dynamics given below
(when taken individually).


fact, we may infer that Diego's acute modesty is a direct conse-
quence of the "mimetic rivalry"26 sure to be induced by such
"promontories," and the danger of "horn-works" that they must
make all too apparent. Like Toby's, Diego's "nose" excites "suspi-
cions" on the part of his beloved Julia (IV.Sl. Tale: 320), which
cause him to flee from the scene, like Toby from the Widow Wad-
man, "robbed .. of enjoyment ... [by] the suspected tongue
of [a] rival" (IV.Sl. Tale: 300). Moreover, it would appear that the
dynamics of this rivalry extend well beyond any narrowly sexual
context. For even Julia's own brother, who comes to find Diego at
the inn and who is presumably protected by the incest taboo
from being his immediate rival, exclaims (after hearing from the
innkeeper about the length of his "nose"): "Trifle not with my
anxiety" (IV.Sl. Tale: 319); and this can scarcely be put down,
as is transparently pretended, to his anxious desire to know
whether he has really found Diego or not.27
However obscure, trifling, or arbitrary the original valuation
of the "nose" may be-suggestively, Julia's placatory letter to
Diego does not specify whether "my suspicions of your nose
were justly excited or not" (IV.Sl. Tale: 320)-it would thus ap-
pear that its consequences are systematically governed and am-
plified by a very rigid economy of comparison and rivalry. This
in turn relates to the continual fluctuation between revelation
and concealment in Diego's behaviour, between "modesty" and
"exhibitionism." (As we shall see, this fluctuation is also a model
of the "reticence" or "modesty" of Tristram's irony.) To start this
economy turning, apparently, all that is needed is a "promon-
tory" from which "noses" can henceforth derive their pattern
and value, however aberrant and ungrounded this may be. In

26. I take this phrase from Rene Girard.
27. That Julia's brother should mediate between her and Diego reminds
one that in Rabelais kinship structures are also implicitly an essential
part of the differential economy of "noses." On the isle of Ennasin
(Gargantua and Pantagruel, 4: 9), the inhabitants all have noses shaped
like the ace of clubs. These whom Tristram shrewdly calls "flat-nosed"
people-and links to the mediation of his great-great-great-uncle
between his great-great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather
(III.XXXII: 259)-lack all kinship structures and hierarchies and live in
a wholly pansexual universe where all objects figure as metaphors for
coition, and all couplings are desired and/or permitted.




this sense, as I have suggested, the "nose" need not be rigidly
interpreted as the phallus, and Tristram's insistence on our inter-
preting it as "a Nose, and nothing more or less" is by no means
simply ironic (III.XXXI: 258). In fact, the "nose" is almost as
much a mere trifling "nothing more or less" as it is the phallus
per se: it is the mere abstraction of "potency" of which the phal-
lus is only one symbolic manifestation, though certainly a privi-
leged one. Like the phallus, however, "nothing"-according to
Yorick's Meditations-"has a creative faculty; and if we may be-
lieve the philosophical poet of ambiguity Lucretius, is endowed
with a power of producing itself" ("Meditation upon Nothing,"
1-2). This is the "begetting" that Tristram Shandy speaks of in
his discussion of whether "the fancy begat the nose, [or] on the
contrary,-the nose begat the fancy" (III.XXXVIII: 276). Accord-
ing to him, Slawkenbergius "comprehends" both these appar-
ently antithetical views, a comprehension that is in fact achieved
only inasmuch as "nose" and "fancy" become synonymous,
meeting in the play of indeterminacy, the "nothing" that unites
them.28 As Tristram openly admits, his refusal (or inability) to
define the "nose" is ultimately the triumph of "a fool" (III.XXXI:
261), though it is this triumph that enables him to synthesize the
errors (or omissions) of Locke in its shifting signification. The
Lockean doctrine of the "nose," from this point of view, may be
regarded as reducing both rhetoric and eros to the teleology of
reproduction in its double sense of ideal mimesis and procreation,
and as ignoring erotic play on the one hand, while identifying
the play of rhetoric with the deceitful charms of feminine sex-
uality on the other. The Shandean doctrine of the "nose," by
contrast, begins from the hypothesis of a nature at play and ar-
rives at an economy of the "nose" only inasmuch as this play is
abrogated by a combination of "TRADITION," "education," and
"INTEREST" (III.XXXIII: 261). In this sense, however, the econ-
omy of the "nose" belongs to neither work nor play as such, but
rather to the domain of determined ambivalence in which they
are conjoined. Slawkenbergius concludes his tale by stressing
the political, military, and economic consequences of Diego's

28. This identity is imaged in the traditional equation of "nose" and


"nose" on the city of Strasburg and by noting the decay of "trade
and manufactures" as well as the loss of (political) sovereignty
entailed therein (IV.S1. Tale: 324). He also cites an observer who
makes the fate of Strasburg into "a warning to all free people
to save their money" and not to "anticipate their revenues"-
something that might suggest an interpretation of the "nose" as
the focus of an economic investment that makes "nasal" play into
a calculated gamble. Finally, however, he also seems to insist on
a value of indeterminacy, here called "CURIOSITY," which falls
outside of any determinate calculation and desire for profit, and
which accounts for the Strasburgers' subsequent inability to
"follow their business." It is this aspect of the economy of the
"nose" that eludes, he says, "any cause which commercial heads
have assigned" (IV.S1. Tale: 324).


I earlier went to such lengths in pursuing the novel's treatment of
Trim's natural or nonhobbyhorsical "potency" because it demon-
strates the extent to which the opposition between the hobby-
horse and its contrary, "impotent" play and "potent" work, is ad-
vanced as a fiction that is ironically undermined. Significantly
enough from this point of view, Toby's wound leaves the essen-
tial organ unscathed and Walter Shandy manages, despite his
bull in the final chapter and the coital interruption of chapter 1,
to beget two sons. The only literal dramatization of sexual impo-
tence in the book occurs, moreover, surrounded by a discussion
of incomes, pensions, and land taxes (i.e., the world of work),
and of how every misfortune can be turned to a profit-though
the profit in this case, and the alternative satisfaction that Tris-
tram's Jenny is said to receive (despite his "wreck'd chaise") is
left eloquently obscure (VII.XXXIX: 623-24).29 In short, as I have
said, hobbyhorsical "impotence" seems everywhere predicated
on the fiction of natural "potency" and on the chauvinistic and
laborious conception of nature it entails.
These reciprocal theoretical fictions, however, are obviously

29. I discuss this passage more fully in chapter 8 in connection with
Roland Barthes.




not without very real practical consequences. On the contrary,
the symbolic "impotence" and "femininity" of hobbyhorsical
play is translated and enforced in practice, as Tristram sees, by a
very concrete subjugation of women, as well as by a systematic
persecution of certain other kinds of player. One notes that
Yorick dies not naturally but of a broken heart and that this is
one of the least violent of possible "sacrificial" fates, as Tristram
darkly intimates (I.XII: 32), awaiting the jester or player when he
intrepidly ventures out into the "natural" world. Like the "mort-
gager," the jester is firmly bound, however unwillingly, to the
domain of work, for "the one raises a sum and the other a laugh
at your expence, and . Interest . runs on in both cases"
(I.XII: 30). Both are thus in the end destined "to feel the full ex-
tent of their obligations" (I.XII: 30), an extent that in Yorick's case
seems literally fatal.') Insofar as Yorick the jester-parson may be
said to transcend the "natural" domain, in effect, he does this
only by paying his final debt in advance and by dying in the first
few pages of the novel. The secular Tristram, by contrast, "dies"
to the working life to be reborn as a ludic artist in a manner that is
still economically calculated, so that "the credit, which will at-
tend thee as an author, shall counterbalance the many evils
which have befallen thee as a man" (IV.XXXII: 401). Only insofar
as the man may no longer be alive to enjoy the credit of the au-
thor (as the following line possibly suggests) can Tristram's specu-
lative endeavour be more closely conjoined with Yorick's own.
It is because Tristram's literary and hobbyhorsical play con-
tains an essential economic or working dimension that it cannot
be defined simply in opposition to work or in terms of the "dis-
interest" of play that underlies idealist aesthetics (developed
around this period). Inasmuch as play is taken as implying a
relative indeterminacy of goal or aim, in contrast to the predeter-
mined goals set by natural labour, play is indeed given a certain
logical and temporal priority with respect to the development of
individual behaviour: the soul's "solemn deportment" is said to
be "consequent upon" "her frisks, her gambols, her capricious"
(I.XXIII: 83). In a later passage Tristram also seems to extend this

30. The inherently fatal character of Yorick's "jests" is underlined by the
etymology of mortgage, a "death pledge."