Last week at Big Other, Paul Kincaid put up a brief but intriguing post in which he asks to what extent various factors surrounding a text influence the way we think about it or its author. He gives the following example:
The program I use for databasing my library pulls down information from a wide variety of sources ranging from the British Library and the Library of Congress to Amazon. More often than not, this can produce some very strange results. I have, for instance, seen novels by Iain Banks categorized as ‘Food and Health’, and novels by Ursula K. Le Guin categorized as ‘Business’. In all probability, these are just slips by somebody bored, though you do wonder what it was about the books per se that led to such curious mistakes.
Paul’s musings raise many interesting questions. For one thing, we might wonder whether the factors he’s describing are indeed extraneous or external to texts. Because I can imagine a good post-structuralist immediately objecting that texts more porous than that, and that it’s all just a sea of endless texts slipping fluidly into one another.
Me, I don’t have a problem with treating texts as discrete and coherent entities, but I admit the situation is complicated.
For years I didn’t get the music. I’d slam my fists in anger over those who’d say how Beefheart knew. Funny how often those things you come to like among the most are ones that make you angry to begin with. Accumulation of a grime.
“There is only the slightest movement of the fingers that makes the v-sign different from the Nazi salute. Always watch that.”
“They’re about to poke their genitals into our cream cheese moon right now. That’s my eye; the moon is part of me. Why don’t they poke it in the sun? They’re not very daring.”
“I don’t think there’s any way you can *know* music. The minute you *know* it, you stop playing, and the minute a person stops playing, the music isn’t playing anymore.”
“For instance, the English language is the only language that has an *i* before *e* except after *c*. What’s before an *i*? Before my eyes is a sea. But the *c* I see is a sea. I’m not that word-oriented. I’m trying to use words like music so that they don’t take your mind anywhere that I want them to.”
“It’s hard to use the English language. I’d rather play a tune on a horn, but I’ve always felt that I didn’t want to train myself. Because when you get a train, you’ve got to have an engine and a caboose. I think it’s better to train the caboose. You train yourself, you strain yourself.”
“There are only forty people in the world and five of them are hamburgers.”
“I was able to turn myself inside out, and that’s all I’m trying to do.”
BONUS: 2x Beefheart on Letterman (worth watching in full)