Which may not be a bad way to approach "Tristram Shandy." Interviewed on NPR this morning, director Michael Winterbottom said one advantage to making this movie is that nobody has read the book.
Well, I read the book, and I consider it one of the comic masterpieces of English literature. But it is also, I have always thought, entirely unfilmable. It's a long digressive tale that begins with the birth of the title character -- and pretty much ends there. Lawrence Sterne wanders from digression to digression, leaves out entire chapters and invites readers to imagine others. He writes, "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."
For which reason, from the beginning of this, you see, I have constructed the main work and the adventitious parts of it with such intersections, and have so complicated and involved the digressive and progressive movements, one wheel within another, that the whole machine, in general, has been kept a-going ; -- and, what's more, it shall be kept a-going these forty years, if it pleases the fountain of health to bless me so long with life and good spirits.
Not exactly a blockbuster plot. Chapter XXIII of Volume I, for example begins: "I have a strong propensity in me to begin this chapter very nonsensically, and I will not balk my fancy. -- Accordingly I set off thus." And he ends Chapter XXV of the volume with this: "I set no small store by myself upon this very account, that my reader has never yet been able to guess at any thing. And in this, Sir, I am of so nice and singular a humour, that if I thought you was able to form the least judgment or probable conjecture to yourself, of what was to come in the next page, -- I would tear it out of my book."
My favorite part is the rhetorical treatise on the Argumentum Fistulatorium, which the author calls one of the most unanswerable arguments in the whole science of Ars Logica. The argument consists of whistling half a dozen bars of "Lillabullero"; it is Uncle Toby's response "when any thing shocked or surprised him ; ---- but especially when any thing, which he deem'd very absurd, was offer'd." No matter how bitter or instense the argument, when Uncle Toby invoked Argumentum Fistulatorium, the debate was over.
It's the argument every blogger needs in his arsenal.