Monday, March 19, 2012

O 'Rell in Scotland

"I cannot take leave of performing beggars without relating a little incident that I was a witness of in Edinburgh:

A beggar came up to me, asking for alms.

"You have a violin there," I said to him; "but you do not play it. How is that?"

"Oh, sir!" he replied; "give me a penny, and don't make me play. I assure you you won't regret it."

I understood his delicacy, and to show him that I appreciated it launched out my penny.

"But," I added, "do you never use your violin?"

"Yes, sir, sometimes," he said, lowering his voice, "as a threat."

I lost my penny, but saved my ears."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Max O'Rell

I have just completed an exhausting expedition through the works of Max O'Rell, c'est-à-dire, Msr. Léon Paul Blouët on my iPad which houses without complaint, those works of Blouët's which are not amongst the already devoured volumes that sit upon my shelf.

O'Rell is a difficult species to classify. He deals in stereotypes, but then, being a cartoonist and novelist, so do I. But, the world is populated with 'types' and there is no getting around it. At first O'Rell appears just witty on a laminate level and it becomes easy to slap that psychic sticky-note on his pince-nez and move on, assuming him to be devoid of the humanitarian depth, such as one might easily, and as the case in the American "Twain Industry" ascribe to Mark Twain. But then classifiying O'Rell is ironically, casting him as a 'type' when in fact, at least to my mind (latterly so quizzingly bent upon his writing) he is less superficial, and reveals sub-text, or rhetorical devilry in his storytelling. An instance: In "Jonathon and his Continent" he talks on about negroes in service on the trains, and by-passes the question of apartheid, Jim-crow laws and the inequitable racial mess of post-civil war United States. But then, as if in an apologia for the negligent dismissal of so important a report, he talks about the extreme politeness and ebullient spirit (not to mention in one case, the earning of more than a white American) of same and couches it such a humanitarian way that one questions whether he has just, with a subtlety that will pass over the heads of the American audience, stooped to conquer. This kind of impression is almost a sneaky descendant of ἔλεγχος, submitting a apparent kinship of prejudice to gain invitation to the psyche of reader, only then to display a concept that renders the strange as an object of interest, the object of interest as a possibility and the possibility as a probability and, by such, revision is entertained. Many a prejudice must find itself at that elenchial terminus, aporia, before being allowed to re-engage a previously held opinion.

Is this his method? I am still pondering that question. This rhetorical tactic is one I have used on many occasions and so I know that is the gentler way to change the minds of those who grind their minds toward debasement of 'the other'. O'Rell often refers to women as pretty or spoiled creatures and other such then current cultural executive memes, but then happily observes the magnificent fruits of these attributes having NOT being invested in. His wife was highly educated and independent and so why does a man who supposedly sees women as be-satined ornament or social garniture, marry a woman so talented and from a strong minded Devonshire family?Non-suivit. Something is going on.

If it is not his method then it is certainly the aggregate effect of his books, at least upon me.

I can warm to O'Rell; I can't ever seem to warm to Twain and having read his works too, I can't see for the life of me why Twain is lauded so. Maybe it's an American thing. Who knows?