The dynamic structural model for the erotics of narrative in the eighteenth century was not l'homme moteur of Freud but l'homme machine of French philosopher Julien de la Mettrie. Set in this context, the narrative digressions symbolized by Corporal Trim's arabesque in Tristram Shandy do not exemplify narrative desire, as Peter Brooks argued in Reading for the Plot as much as frustrate it. A close reading of Tristram Shandy shows that Laurence Sterne intended his novel to resist what he saw as a series of related mid-eighteenth-century cultural developments: a paradigm shift toward using mechanical philosophy in science, the disciplining of the body in order to maximize production and reproduction, and the increasing popularity of novel reading. Sterne's novel features stopped clocks, broken machines, and stories that, despite titillating beginnings, fail to satisfy the concupiscence of readers who turn the pages only to get to the end. The coach whose stages are compared to the breaks between chapters in Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews becomes in Sterne's text the speeding post chaise, a new technology in the mid-eighteenth century, which carries Tristram in his flight from death in volume 7. Just as the accident that shatters Tristram's post chaise allows him to discover the ancient pleasures of mule travel, so the disruption of narrative is designed to awaken readers to the polymorphous pleasures of older, slower kinds of reading now facing eclipse in the age of the novel.
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Joseph Drury; The Novel and the Machine in the Eighteenth Century. Novel 1 August 2009; 42 (2): 337–342. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-024
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