Monday, September 13, 2010

"[W]hen good Homer nods . . ." so can David Mitchell

(Image from Amazon)

The Roman lyric poet Horace (65-27 B.C.), famous for his fine poetry, admired the Greek epic poet Homer (8th century BC?), but also expressed his disappointment at that poet's lapses: "and likewise, I am offended when good Homer nods" ("et idem indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus," Ars Poetica, 1.358-9). I have this detail from the edition of Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus annotated by Rodger L. Tarr and Mark Engel (page 274, note 35.6).

That Homer sometimes nodded off while composing his epic poems is to be expected. He was merely human, and an occasional poorly wrought line doesn't detract from his greatness.

I say all this as preface.

Preface to what? To my remark upon a moment when David Mitchell nods off while writing number9dream. Here is his slip into momentary oblivion:
Walking back from Kita Senju Station to Shooting Star, a weird cloud slides over half the sky. (page 323)
Kita Senju Station is a subway station in Tokyo, and the Shooting Star is a video shop below protagonist Eiji Miyake's capsule apartment -- in case you're unfamiliar with Tokyo and haven't read number9dream.

Anyway, if David Mitchell were like John Milton -- with his putative reliance upon the model of the Greek nominative participle after "know" to account for the awkward expression, "And knew not eating Death" (PL 9.792) -- then I could argue that Mitchell was following the Greek model of the genitive absolute in constructing that dangling participle that has a truly weird cloud walking from a subway station to a video shop.

I doubt, however, that Mitchell knows Greek (though I could be wrong about that).

But unlike my namesake, the Latin poet Horace, I am not annoyed at Mitchell's lapse, for he did happen to nod off while writing a dream, and his lapse offers evidence that he is, after all, human and can err despite his uncannily impressive literary and linguistic skills.

Not that I intend to let my students slip by with that sort of dangler!

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At 6:34 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Quite the dangler that was!

Switching gears: the book's cover art is, to me, suggestive of the Korean peninsula.


At 7:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I can see what you mean about Korea . . . though I think the outline a subway train.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:50 AM, Blogger John B said...

Could it be an artifact of translation from Japanese? Or some sort of language interference? Dropping an implied subject is pretty common in Asian languages -- I was wondering if there is some feature of Japanese grammar that might explain the dangling participle.

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, Mitchell's native tongue is English, and he's writing in English, so the possibility of Japanese interference is remote, I think, especially since no other dangling modifier occurs in the novel . . . unless I've missed one or two.

Jeffery Hodges

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