Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bruno Littlemore on the Evil Gnome Chompy

Noam Chomsky
Gnome Chompy?

I am still reading Benjamin Hale's novel and laughing out loud at the deeply intellectual humor that reminds me a bit of Thomas Pynchon's humorous style in Gravity's Rainbow. For instance, the scene in which Bruno the chimp overhears the name of a dangerous creature seemingly out to get him:
I remember intuiting that they were, ultimately, though perhaps indirectly, talking about me. I remember that they often uttered a word, or series of words, that sounded to me like, "Gnome Chompy." Of course I understood what a gnome was, because a gnome happened to be the protagonist of my second-favorite TV show, Francis the Gnome. Francis was portrayed as a small, benevolent force in a big, wicked world. So I assumed that they were speaking of a gnome named Chompy. However, I could ascertain from the wrathful tones in which the two women spoke of the Gnome Chompy that they considered him to be a harmful and vituperative creature, much unlike the magnanimous-hearted Francis. I imagined Chompy -- as his surname connotes -- as a predatory gnome with a great gnashing jawful of evilly gleaming teeth, with which he dismembers the innocent creatures of the forest and devours their bloody entrails. I remember how they hated the Gnome Chompy. I remember hearing them say -- or thought I heard them say -- that they would have to protect me, Bruno, from the Gnome Chompy. I remember that they mentioned -- and when they did their tone took on almost conspiratorial tones -- they even mentioned Norm Plumlee's name once or twice in connection with the Gnome Chompy, as if they believed that Norm and Chompy may have been in some kind of collusion. (Benjamin Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, New York: Twelve, 2011, pages 159-160)
This a wonderful, creative misunderstanding on Bruno's part of the name of the linguist Noam Chomsky, who holds that only humans, and no animals, have a Language Acquisition Device (LAD), an innate sort of neural network for language located in the brain. Being a mere chimp, Bruno would necessarily lack one of those.

Chomsky wouldn't really be in collusion with Norm Plumlee, the Behaviorist director of research on Bruno, for Chomsky is actually a critic of the Behaviorist model of the mind as a "black box" and of the stimulus-response (S-R) model of language learning, for as he has pointed out, the S-R model can't account for the child's ability to construct sentences it has never heard, let alone been rewarded for producing.

Behaviorism's critique of "anthropomorphism," however, would similarly relegate Bruno to the animal world, forbidden to become human through language and acculturation. To be fair, though, Behaviorism also even forbade anthropomorphizing human beings!

Anyway, Bruno doesn't much fear Norm Plumlee, whom he knows too well, but he does have nightmares about Gnome Chompy, beginning the very night that he learned of the terrible gnome, when he dreams of Chompy stalking his parents in the jungles of Zaire. Bruno tries to call out to warn them of the great danger, but he finds that the Gnome Chompy "had robbed me of the power of speech"!

A clever little inside joke . . .

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At 2:40 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Beehiviorism is a hornet's nest.

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Meant for etymologists, not entomologists . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're enjoying the humor, Jeff, as Ben intended for "Bruno" to be first and foremost a comic novel, I believe. There is some crazy funny stuff in there, for sure. Most of my friends who have finished it declare it ultimately to be very sad, but, I guess it all depends on one's perspective. I would say (here I go again, better get Ben in the loop eventually) that he had "The Tin Drum" in mind as much as any one single predecessor, and that "comic novel" is mighty grim grand total, if you ask me (but wow, what a thing; read that for the first time only pretty recently, and I was stunned by it). Again, I'll try to draw Ben into the loop here, stand by (a while, potentially--he's not wired at present--)see ya--Pete

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There is a grimness there . . . but all our lives end on a grim note, at least physically. But there is also humor . . . and Ben's novel is enormously funny!

Jeffery Hodges

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