Friday, December 19, 2014

Words on and in Howard Jacobson's J

In a book review of J (New York Times, December 12, 2014), a novel by Howard Jacobson, the reviewer Matthew Specktor draws our attention to the book's beginning, a parable:
Howard Jacobson's "J" opens with a parable, or, as the book terms it, an "argument." A wolf and a tarantula are comparing modes of taking down prey, with the wolf's rapacious efficiency pitted against the spider's patience.
I wonder if "argument" means something similar to "argument" as used in Milton's Paradise Lost. Curious, I went to Amazon to read the parable in the J book itself:
A grey wolf fell into conversation with a tarantula. "I love the chase," the grey wolf said. "Myself," said the tarantula, "I like to sit here and wait for my prey to come to me." "Don't you find that lonely?" the wolf asked. "I could as soon ask you," the tarantula replied, "how it is that you don't get sick of taking your wife and kids along on every hunt. "I am by temperament a family man," the wolf answered. "And what is more there is power in numbers."

The tarantula paused to crush a passing marmoset then said he doubted the wolf, for all the help he received, would ever be as successful a huntsman as he was. The wolf wagered a week's catch on his ability to outhunt the tarantula and, returning to his lair, told his wife and children of the bet.

"You owe me," he told the tarantula when they next met.

"And your proof?"

"Well I expect you to trust my word, but if you don't, then go ahead and search the wilderness with your own eyes."

This the tarantula did, and sure enough discovered that of all the wolf's natural prey not a single creature remained.

"I salute your efficiency,' the tarantula said, 'but it does occur to me to wonder what you are going to do for sustenance now."

At this the grey wolf burst into tears. "I have had to eat my wife," he admitted. "And next week I will start on my children."

"And after that?"

"After that? After that I will have no option but to eat myself."

Moral: Always leave a little on your plate.
As a child, I was always told to finish everything on my plate, also a sort of wisdom. Anyway, reader, I bought the book . . .



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