Ask Dr. Salvo
June 6, 1995
Dear Dr. Salvo,
I am a faithful, if far-flung fan of yours out here in New Mexico. I enclose the bracketed passage from Beckett's novel Molloy hoping to elicit any thoughts you may have on the theory and practice of flatulence or Mathematics; if they can't help us to know ourselves who or what can?
Failing that, there is a remotely related topic: Gordon Smith's White Fruit Cake -- a delicacy from Dixie. Is there anyone among your vast readership who could help me to get the recipe? Since the demise of this once-great Mobile Institution, my palate sails the gustatory seas of Christmastide like the flying Dutchman, barred from every port-, sherry-, or rum-soaked baked good, wandering like Noah's Dove or Lord Bateman's Turkish Lady, searching in vain for anything to equal that white-tinned green waxed-paper wrapped torus of Truth, Beauty, and Taste. I inquired of one famous Mobile Lady and without apology she sent me her family fruitcake recipe. Will I perhaps be offered the One True Fruitcake never again in this life, but is it so to speak a pattern laid up in Heaven? Did I perhaps only dream of a fruitcake in my youth, and are these ramblings but shadows of dreams?
Is Gordon Smith no more real than Howard Johnson? Help me, Dr. Salvo!
Sighing in Sante Fe
Cake that got Away
"And in winter, under my greatcoat, I wrapped myself in swathes of newspaper, and did not shed them until the earth awoke, for good, in April. The Times Literary Supplement was admirably adapted to this purpose, of a neverfailing toughness and impermeability. Even farts made no impression on it. I can't help it, gas escapes from my fundament on the least pretext, it's hard not to mention it now and then, however great my distaste. One day I counted them. Three hundred and fifteen farts in nineteen hours, or an average of over sixteen farts an hour. After all it's not excessive. Four farts every fifteen minutes. It's nothing. Not even one fart every four minutes. It's unbelievable. Damn it, I hardly fart at all, I should never have mentioned it. Extraordinary how mathematics help you to know yourself."
-- Samuel Beckett
Dear Faithful Fruitcake,
I hope you recall that as a term of endearment as well as a technical psycho- babble label in the phrase "as nutty as etc." Still, your letter was charmingly lucid in spots, and your fealty to the Gordon Smith Blonde Fruitcake of Mobile, Alabama on Dauphin Street and Hallett is admirable.
You may be charmed or alarmed to learn that these words are being written on the naughty pine surface of the bar, right in the midst of The Bakery, just a dogleg across Dauphin to the childhood home of my once true-love whose highly entrepreneurial grandfather, Gordon Smith, lived right next door. Both houses were and are huge white frame cottages about twice the dimensions of an ordinary home. In brief, dear Fruity, the late Gordon Smith or his heirs went out of baking and sold the big old bakery, or the southwest corner of it, to two enterprising young men who have transformed it into an elegant bar and restaurant appropriately named The Bakery. Excellent for black beans and rice, Cuban style, and shrimp rolls -- the best in town.
As to Mr. Beckett and his brain child, Molloy, they have gone back to the fabled era of The Great International Crepitation Contest, an event joyously chronicled on a 33 RPM record vintage 1940's. This is a scholarly piece of work and should form the fundament, I mean foundation, of all serious attempts to explain mankind's preoccupation with wind.
Yes, that is what they call it down under, I mean in Australia. In the typical Australian novel the heroines are always rated on the ladyhood scale according to how well they "manage their wind."
So you see the effluvium, like primal words, is quite ambivalent. One can be praised for the silence and anosmic neutrality, the indetectability of the product (viz. Australian view), or crowned the King of the Thundermug by the Rabelaisian contingent passing wind and judgment at the Great International in Dublin.
I would like to suggest to Molloy that he not hide under a bushel of Times leaves his promising entries into the Great, and also that many bums in the Bowery have found the New York Times to offer superior coverage.
As it was by the Social Fireside
in the Time of the Tudors
With an Illuminating Introduction,
Facetious Footnotes and a Bibliography
by Franklin J. Meine
Privately Printed for
Lyle Stuart ¥ New York
A Professor Scents Pornography
Unfortunately, 1601 has recently been tagged by Professor Edward Wagenknecht as "the most famous piece of pornography in American literature." Like many another uninformed, Prof. W. is like the little boy who is shocked to see "naughty" words chalked on the back fence, and thinks they are pornography. The initiated, after years of wading through the mire, will recognize instantly the significant difference between filthy filth and funny "filth." Dirt for dirt's sake is something else again. Pornography, an eminent American jurist has pointed out, is distinguished by the "leer of the sensualist."
"The words which are criticised as dirty," observed Justice John M. Woolsey in the United States District Court of New York, lifting the ban on Ulysses by James Joyce, "are old Saxon words known to almost all men and, I venture, to many women, and are such words as would be naturally and habitually used, I believe, by the types of folk whose life, physical and mental, Joyce is seeking to describe." Neither was there "pornographic intent," according to Justice Woolsey, nor was Ulysses obscene within the legal definition of that word.
"The meaning of the word 'obscene,'" the Justice indicted, "as legally defined by the courts is: tending to stir the sex impulses or to lead to sexually impure and lustful thoughts.
"Whether a particular book would tend to excite such impulses and thoughts must be tested by the court's opinion as to its effect on a person with average sex instincts -- what the French would call l'homme moyen sensuel -- who plays, in this branch of legal inquiry, the same role of hypothetical reagent as does the "reasonable man' in the laws of torts and 'the learned man in the art' on questions on invention in patent law."
...toke her maiste ye queene a fantasie such as she sometimes hathm and had to her closet certain that doe write playes, bokes, and such like, these being my lord Bacon, his worship Sir Walter Ralegh, Mr. Ben Jonson, and ye child Francis Beaumonte, which being but sixteen, hath yet turned his hand to ye doing of ye Lattin masters into our Englishe tong, with grete discretion and much applaus. Also came with these ye famous Shaxpur. A righte straunge mixing truly of mighty blode with mean, ye more in especial since ye queenes grace was present, as likewise these following to wit: Ye Duchess of Bilgewater, twenty- two yeres of age; ye Countesse of Granby, twenty-six; her doter, ye Lady Helen, fifteen; as also these two maides of honor, to-wit, ye Lady Margery Boothy, sixty-five, and ye Lady Alice Dilberry, turned seventy, she being two years ye queenes graces elder.
I being her maites cup-bearerm, had no choice but to remaine and beholde rank forgot, and ye high holde converse wh ye low as uppon equal terms, a grete scandal did ye world heare thereof.
In ye heat of ye talk it befel yt one did breake wind, yielding an exceding mightie and distressful stink, whereat all did laught full sore, and then --Ye Queene.--Verily in mine eight and sixty yeres have I not heard the fellow to this fart. Meseemeth, by ye grete sound and clamour of it, it was male; yet ye belly it did lurk behinde shoulde now fall lean and flat against ye spine of him hy hath bene delievered of so stately and so vaste a bulk where as ye guts of them yt doe quiff-splitters bear, stand comely still and rounde. Prithee let ye author confess ye offspring. Will my Lady Alice testify?
Lady Alice.--Good your grace, an' I had room for such a thundergust within mine ancient bowels, 'tis not in reason I coulde discharge ye same and live to thank God for yt He did choose handmaid so humble whereby to shew his power. Nay, 'tis not I yt have broughte forth this rich o'ermastering fog, this fragrant gloom, so pray you seeke ye further.
Ye Queene.--Mayhap ye Lady Margery hath done ye companie this favor?
Lady Margery.--So please you madam, my limbs are feeble with ye weighte and drouth of five and sixty winters, and it behoveth yt I be tender unto them. In ye good providence of God, an' I had contained this wonder, forroothe wolde I have gi'en 'ye whole evening of my sinking life to ye dribbling of it forth, with trembling and uneasy soul, not launched it sudden in its matchless might, taking mine own life with violence, rending my weak frame like rotten rags. It was not I, your maisty.
Ye Queene.--O' God's name, who hath favored us? Hath it come to pass yt a fart shall fart itself? Not such a one as this, I trow. Young Master Beaumont -- but no; 'twould have wafted him to heaven like down of goose's boddy. 'Twas not ye little Lady Helen--nay, ne'er blush, my child; thoul't tickle thy tender maidenhedde with many a mousie-squeak before thous learnest to blow a harricane like this. Wasn't you, my learned and ingenious Jonson?
Jonson.--So fell a blast hath ne'er mine ears saluted, nor yet a stench so all-pervading and immortal. 'Twas not a novice did it, good yoru maisty, but one of veteran experience -- else hadde he failed of confidence. In sooth it was not I.
Ye Queene.--My Lord Bacon?
Lord Bacon.--Not from my leane entrailes hath this prodigy burst forth, so please your grace. Naught doth so befit ye grete as grete performance; and haply shall ye finde yt'tis not from mediocrity this miracle hath issued.
[Tho' ye subjoct be but a fart, yet will this tedious sink of learning pondrously philosophize. Meantime did the foul and deadly stink pervade all places to that degree, yt never smelt I ye like, yet dare I not to leave ye presence, albeit I was like to suffocate.]
Ye Queene.--What saith ye worshipful Master Shaxpur?
Shaxpur.--In the great hand of God I stand and so proclaim mine innocence. Though ye sinless hosts of heaven had foretold ye coming of this most desolating breath, proclaiming it a work of uninspired man, its quaking thunders, its firmament-clogging rottenness his own achievement in due course of nature, yet had not I believed it; but had said the pit itself hath furnished forth the stink, and heaven's artillery hath shook the globe in admiration of it.
[Then was there a silence, and each did turn him toward the worshipful Sr Walter Ralegh, that browned, embattled, bloody swash-buckler, who rising up did smile, and simpering say]--
Sr W.--Most gracious maisty, 'twas I that did it, but indeed it was so poor and frail a note, compared with such as I am wont to furnish, yt in sooth I was ashamed to call the weakling mine in so august a presence. It was nothing -- less than nothing, madam -- I did it but to clear my nether throat; but had I come prepared, then had I delivered something worthy. Bear with me, please your grace, till I can make amends.
[Then delivered he himself of such a godless and rock-shivering blast that all were fain to stop their ears, and following it did come so dense and foul a stink that that which went before did seem a poor and trifling thing beside it. Then saith he, feigning that he blushed and was confused, I perceive that I am weak t-o-day, and cannot justice do unto my powers; and sat him down as who should say, There, it is not much yet he that hath an arse to spare, let him fellow that, an' he think he can. By God, an' I were ye queene, I would e'en tip this swaggering braggart out o' the court, and let him air his grandeurs and break his...
Since I am unable to find a blonde Gordon Smith fruitcake, nor even a recipe for my consolation, I enclose herewith something worthy to accompany Beckett and Molloy upon their scatological forays among the sewers of Dublin and upon the Liffey. This is from our own Rabelais, may he dwell among the blast. Just a few excerpts!
"Born irreverent" scrawled Mark Twain on a scratch pad, "-- like all other people I have ever known or heard of -- I am hoping to remain so while there are any reverent irreverences left to make fun of."
Mark Twain was just as irreverent as he dared be, and 1601 reveals his richest expression of sovereign contempt for overstuffed language, genteel literature, and conventional idiocies. Later, when a magazine editor apostrophized, "O that we had a Rabelais!" Mark impishly -- and anonymously -- submitted 1601; and that same editor, a praiser of Rabelais, scathingly abused it and the sender. In this episode, as in many others, Mark Twain, the "bad boy" of American literature, revealed his huge delight in blasting the shams of contemporary hypocrisy. Too, there was always the spirit of Tom Sawyer deviltry in Mark's make-up that prompted him, as he himself boasted, to see how much holy indignation he could stir up in the world.
Who wrote 1601?
The correct and complete title of 1601, as first issued, was: [Date, 1601.] Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of the Tudors. For many years after its anonymous first issue in 1880, its authorship was variously conjectured and widely disputed. In Boston, William T. Ball, one of the leading theatrical critics during the late 90's, asserted that it was originally written by an English actor (name not divulged) who gave it to him. Ball's original, it was said, looked like a newspaper strip in the way it was printed, and may indeed have been a proof pulled in some newspaper office. In St. Louis, William Marion Reedy, editor of St. Louis Mirror, had seen this famous tour de force circulated in the early 80's in galley-proof form; he first learned from Eugene Field that it was from the pen of Mark Twain.
-- June 6, 1995