It’s a pile of pretentious old wank
949 words on
Nothing very much
Patrick J. Webster
What appealed to me, apart from the breadth
of its incisive critical acumen, was the detail in the line. Thus, if I
may be so bold, I would like to deal in detail with this memorable line of
Nothing wrong here, not too sure about the
apostrophied contraction, it might have had more authority had we had: '
It is ...’ but a good opening, nonetheless.
The indefinite article - not much more to
say about this.
Now this is more interesting. Why a pile?
And is it potentially viable - can you have a pile of wank, whether it be
pretentious, and not to say old? Could we envisage a betrayal of some
sense of scatological anxiety here in this word pile? Possibly, but let us
This need not detain us long, a nice compact preposition. Now the following word:
In some respects I think this verges just a
little towards the unfair, insomuch as Ricks - back in the early 1980s -
was one of the key figures in UK academic life to oppose the onset of
postmodern and poststructuralist theory within humanities. Now postmodern
theory is pretentious, as I will attempt to demonstrate next month, when I
compare Dylan’s Slow Train Coming to Jean Francois Lyotard’s musings on
the loss of the grand narratives within a postmodern environment. If you
want to see real pretension just peruse any work of literary theory
published in the last twenty years.
Now we have no way of estimating just how
old the old wank is - but to me it could be very old. In fact I could see
it as dating from as long ago as 1973. This was the year when I first
remember hearing Ricks offer a talk on Dylan, on Radio 3, I still have it
on an old reel-reel tape and I think it still stands up. (Still stands up
- now there's a giveaway phrase.) Anyway, this sets up the surreal image
of the good Professor, a younger Christopher, masturbating into - well who
knows, maybe a plastic cup - and retaining this seminal fluid - this
pretentious old wank - throughout all these years - in order to produce it
- in all its longevity - for our critical perusal in the present day.
I have to admit is one I have never liked
and rarely used. The OED claims it is of relatively recent linguistic
lineage, 1940s ‘of unknown origin.’ It means, of course, to masturbate as
a verb, and the product of that masturbation as a noun. To describe a book
like Ricks’ in this way perhaps isn’t so pejorative because it is
literally seminal - none of us would have been here without the content of
the aforementioned fluid. Also, masturbation is probably the most common
sexual act, ‘don't knock masturbation, it’s sex with someone I love,’ as
Woody Alien once said. Why it has thus become a term of ultimate abuse is
of interest - but that is another story for another time and place.
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