Tuesday, January 31, 2006

An Exercise in Comparative Literature

For decades, the debate has been raging amongst literary scholars: "Which is better? James Joyce, or a train timetable?"

On the one hand, there are the scholars who argue that we live in an everchanging, metatextual world, and that we should be prepared to let in all types of literature to the canon. On the other hand, there are the classical scholars who think we should just stick with the train timetable.

So what's so good about James Joyce, anyway? Can it do something useful, like tell us when and where to catch a train?

In this essay, I propose to help settle this crucial philosophical debate once and for all by performing a comparative study.

A Study In Literary Quality


Let us consider the table. I have listed a number of criteria by which we may judge our two texts:

CriteriaTrain TimetableUlysses
What does it do?Helps you get from A to BHelps get you from A to L by way of Z, and making a slight detour through G and U before considering the Freudian and Jungian qualities of the letter S
What does it describe?Trains departing from and arriving at various train stationsA day in the life of various Dubliners.
Best Line"Challenges lie ahead, but we believe we have the experience, knowledge and vision to consolidate the network.""Thou has done a doughty deed! Thou art the remarkablest progenitor barring none in this chaffering allincluding farraginous chronicle. Astounding!"
Worst Line"Challenges lie ahead, but we believe we have the experience, knowledge and vision to consolidate the network.""Poor Dignam!"
Difficulty levelEasy to read, and you don't have to read all of it to get the general idea. It is a bit boring.Diufficult to read, and once you get through it all, you realise you have no idea what the fuck it was all about. It is a bit boring, even if you do read it.

Clearly, our two texts are very closely matched.


Let us next consider some of the pros and cons of each text ...

Pro: Can tell you when trains arrive

Con: Trains are often late.

Pro: The letters and numbers are printed in a variety of pretty colours and shapes, making for a pleasing aesthetic experience.

Con: The literary quality is execrable.

Pro: Can be used as a bookmark, thus making it even more useful.

Con: Can be used as a bookmark in Ulysses.

Pro: Can tell you everything you need to know about the 8.27pm train from Kensington.

Con: You don't want to know. No, really, you don't.
Pro: Can't tell you when the trains arrive, but they'll be late anyway.

Con: A late train is better than no train at all.

Pro: Learned literary scholars tell us that it is quite well written.

Con: But alas, it is nothing without the pretty colours. :(

Con: Huge book. Can not be used as a bookmark, ever.

Pro: Can not be used as a bookmark in another copy of Ulysses.

Con: Cannot tell you all about the 8.27pm train from Kensington.

Pro: What if you want to catch that train?


In this final section, I will consider the opinions of various literary scholars, and attempt to draw a conclusion.

According to Fotheroy, Joyce was a "luminous beacon of twentieth century literature, an inspiration to all humanity. In these troubled times, we should all read some more James Joyce." But in the considered opinion of Jervinski, Fotheroy was a dirty old man who liked to invite young men to his office and fondle their lily-white bottoms. Arthurs-Ramfellough is on record as saying, "I do like to sit down with a nice cup of tea and a copy of the latest train timetable." On the other hand, we must give equal weight to the arguments of Jeeves, Blubinski, and Wuggles, who have stated that Ramfellough enjoyed writhing around naked in a bathtub of hot spam, singing all of Elton John's lesser-known hits.

In Conclusion:
I think I need a drink. Thank you for your time.

Tim Train

In next week's Exercise in Comparitive Literature, Tim asks the question: "Is it appropriate to read the Bible naked? If so, in what circumstances?"

Cross posted on Intersecting Lines.


Fatman said...

And if you cut up Ulysses, a train timetable, random words from a thesaurus, an instruction booklet for a blender, suggestions from a stage audience, the Klingon-Englidh dictionary and have insane people put it back together you get Finnegan's Wake. It's like the old saying goes: You can lead a drunk Irish writer to water but that doesn't mean you'll understand what the hell he's talking about.

TimT said...

I prefer the old saying: 'You can lead a drunk Irish writer to water and HELL, I need a drink!'

TimT said...

Actually, I imagine there's some poor publisher out there whose sole job is putting out these train timetables into the world. It's one way to make your fortune, I guess.

Fatman said...


TimT said...

Cash, dosh, money, bucks, spondulicks, pounds, pfennigs, marks, euros, dollars - take your pick.

rascuache said...

I wish you melbourners would quit whinging about your fucking you know how often a train or bus comes into newcastle? A bout once a fucken day.

Do you know how often trains are even close to being on time in sydney....the last one was in 1973.

When i was down there, the public transport system was marvellous.

You are the ONLY city in australia whose trains are even close to arriving on time, so shut up.

Sorry for the rant, honestly, you dont know how good you've got it.

TimT said...

Actually, I do know a bit about it, having lived in Newcastle and all - and you're right, the public transport service in Melbourne is pretty damn good. Not perfect, but good.

If you like, interpret this review as a satirical dig at Joyce - pretty much how I intended it, anyway!

Major Anya said...

Can't choose. Too close.

Caz said...

Tim - err, yeah, I hadn't picked up on the train timetable angle, that is, I took it at face value that you were presenting a genuine review of two equally competitive literary icons.

Had I realised that you were simply having a long-winded whinge about our transport, I would not have gone to the trouble of reading this piece. (I feel deceived & ripped-off, much like buyers of books containing "real life" stories that turn out to be a pack of drunken, drug-addled, and not at all cleverly disguised lies.)

Please, do post a disclaimer next time, for your more trusting readers.

rascuache said...

Ahh yes you would...having lived in newcastle and all... getaway bus doesnt arive til tommorrow

Aunty Marianne said...

You may all be right. But I know which of the two I would rather be travelling with while stuck just in front of the Eurotunnel waiting for them to clean illegal immigrants off the outside of the train.

Neither. It would be like choosing to share a car with a trainspotting anorak fetishist and a slavering drunk Gael lecher ranting about politics, yes I know that's a multiple tautology.

I'd rather have the Klingon-English dictionary, every time.

TimT said...

Major (gives snappy salute) yes, it's so true, isn't it?

Caz: if you like, I can put a disclaimer for you in ALL my posts. In big, fat, capitals: DISCLAIMER - FOR CAZ. I only do it because I care.

rasuache, think nothing of it. I'm so forgetful I forget the names of people I've been working with for months.

Good point, Aunty Marianne.

Rubydot said...

I don't see no wanking scene in the train timetable - surely we have a winner in the Hefty One on those grounds alone?

TimT said...

Well, not in the train timetable, maybe ...

Random conversation I overheard tonight while getting off the train:

What's your name?


I don't know, I just felt called to you ...

I was so stunned with the blatant stupidity of this statement that I reeled as if someone had hit me ...!

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