Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Curse of Ernulphus

In my attempt to resume Tristram Shandy and see it to its completion (faltering as I previously did near the beginning of the Third Volume), I just finished a delightful portion that concerns swearing and oaths,—which immediately recalled an Artful Treatise that I just completed a few days ago. In the more recent tome, Ruth Wajnryb, whose name is redolent of Bosnian villages and queer folk singers, discusses the role of blasphemy &c. in cementing relationships as neatly as “expressing vexation or vituperation,” as one writer so eloquently puts it.

Wajnryb makes no specific mention of “The Curse of Ernulphus” in her book, but what better example of a mellifluous rant could one ask for? Written by a “gentleman, who, in distrust of his own discretion in this point, sat down and composed (that is at his leisure) fit forms of swearing suitable to all cases, from the lowest to the highest provocations which could possibly happen to him,—which forms being well consider’d by him, and such moreover as he could stand to, he kept them ever by him on the chimney piece, within his reach, ready for use.”

Of course, the Fear of God has left our sorry race, and we no longer shudder at the lines that may once (in, say, the Eighteenth Century) have given Readers pause. “We excommunicate, and anathematise him, and from the thresholds of the holy church of God Almighty we sequester him, that he may be tormented, disposed and delivered over with Dathan and Abiram, and with those who say unto the Lord God, Depart from us, we desire none of thy ways.” For example. Who knows these Dathan and Abiram fellows any more? Who lately has turned open their Bible to Numbers Chapter 16 to read breathlessly the story of the revolt against Moses? Whom would we choose today to replace the hapless insurgents? “We sequester him, that he may be tormented, disposed and delivered over with Jacko and Paris,…”

And then, somewhere in the middle of the tirade, it explodes into a Whitman-esque declaration of ill will:

“May he be damn’d where-ever he be,—whether in the house or the stables, the garden or the field, or the highway, or in the path, or in the wood, or in the water, or in the church.—May he be cursed in living, in dying.

“May he be cursed in eating and drinking, in being hungry, in being thirsty, in fasting, in sleeping, in slumbering, in walking, in standing, in sitting, in lying, in working, in resting, in pissing, in shitting, and in blood-letting.

“May he be cursed in all the faculties of his body.”

And that’s but one page out of nearly a dozen that constitute the entire chapter. I, for one, can think of a few people to whom such execration would be delightfully addressed. Perhaps one could (i.e., perhaps I could, if I were to take the time, stop blogging for a bit, and write a Perl script) create a web page that could take a few inputs and churn out personalized invectives, directed at whomever (e.g., the obvious choices of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Jerry Bruckheimer) one most despises. Options could exist to provide a bit of added fluorish — a roll of the die that might yield a “cumslut” in lieu of a “harlot,” offering both variation and nuance. Results could be compiled into a lengthy, repetitive, but hypnotic rant—the Blog of Ernulphus, anyone?

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