When I reflected in my last post about the pleasures and perils of book dedications and acknowledgements, I was being a tiny bit premature.
The truth is that I am still not entirely happy with the last few pages of the last chapter. Most of the chapter is about the Roman joke-book, the Philogelos (itself the subject of a number of blogs in the past), and I'm qute happy with that. There's lots of interesting stuff to say about the form and content and arrangement of the jokes, and what they might tell us about laughter in the Roman world. (True the book is written in Greek, but it is ideologically located in Roman imperial culture, and indeed that mixture is part of the point.) And, all in all, I am pretty content with what I've said on that score.
The trouble comes towards the end, with how to broach that which must finally be broached: namely, the very nature of a joke COLLECTION. Once you put jokes together in a book.. they are no longer simply plural jokes; they have changed their status to become "collectibles" in some way, objects of classification, reference and so on. That's what I was meaning when I said a bit ago that the Roman world was the site of the "invention" of the joke as we know it.
I know exactly how I would put this over in a seminar, orally. But I haven't quite cracked it on paper. A version exists and indeed has been sent to California, so if I was struck by suudden death, it could all be published. But the inadequacies of my text are gnawing at me.
I dont know if people in general realise quite how preoccupying, frustrating and time-consuming writing a work of non-fiction can be; and yes gnawing (you wake up in the middle of the night with the sentences going round in your head). It's probably the same for fiction, but I think people expect that more (tirtured novelist creates work of genius..). Non-fiction is a bit like the old cliché of the gymnast... the best books often read so "naturally" that it is easy to assume that there wasn't all that much artifice and struggle involved. As if it was just writing down what you know.
So what is the solution for me?