Teeth and Sympathies; or, Influence and the Individual Talent (A Wildean Dialogue)

by Harry Heuser

Persons: Mauberley and Melmoth

Scene: Their respective apartments, joined in cyberspace

Melmoth (typing somewhat languidly): I beseech you, my dear Mauberley, treat me tenderly this evening.  None of your cynical incisions, if you please; I am feeling quite lacerated already.  Tonight I require your furs, not your fangs.

Mauberley: If you wish to pull my teeth I shall have to hold my tongue, worthy Melmoth.  A comforter, asked to take his cue from the very creature whose distress he is to ease, performs a rather paradoxical role.  Although expected to project his own personality into that of another in order to understand him better, he is hardly granted any personality at all.  Empathy means being told to bite one’s lip after already having resigned one’s prize incisors.  Yet, as a masticator so thoroughly domesticated, I am prepared to pamper, not pounce; and, an occasional quip aside, I promise to nibble most gently.  Whatever is the matter?

Melmoth (now listening to a favorite tune): Well, I shall certainly give to you something on which you may wish to chew! As you know, the “hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life” (to snatch a line from Samuel Johnson) has long sent me on the prowl, on a ludic pursuit of free-roaming prose and lamb-gentle poetry.  For me, there was always another part of the sylvan outdoors left to explore.  My literary Wanderlust has allowed me to claw myself through the most labyrinthine texts without ever suffering me to lose myself entirely within them.  Proceeding swiftly I left much behind—without ever hovering over my readings in a cirrostratus of critical detachment.  And if my sojourns were commonly not long-lasting, their very brevity allowed me to endure much that might otherwise have seemed intolerable. 

Small doses of Teufelsdroeckh’s “Philosophy of Clothes,” for example, may have taught me to adore metaphors; but only glossing over Meredith’s unconscionable “Book of Egoism” could have convinced me not to abhor them.  From Bleak House and Little Dorrit I picked primarily onomastic morsels, always ignoring the noxious morals; for how appalling is the thought of ending one’s life in the wilderness, reading all of Dickens to Waugh’s Mr. Todd.  Some works remained altogether distant, while others became dinner to me.  I guess I could never sink my teeth into anything that would shrink from me.  To be sure, close readings of poems by Donne I could rarely stomach for long; but the closet dramas of Shelley really called for a lorgnon.  And while I don’t entirely hold with Shakespeare that “brevity is the soul of wit”—how disingenuous my own loquacity would render it!—I have but seldom questioned the sagacity of shortcuts.

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