Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Years ago I remember falling about laughing with Peter Ackroyd on reading a bad review of one of his books in the TLS. (Falling about was what we mostly used to do, but I haven't seen him for ages; we seemed to run out of things to fall about about.) What was funny was not the awfulness of the review - Peter's bracing response to such things was 'Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.' - but the fact that it had been sent to him by a friend who thought it was a good review. The review was replete with the most withering sarcasm. 'He has,' said Peter of his friend, 'absolutely no sense of tone.' Most people have no sense of tone. Many, if not most, of the readers' letters inspired by my articles involve a failure to grasp my tone. This is a problem because tone is a very large part of verbal expression and those who can sense literary tone take it for granted while those who can't simply flail about in a sea of misunderstanding. I could have posted this at any time about any number of things, but what inspired me on this occasion were the comments on Tim Worstall's post on my post about peaches. The tone of my post was affectedly dandyish and designed to imply a high degree of self-deprecation. My pay-off line about les peches d'Isfahan was deliberately absurd. Most of my very literate regulars saw this at once - this was a light post on a light matter. The serious point - that my attitude to the peaches was changed by their availability in M & S - was anthropological; I was, dandyishly, observing my reactions rather than celebrating them. I have other tones for other occasions. Worstall's tone-deaf commenters see none of this and call me a 'foodponce', a 'snob', 'a desperate snob' and so on. As I say, this is just one example among many. There is nothing one can do about it as literary tone deafness is incurable, not least because sufferers are quite unaware of their affliction.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 1:07 pm