I know what you want. You want a coherent narrative: beginning, middle and end. You want it to start with a particular observation ("I saw this old geezer coughing his blubber up in the gutter"1), move through general animadversions on life ("We must all cough a peck of blubber before we die") and ending with a meretricious synthesis of grief and circumstance, so that you can head off to the boozer, the telly or the adulterous couch feeling that you have given some thought to the eternal verities, and thereby earned your fun.
No more. The days of coherent narrative are past. Blubberlungs can stay forever hunched over the kerbstone, locked in perpetual haemoptysis2. I will choke back my pathetic ventilations on The Meaning Of It All. And you will somehow have to make it through the rest of your life without my clever syntheses, and if that spoils your pleasures, tough luck. The pub is full of people you hate, the telly has been taken over by venal swines who think you have the wit of a rhizome, and your illicit lover is being had by half the county whenever your back is turned because you simply do not satisfy her3.
You will thank me in the end, because my new apercu is much more to the point, and so clearly signals an end to outmoded linear narrative forms that I think I will have to buy a black polo-neck jersey4 and grow a goatee. And it is this: life is lived in the footnotes5.
I used to hate footnotes - retentive, mean-spirited, lacking in commitment - until last week, when two things happened. First, I had dinner with a distinguished academic who explained to me that her forthcoming book will contain a number of startling disclosures6. Secondly, I fell upon a copy of Juvenal's Mayor - The Professor who Lived on 2d a Day, by John Henderson.
This is my new Book of the Decade, an enchanting monograph on a distinguished 19th-century Cambridge classicist and vegetarian7 who was indubitably the king of the insanely pedantic footnote, in the course of which Dr Henderson unequivocally seizes the title of Footnote King8 for himself, not least by the achievement of reproducing a facsimile of one of Professor Mayor's own footnotes, and in the process actually footnoting the citation itself.
God is clearly telling me something which should be obvious to even the meanest of intelligences9: that the nearest written analogue to our own lives would be one paragraph10 of intensely dull and predictable narrative, accompanied by several thousand pages of obscure, painful, delirious, ecstatic, irrelevant, criminal, cliff- hanging, immoral, fragmented, disaggregated and just plain weird footnotes. …