Saturday, June 16, 2018


Much in the manner that James Joyce wanted scholars to pore over his works for entire lifetimes, I am going to spend the weeks and months to come trying to figure out this joke book that Ace Atkins gave me. It is reputedly by Milton Berle, though I suspect he had some help, if you want to call it help. I'm not sure some of these things are jokes! I know it is a joke book because right at the top there it says "Milton Berle's Joke Book." But - and this is a matter for further study, I'll have to get back to you - it seems to aspire to a narrative structure, which seems uncalled for. One section is just Milton Berle imagining what other people famous at the time might say in apparently nonexistent movies that he seems to be creating in his febrile head. (Parenthetically, I will digress: more accurately, upon further scrutiny, the section purports to be made up of movie scripts that a talking elephant named Klinemine Klinemine is reading at the library. You can see why I'm going to need to spend some time with the text.) I will quote one example in full. "BETTY HUTTON (after a quarrel): Leave this house. I never want to see you again. Go this instant. BING CROSBY: I have one last request to make before I go. BETTY (sweetly, oh, very sweetly): Well, what is it? BING (brutally): Before I leave forever, would you mind getting off my lap?" Now if that isn't straight out of the Circe section of ULYSSES, what is? Maybe it's the "sweetly, oh, very sweetly" that sounds Joycean. And the "Klinemine Klinemine" of course: pure multilingual punning and mystical doubling in the tradition of FINNEGANS WAKE. Well! But is it a joke? The Bing Crosby thing, I mean? I don't see how. Why Betty Hutton's sudden change of mood, for example? Are we to take it that her instigating rage was disingenuous? Why? And wouldn't the "joke," such as it is, work better on the radio, assuming it could work at all? In what way could it be convincingly filmed? I feel strongly that Milton Berle isn't providing enough context. In the pure terms of the joke as a platonic object, what's the setup? Are we supposed to believe that Milton Berle is that experimental, or that the elephant with whom he has made friends for the purposes of the plot is that experimental, or, to be as accurate as possible, that the elephant who is friends with Milton Berle goes to the library and seeks out movie scripts that seem to have been cut up and pasted back together by William S. Burroughs, so devoid of traditional structure as to verge on the abstract? On the next page there's a joke about zoo sex, I guess it's all right. I know I'm not "blogging" anymore but I need somewhere to thoroughly analyze this book, which I would truly believe was produced in a lab by a crude form of artificial intelligence if it weren't so old. (PS I didn't realize it was Bloomsday until after I first "posted" this! Dear me, how precocious I am. It's a real freaking shame I don't "blog" anymore.)