Thursday, September 3, 2009

Delicious Awkwardness

The Lyttle Lytton Contest is a variant of the better-known Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The aim of the Lyttle Lytton is to create snippets of deliberately awkward or stilted prose. My favorite of the 2009 winners is this, from Adam Box:
I have the ability to go through time, he suddenly remembered while at a bus stop near a tree.
That sentence is only nineteen words long, and yet there's so much delicious awkwardness there. The human brain can't take it in as a unit, because it doesn't form a cohesive whole. Instead, you focus on one part of the sentence, smile, then focus on another part of the sentence, and you start giggling at how it doesn't quite go together. Then you look at yet another part of this nineteen-word sentence, and you giggle still more, but now the first part of the sentence has been pushed out of your mind, and you have the pleasure of re-discovering it.

The whole sentence is a thing of beauty. I also like Deborah's walking adventures and Peter's lack of passion for surfing, but they can't beat suddenly remembering you have the ability to go through time. While at a bus stop. Near a tree.

For visual representations of the sort of awkwardness the Lyttle Lytton is all about, I recommend Awkward Family Photos. But while the Lyttle Lytton is all about intentional awkwardness as comedy, Awkward Family Photos is full of (presumably) unintentional comedy.

That's a startling picture. Like a Lyttle Lytton sentence, there really isn't all that much to it. But the human brain simply can't take it all in as a cohesive whole. You can only focus on one aspect of it at a time, while ignoring everything else.

Imagine you had to describe that picture in words. Where would you begin?

I'd probably describe the woman and the baby and the bright pink rifle and the "peace" symbol on the pants and how the baby's hand is on the trigger. And then I would describe the woman and the baby and the rifle in ever-increasing detail, much as some mentally disturbed patients draw intricately detailed mandala designs because they crave a feeling of order and centeredness in a universe that's fundamentally chaotic and alien. Everything else would get pushed to the side. Forgotten about. My mind can't integrate all that.

There's a weird, sublime beauty here.

No comments: