Saturday, December 27, 2008

“My Baloney Has a First Name ….”

Wiki:

"A Literary Nightmare" is a short story written by Mark Twain in 1876. The story is about Twain's encounter with a virus-like jingle, and how it occupies his mind for several days until he manages to "infect" another person, thus removing the jingle from his mind. The story was also later published under the name "Punch, Brothers, Punch!"

The story is significant in that it is a fairly accurate description of a meme, and how it can replicate itself in a short time, thus acting like a virus in some respects.

The narrator, Mark Twain, sees a catchy jingle in the morning newspaper. The jingle promptly attaches itself to his mind, such that he loses concentration and can no longer remember what he ate for breakfast, whether he ate at all, and what words he was going to use in his novel. The jingle mentally incapacitates him, until, a few days later, he takes a walk with his friend, the Reverend, and inadvertently transfers the jingle to the reverend's mind. As this happens, Twain experiences a sense of relief, and returns to his normal life.

Some days after Twain was cured, the Reverend visits him; he is in a terrible state, as the jingle, which keeps on repeating in his head, has already disabled his concentration. He tells Twain of some incidents where the rhythm of the jingle influenced his actions, such as when churchgoers started swaying to the rhythm of his homilies. Taking pity on the man, Twain decides to cure him, and brings him to a meeting of university students. The Reverend successfully manages to transfer the jingle from himself to the students, curing himself and, at the same time, continuing the diabolical cycle of the jingle.

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

1 comment:

Bryan's workshop blog said...

Great catch!

Reminds me of the plot device in Alfred Bester's Dostoevsky remix, The Demolished Man. Villian/protagonist hires a pop music division to create an annoying jingle, just for him. It's to distract telepaths, see.