Insanely funny, insanely self-referential story (via Ted Nelson!)

Dr. Ernest N. Prabhakar (
Mon, 18 May 98 20:18:34 -0700

I wasn't going to FoRK this, but I realized it was *the* Ted Nelson.
Of course, I was disappointed to realize Ted just passed it on, and
hadn't wrote it himself.

I've gotta bug my friend about how he knows Ted. Conrad's one of the
hard-core UNIX weenies around Apple. yeah, we have a few, we just make
sure not to let them out too much...

-- Ernie P.

From: Conrad Minshall <>
Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 14:43:34 -0700
Subject: Insanely funny, insanely self-referential story
Ted Nelson sent me this silliness. Read it and weep. Or screami?1



[I don't know where this came from, but I have to
pass it on. Previous sender omitted, he doesn't know either.]

This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also
Found Several Times in the Story Itself

This is the first sentence of this story. This is the second
sentence. This is the title of this story, which is also found
several times in the story itself. This sentence is questioning
the intrinsic value of the first two sentences. This sentence is
to inform you, in case you haven't already realized it, that this
is a self-referential story, that is, a story containing
sentences that refer to their own structure and function. This
is a sentence that provides an ending to the first paragraph.

This is the first sentence of a new paragraph in a
self-referential story. This sentence is introducing you to the
protagonist of the story, a young boy named Billy. This sentence
is telling you that Billy is blond and blue-eyed and American and
twelve years old and strangling his mother. This sentence
comments on the awkward nature of the self referential narrative
form while recognizing the strange and playful detachment it
affords the writer. As if illustrating the point made by the
last sentence, this sentence reminds us, with no trace of
facetiousness, that children are a precious gift from God and
that the world is a better place when graced by the unique joys
and delights they bring to it.

This sentence describes Billy's mother's bulging eyes and
protruding tongue and makes reference to the unpleasant choking
and gagging noises she's making. This sentence makes the
observation that these are uncertain and difficult times, and
that relationships, even seemingly deep-rooted and permanent
ones, do have a tendency to break down.

Introduces, in this paragraph, the device of sentence
fragments. A sentence fragment. Another. Good device. Will be
used more later.

This is actually the last sentence of the story but has been
placed here by mistake. This is the title of this story, which
is also found several times in the story itself. As Gregor Samsa
awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself in his bed
transformed into a gigantic insect. This sentence informs you
that the preceding sentence is from another story entirely (a
much better one, it must be noted) and has no place at all in
this particular narrative. Despite claims of the preceding
sentence, this sentence feels compelled to inform you that the
story you are reading is in actuality "The Metamorphosis" by Franz
Kafka, and that the sentence referred to by the preceding
sentence is the only sentence which does indeed belong in this
story. This sentence overrides the preceding sentence by
informing the reader (poor, confused wretch) that this piece of
literature is actually the Declaration of Independence, but that
the author, in a show of extreme negligence (if not malicious
sabotage), has so far failed to include even one single sentence
from that stirring document, although he has condescended to use
a small sentence fragment, namely, "When in the course of human
events", embedded in quotation marks near the end of a sentence.
Showing a keen awareness of the boredom and downright hostility
of the average reader with regard to the pointless conceptual
games indulged in by the preceding sentences, this sentence
returns us at last to the scenario of the story by asking the
question, "Why is Billy strangling his mother?" This sentence
attempts to shed some light on the question posed by the
preceding sentence but fails. This sentence, however, succeeds,
in that it suggests a possible incestuous relationship between
Billy and his mother and alludes to the concomitant Freudian
complications any astute reader will immediately envision.
Incest. The unspeakable taboo. The universal prohibition.
Incest. And notice the sentence fragments? Good literary
device. Will be used more later.

This is the first sentence in a new paragraph. This is the
last sentence in a new paragraph.

This sentence can serve as either the beginning of the
paragraph or end, depending on its placement. This is the title
of this story, which is also found several times in the story
itself. This sentence raises a serious objection to the entire
class of self-referential sentences that merely comment on their
own function or placement within the story e.g., the preceding
four sentences), on the grounds that they are monotonously
predictable, unforgivably self indulgent, and merely serve to
distract the reader from the real subject of this story, which at
this point seems to concern strangulation and incest and who
knows what other delightful topics. The purpose of this sentence
is to point out that the preceding sentence, while not itself a
member of the class of self-referential sentences it objects to,
nevertheless also serves merely to distract the reader from the
real subject of this story, which actually concerns Gregor
Samsa's inexplicable transformation into a gigantic insect
(despite the vociferous counterclaims of other well meaning
although misinformed sentences). This sentence can serve as
either the beginning of the paragraph or end, depending on its

This is the title of this story, which is also found several
times in the story itself. This is almost the title of the
story, which is found only once in the story itself. This
sentence regretfully states that up to this point the
self-referential mode of narrative has had a paralyzing effect on
the actual progress of the story itself -that is, these sentences
have been so concerned with analyzing themselves and their role
in the story that they have failed by and large to perform their
function as communicators of events and ideas that one hopes
coalesce into a plot, character development, etc. -- in short,
the very raisons d'etre of any respectable, hardworking sentence
in the midst of a piece of compelling prose fiction. This
sentence in addition points out the obvious analogy between the
plight of these agonizingly self-aware sentences and similarly
afflicted human beings, and it points out the analogous
paralyzing effects wrought by excessive and tortured self-

The purpose of this sentence (which can also serve as a
paragraph) is to speculate that if the Declaration of
Independence had been worded and structured as lackadaisically
and incoherently as this story has been so far, there's no
telling what kind of warped libertine society we'd be living in
now or to what depths of decadence the inhabitants of this
country might have sunk, even to the point of deranged and
debased writers constructing irritatingly cumbersome and
needlessly prolix sentences that sometimes possess the
questionable if not downright undesirable quality of referring to
themselves and they sometimes even become run-on sentences or
exhibit other signs of inexcusably sloppy grammar like unneeded
superfluous redundancies that almost certainly would have
insidious effects on the lifestyle and morals of our
impressionable youth, leading them to commit incest or even
murder and maybe that's why Billy is strangling his mother,
because of sentences just like this one , which have no
discernible goals or perspicuous purpose and just end up
anywhere, even in mid

Bizarre. A sentence fragment. Another fragment. Twelve years
old. This is a sentence that. Fragmented. And strangling his
mother. Sorry, sorry. Bizarre. This. More fragments. This is
it. Fragments. The title of this story, which. Blond. Sorry,
sorry. Fragment after fragment. Harder. This is a sentence
that. Fragments. Damn good device.

The purpose of this sentence is threefold: (1) to apologize
for the unfortunate and inexplicable lapse exhibited by the
preceding paragraph; (2) to assure you, the reader, that it will
not happen again; and (3) to reiterate the point that these are
uncertain and difficult times and that aspects of language, even
seemingly stable and deeply rooted ones such as syntax and
meaning, do break down. This sentence adds nothing substantial
to the sentiments of the preceding sentence but merely provides a
concluding sentence to this paragraph, which otherwise might not
have one.

This sentence, in a sudden and courageous burst of altruism,
tries to abandon the self-referential mode but fails. This
sentence tries again, but the attempt is doomed from the start.

This sentence, in a last-ditch attempt to infuse some iota of
story line into this paralyzed prose piece, quickly alludes to
Billy's frantic cover-up attempts, followed by a lyrical,
touching, and beautifully written passage wherein Billy is
reconciled with his father (thus resolving the subliminal
Freudian conflicts obvious to any astute reader) and a final
exciting police chase scene during which Billy is accidentally
shot and killed by a panicky rookie policeman who is
coincidentally named Billy. This sentence, although basically in
complete sympathy with the laudable efforts of the preceding
action-packed sentence, reminds the reader that such allusions to
a story that doesn't, in fact, yet exist are no substitute for
the real thing and therefore will not get the author (indolent
goof-off that he is) off the proverbial hook.

Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph.
Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph.
Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph. Paragraph.

The purpose. Of this paragraph. Is to apologize. For its
gratuitous use. Of. Sentence fragments. Sorry.

The purpose of this sentence is to apologize for the pointless
and silly adolescent games indulged in by the preceding two
paragraphs, and to express regret on the part of us, the more
mature sentences, that the entire tone of this story is such that
it can't seem to communicate a simple, albeit sordid, scenario.

This sentence wishes to apologize for all the needless
apologies found in this story (this one included), which,
although placed here ostensibly for the benefit of the more vexed
readers, merely delay in a maddeningly recursive way the
continuation of the by-now nearly forgotten story line.

This sentence is bursting at the punctuation marks with news of
the dire import of self-reference as applied to sentences, a
practice that could prove to be a veritable Pandora's box of
potential havoc, for if a sentence can refer or allude to itself,
why not a lowly subordinate clause, perhaps this very clause? Or
this sentence fragment? Or three words? Two words? One?

Perhaps it is appropriate that this sentence gently and with no
trace of condescension reminds us that these are indeed difficult
and uncertain times and that in general people just aren't nice
enough to each other, and perhaps we, whether sentient human
beings or sentient sentences, should just try harder. I mean,
there is such a thing as free will, there has to be, and this
sentence is proof of it! Neither this sentence nor you, the
reader, is completely helpless in the face of all the pitiless
forces at work in the universe. We should stand our ground, face
facts, take Mother Nature by the throat and just try harder. By
the throat. Harder. Harder, harder.


This is the title of this story, which is also found several
times in the story itself.

This is the last sentence of the story. This is the last
sentence of the story. This is the last sentence of the story.
This is.


Theodor Holm Nelson, Visiting Professor of Environmental Information
Keio University, Shonan Fujisawa Campus, Fujisawa, Japan
Home Fax: 0466-46-7368 From USA: 011-81-466-46-7368
Project Xanadu (Permanent)
3020 Bridgeway #295, Sausalito CA 94965
Tel. 415/ 331-4422, fax 415/ 332-0136

Conrad Minshall    i?1<
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