By Michael Mattis
The Affected Provincial’s Almanack
By Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy
Plankton Art Co. (self-published version)
There is something endearingly dandyish about self-published books. They recall a time when gentlemen-scholar-adventurers braved the noonday sun on the parched Serengeti to collect stamen samples in support of quasi-scientific theories resulting in weighty tomes full of Latinate terminology, which they knew from the outset no right-thinking human being would ever crack. There’s a hopeless romance to self-publishing, something very Enoch Soames about it.
There’s also something about the relationship between author and printer that is akin to that between beau and tailor. One can imagine the youthful aesthete-antiquarian T.E. Lawrence, years before his ascent to “of Arabia” fame, pouring over his illuminated galleys, demanding a comma here, taking one away there, adjusting the tint on this illustration, suggesting a touch of gold leaf to another, all with the same meticulous care that D’Orsay might have taken with the drape of jacket or the pull of a buttonhole.
Dandyism.net’s occasional contributor D. Wittelsbach is one of those gifted amateurs who carries on the noble tradition of self-publishing. Through his volume “Isis and Beyond: The Biography of Cecil Nixon,” and his limited-edition magazine Bloody Beautiful, Wittelsbach shares his fascination with eccentric characters, out-of-print vinyl, mad monarchs and forgotten conjurers.
The content of self-published works is always a looking glass into the foibles and fascinations of their authors. In a goal-oriented world, this meandering lack of purpose is one of the main things that makes such works so endearing. There’s always the promise of learning something new and wholly unexpected. Perhaps this is what makes “The Affected Provincial’s Almanack” a disappointment.
Where others use their work to say, “Observe and enjoy these fascinating curiosities I have discovered,” Lord Whimsy (pseudonym of Allen Crawford of New Egypt, NJ) uses the “Almanack” to say, “Look at me, LORD WHIMSY, a fascinating curiosity I have created and now bring to you, you lucky fool.”
The book, loquaciously subtitled, “A Bounteous Selection of ESSAYS, PHILOSOPHICAL, DIAGRAMS, POETRY and Other Such Theoretical Tinkerings Concerning the Reintroduction of ANCIENT CHARM Into This Vale of Mud and Tears Known Heretofore as the MODERN LIFE,” is comprised of brief essays repurposed mainly from the electronic pages of the author’s blog and columns he wrote for a monthly periodical, illustrated with Venn diagrams and Myers-Briggs Type indicator charts.
A Venn diagram, for those readers even less familiar with the vale of mud and tears that is modern life than Lord Whimsy, is one of those linked-circle graphics that sales and marketing people put on PowerPoint slides to try and convince prospective suckers that whatever they are hawking is somehow based in Science. A Myers-Briggs Type indicator chart is a bit of psychoanalytic snake oil seized upon by corporate human resources shills to illustrate that whatever problem you are having with your boss is really one of your own making. Whimsy uses these diagrams and charts throughout the book to help the reader place the author at the center of a fantastical universe ruled by “refinement,” which appears to be defined as that which sets him apart from the jocks and hearties that likely bullied him at high school.
The author’s remunerative self-congress begins immediately, with an introduction entitled, “LORD WHIMSY: An Introduction. Or Hauteur, they name is Whimsy.” This piece, which is supposed to have been written by someone named Avery Puckish, Esq., tells us that Whimsy once wrote for the Philadelphia Independent (which has since ceased publication), and that he is the sole performer in a Wildean lecture series entitled, “You Lack My Refinement.” The mind reels at how the style-starved citizenry of Philadelphia could have allowed the Independent to stop publishing with columnists as congenial as Whimsy.
The author then launches into a set of short treatises on, as he says, “DANDYISM.” (Whimsy frequently uses ALL CAPS and italics when trying to call our attention to a main point or one of his clever neologisms, like THRILLETANTE, a practice which I imagine we are supposed to find full of ancient charm). Illustrated with the aforementioned diagrams, Whimsy’s pronouncements on the topic consist mainly of cribbed paraphrases of historical and literary sources. I cannot say I disagree with most of Whimsy’s main points on the topic, but then there is very little new here. Where his thoughts do stray into the original, they tend to come across as high-sounding gibberish.
Take, for example, the following quote, which attempts to explain one of his Venn diagrams, which in turn attempts to explain his thoughts on the heady topic, “BEING MOVING WITHOUT MOVING. Or, Why the NEARLY INANIMATE is Drawn to the NEARLY ANIMATE”: “DANDIES,” he writes in his barbershop-quartet parlance, “being perfumed shamans, reside within the twilight realm (a) that exists betwixt the worlds of the Animate (b) and the Inanimate (c). Because of this, Dandies identify strongly with plants, who like themselves are living beings that seem to emulate the sculpted as much as the grown.”
Perfumed shamans. Identify strongly with plants. Quite.
Whimsy also retails the tiresome, postmodern academic canard that “dandyism, like bohemianism, is a reaction against the banality of mainstream society.” Dandyism, of course, is not any such thing. Can you imagine Beerbohm trading in such balderdash?
Nevertheless, the book is not without its charms. Pinned to my office wall is a copy of one of Whimsy’s more amusing charts, called “ON THE PERILS OF SPORTSWEAR,” which wittily depicts the difference between the backwards-cap-wearing dude and the gentleman of more mature tastes. From the peanut gallery in the office it elicits chuckles, from the cognoscenti, approving nods. But I downloaded this from lordwhimsy.com some months before it was retailed in the “Almanack.”
There is dandyism, there is eccentricity, and then there is schtick. In most instances, Whimsy opts for the last. His peculiar insistence on reminding the reader that he rides a “high-wheeler” – one of those antiquated bicycle contraptions from the turn of the century, and presumably the source of the “muscular buttocks” of which he is fond of boasting – reminds one of the guy who shows up at a nightclub with a snake draped around his neck because he knows all the chicks will want to touch it. An amusing and effective bit once, perhaps, but after a short time he simply becomes known as “the weirdo with the snake.” But I’m sure the easygoing John Bulls of New Jersey are more generous to Whimsy and his quaint high-wheeler.
In his jeremiad on sportswear, Whimsy asks, “Have we in effect become a nation of infantalized man-toddlers?” From Tom Wolfe or Christopher Buckley such a question regarding the death of adult taste might be profound. Coming from a fellow who declares “You lack my refinement,” but whose book includes a diagram for determining the girth of your phallus, a doggerel ditty about urinating, and a theme on masturbation, it comes off as just so much flimsy rebellious posing. Some of it is funny, but the message is lost amidst the smirks.
In summary, Lord Whimsy appears too busy practicing the thoroughly mud-and-tears modern, be-your-own-brand system of self-marketing to rise above the level of Dickens-Faire schtick and achieve the arbiter elegantiarum status he seems to crave. This is a shame because he is obviously very talented (Mr. Crawford is a designer and artist by profession). As this “Almanack” is Vol. 1, one supposes a Vol. 2 is in the works, and I cannot say I look forward to another book by His Lordship.
Perhaps Mr. Crawford, rather than his alter ego, should write the next one.