The Noonday Demon
I had a terrible dizzy spell in the library, went to get a sandwich, which didn’t help very much, so I swam back up Telegraph and as I passed the bagel place I saw that they were advertising their new chicken products with the slogan “WHY DID THE HUMAN CROSS THE ROAD?”which was awful, somehow it seemed to imply that the human-chicken relation in the food chain was entirely contingent and could just as easily go the other way.
Stewart King once convinced me briefly that in the wild chickens grow to six feet tall. "Well," I thought, "Have I ever SEEN a chicken?"
Or, an anecdote of the type known as an Armenian riddle: “It hangs in the drawing room and is green; what is it?” The answer: “A herring.”“Why in a drawing room?”“Well, why couldn’t it hang there?”“Why green?”“It was painted green.”“But why?”“To make it harder to guess.” This desire to conceal the answer, this deliberate effort to delay recognition, brings out a new feature, the newly improvised epithet. Exaggeration in art is unavoidable, wrote Dostoyevski; in order to show an object, it is necessary to deform the shape it used to have; it must be tinted, just as slides to be viewed under a microscope are tinted. You color your object in an original way and think that it has become more palpable, clearer, more real. In a Cubist’s picture, a single object is multiplied and shown from several points of view; thus it is made more tangible. This is a device used in painting. But it is also possible to motivate and justify this device in the painting itself; an object is doubled when reflected in a mirror. The same is true of literature. The herring is green because it has been painted; a startling epithet results, and the trope becomes an epic motif. Why did you paint it? The author will always have an answer, but, in fact, there is only one right answer: “To make it harder to guess.”
Roman Jakobson, “On Realism and Art”