Monday, December 11, 2017

Terra Snarkorum

The original illustration by Holiday of this Universal Map is, to be honest, a bit trite. It's obvious that the poor man was trying to economize on india ink and pen nibs. However, as Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment reminds us: thou shalt not speak ill of another artist, particularly when they are dead and defenseless (the precise state in which their work is best appreciated and appreciates best).

I felt that I could do better. I assumed the traditional artist's position of cogitation whilst supine on my charpoy. I puffed upon the hookah proferred me by the Assamese chorus-girl who also pressed my feet, the predominant organ of mentation in my species. I was, of course, familiar with the etymology of the word "map", which ultimately conjured up the hebraic motif of a cloth which conceals and a cloth which reveals, all of which I deftly distilled into "what's-behind-curtain-number-four" and "the-Freudian-Slip".

But still … it was obvious … too obvious, perhaps. All the better for my class of readers! Starting with a gratuitious insult to Henry Holiday I had mentally arrived at a hookah-puffing Jewish savant peddling obscurantism to a witless Bellman in a Cairene souk. In the distance I could hear the blood-curdling screams of native children conjugating French verbs. I paid them no heed! I bent over my drawing board, pen in hand, my thoughts feverishly coagulating in a vivid mental maelstrom of mixed metaphors and incongruous images! Two weeks ago I couldn't even spell "artist", now I are one!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Snark on a Hot Tin Roof

There are some who might say this artist's conception of the Bellman is a base and underhanded attack upon the same, suggesting as it does that the Bellman was literally birdbrained and furthermore, that his colleagues possessed the collective wisdom and general prescience of a flock of chickens on the way to the abattoir.

But this is not the case.

I put it to you that the English penchant for all things avian is well-known. I put it to you that Lewis Carroll populated his verse and prose with many avian and semi-avian portmanteaux (or portmantanimaux?) such as the Jubjub Bird and the Borogrove.

I put it to you that the Bellman has suffered the ill-effects of a Violent Unknown Event and that he has metamorphasized into an avian state common amongst avant-garde English cineastes. The wisdom on his face is actually the smug look of a sporting wallah who finally knows for certain which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Sounds of Snark

The Bellman's speech is of that particular British provenance yclept "fruity". Not so much "plummy" but rather … "peachy". If one removes the fuzzy skin thereof (the burr, so to speak) one is left with a nectarine. This fruit (spelled n-e-c-t-a-r-i-n-e but pronounced "stuffed cabbage") was the preferred nutrition of most cavemen and it was they who first domesticated the dog.

We see here a sample of that species, a young pup named Laelapswho attends upon his master's fruity voice. And what does he hear? A sonorous mussitation which leaves no impression upon him at all, for, as Thomas Aquinas noted, dogs have no souls. Hence their proverbial high fidelity is but a marketing ploy.

A dog, a peach, a gramophone — after all these years, my own 3-piece jazz combo! At last, I can take a bath. And just in time too, my gin-driven ink-pen's almost run dry.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Fitzcarraldo Goes Snark!

What is surrealism? The simultaneous memory of everything. What is protosurrealism? The same as above with the added frisson of remembering an impossible future.

What is the final panel of Fit the First? A protosurrealist Narrenschiff patched together from semiotic pentimenti and oneiric palimpsets, a carte-de-visite of the Victorian ideal of the future, an artifact drifting down the estuary of the Mississippi … the Amazon … the Thames … the Congo …

"We said there warn't no home like the ol' HMS Snark, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but the Snark don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on her.

"But when we reach the sea we'll build a bigger ship! What great treachery that will be! Then we shall control every bathing machine and produce history as others produce plays. I, the Bellman, the wrath of god!"


The Bellman ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. "We have lost the first of the ebb," said the Butcher, suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky — seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How to Win Friends and Influence Boojum

Declaimed by a drowsy Beaver at the stern of the HMS Snark as it drifts through the somnambulant equatorial swamps … simian caterwaulings and jackanape antics of the crew providing the needful soothing jungle lullabies … a siesta beckons … perhaps a postprandial charpoy, memsahib?

These snores, that I wish to outgribe.
So clear,
Their mimsy incarnations, which fly through the brillig air
I drowse a tulgey sleep.
Did I love a Boojum?

Monday, November 6, 2017

At Swim-Two-Snarks

Words, words, words! There's not going to be any of 'em in this drawing and besides, the Beaver seldom knows what to say anyway. They make such a buzzing in her head … so she's popped off, outside on deck, away from that galoot of a Butcher and his loquacious cronies in the main salon. She's having a breath of fresh sea air, watching the Boots and the Bellman gammon the ship's bowsprit, thinking of absolutely nothing in particular.

She is, as they say, a tabula rasa. Just the thing for an artist who's short on paper. A few quick strokes of the pen et voilà! In place of a quotidian Castor Canadensis, we now have a charming ingenue recently out of finishing school. She has imbibed all the social graces necessary for the sporting companion of any High Church Anglicans bent on Snarkicide. No more riparian galactophagogery for this lady, she's wearing the galligaskins now and she's loaded for Boojum!

In short — nurture triumphs over nature — again! Huzzah for the tabulae rasae of this world! Besides, no one likes a palimpset anyway, those snooty, nefandous know-it-alls.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Trained rocks keep fallin' on my head

The aversion of the Beaver's eyes is motivated by the primitive belief that whatever cannot be seen by oneself, cannot itself see you. This charming simplicity of thought is the innocent basis of most epistemologies, and it can be said, with some justice, that all of Western philosophy is but footnotes to the nursery-room game of peek-a-boo. 

And so … we are indulging in a pre-Socratic, preschool tautology of existential hide-and-go-seek … the Beaver dematerializes her stony-faced surrealist nemesis the Butcher by averting her eyes. Lewis Carroll disarms his Boojum by composing the Snark backwards and thus placing the former into a perpetually receding, invisible future of the latter. 

As for myself, I'm one of those literal-minded draughtsmen who cannot draw what he cannot see. I shall spurn Rule Number One of Illustration (if you cannot draw it, place a bush in front of it) for I am above such petty stratagems — a plague on all manner of foliage, those leaves, so many, so many, is there no end to them? The naked Boojum shall remain a naked, undrawn, unseeing Boojum.

To see a Boojum, ladies and gentlemen, is to be seen by a Boojum! Eschew the lethal gaze of all negating nonentities and all will be well! Focus instead your nondiscerning gaze upon the perfectly rendered nonchalance of this cool drawing. Nothing to see here folks, just move right along.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Through a Glass, Snarkly

The illustration of this stanzel (stanza-cum-panel) has completely exhausted my remaining brain-worker abilities. Purchasing insurance for a lengthy sea voyage in the company of a declared homicidal maniac is standard naval procedure but fiendishly tricky for a landlubber draftsman such as I. The dagger-proof coat which the Beaver is wearing was the crux of the drawing and easier by far, I decided to indicate its prophylactic function by delineating its essential nature: what goes on inside the dagger-proof coat, stays inside the dagger-proof coat. 

Several of my readers have recently communicated to me that they don't "get it", that my written commentaries on the Snark contain "too many references to stuff we don't know about anyway", and finally, that's it all "too surreal". Success at last!
 

But seriously, big words make my head hurt too, that's why I became an artist. As a child I learned about these gigantic hurtful words and the small-minded hurtful people who use 'em. Whenever someone tries to make my brain hurt-hurt with jaw-jaw, I remember what Humpty Dumpty advised Alice on the subject of big, bad, scary words —
 "They've a temper, some of them - particularly verbs: they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!' 

The egg speaks and having spoken, we obey! Yes, our new watchword shall be: impenetrably-clear.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Snark, Actually

The provenance of this image is, I confess, is a hopelessly adulterated concoction of all the flotsam & jetsam which churns up my head: 
• Corrupted retinal imprints of an Alma-Tadema confection of Egytian heirophants barging down the Nile.
 
• Scattered brain-crumb trail of Enobarbus channeling Shakespeare's fancification of Jacques Amyot's crib of Plutarch's précis of Cleopatra a-burning on the water.
 
• Thomas Mann's Deutsche Bahn-ification of the disgraced Joseph's descent down the Nile in the Joseph Tetralogy.
 
• A muddled childhood memory of Thor Heyerdahl's voyages … over-saturated Technicolor imagery of Incan fellahin poling their islands of bundled reeds across Lake Titicaca, through Upper Egypt and down to Easter Island.
 
• Most importantly, the compulsion to depict accurately an object of stone floating in water, hence proving it as light as a duck and therefore, a witch.


To those who insist upon a certain logical decorum in the threads binding an image to a text, I say: pshaw! I just rummage through the cultural debris and emotional wheel ruts, happy as a tove in a wabe. If poetry is metaphor, and metaphor is image-making, then there's more critical analysis in one panel of this Snark than in the many pages of intellectual jiggery-pokery with which Lewis Carroll has been belabored through the ages.
 

On the deck of the HMS Snark, we also can see The Barrister and The Billiard-Marker playing at dice over a fragment of an aortic blood vessel which appears to have been illicitly removed from the poet Dante Alighieri (why? Because I say so). Here's what Witold Gombrowicz, said about Dante and his Divine Comedy, another famous poem about Snarks …
 

"Dante was reciting his epoch, but the epoch was also reciting, and the poem is, so to speak, a double platitude, the poet simply recited what was already being recited. Something like those Sunday discussions of soccer by people gathered in bars and coffee houses. Do they really care about soccer? Not in the least. … Humanity glides along the worn ruts of articulation. An empty poem, which exists in defiance of reality and almost as if to spite it!"*
 

Well, doesn't that just about wrap it up for The Meaning of the Snark? I mean, simply substitute Lewis Carroll for Dante (deep inside, you know you really want to) and there it is, a poem about nothing! A drawing about nothing! And whatever it is that you read into the drawing, that's what you truly wanted all along — and thus, deserve!


Yes, yes, yes! I know that Lewis Carroll spoke no Italian outside his bathing machine. And yes, he did claim total ignorance of the meaning of his work, in English or Italian — unlike Dante (Alighieri, not "Wombat" Rossetti), who wouldn't shut up about his boojums. Frankly, I don't know what I'm doing either, it's all the rage these days and I think it's going rather well, it always does when you draw with your eyes wide shut.

_________________

*W. Gombrowicz, Diary, Volume 3, October 16, 1966, translated by Lillian Vallee, Northwestern Univ. Press, 1993. The works of Gombrowicz are ideal for name-dropping at academic and intellectual soirées, preferably from an upstairs window and attached to an anvil. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Turinese Snark


Alberto Savinio had this to say about animals such as the Beaver who are always trying to draw attention to themselves: 

"Totemism is a sign of the dignity that animals once enjoyed, a testimony that the earth was once a paradise … our memory of the time when animals lived with us as companions and equals contains the most encouraging idea of the future of the world, an idea that lets us glimpse, beyond the contraction of peoples into themselves, their expansion into a common brotherhood, and finally their new merging with the animals in a paradise regained."
 

In this panel we see the final and ultimate member of the crew, the Butcher, apparently menacing the Beaver in an umbrous manner while she is at play. Is the Butcher truly malevolent towards the Beaver as the text insinuates or is he pursuing that childish dream of Eden which she rolls before her? Universal brotherhood of sentient beings or ignominous immolation at the hands of a petrified maniac?
 

Clues abound: the (conveniently) protean decor of the HMS Snark, indeed, the entire mise en scène is redolent of the fashionably unsettled piazzi of Turin, a place notorious for the alpine fogs which beset and befuddle its inhabitants. A similar metaphysical ennui settles heavily over both the Beaver and the hinted-at Butcher, perhaps they are in that liminal state which Savinio alludes to, struggling to emerge from a state of totemic memories into a future Paradise Regained?
 Is Lewis Carroll hinting at an eschatalogical program of redemption here? Is the Hunting of the Snark really a music-hall species of the Divine Comedy, the Snark is Beatrice, the Baker is Dante and the crew of the HMS Snark, a multicephalic crypto-gnostic Virgil?

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street,
Giorgio de Chirico
Or is it all just a load of rubbish, the useless odds and ends found inside an Oxford don's pilfered portmanteau, disparate rubbish strewn about the paving stones of a Turinese piazza by a disappointed thief who had been posing as a railway porter on the Bragia trunk line, the better to prey upon Englishmen doing the Grand Tour? Savinio had this to say about the dodgy sort of things that can spring out of a fellow's portmanteau on a chilly Piedmontese morning:

"
Romanticism: the terror of nature, its forests, its tempests, its dawns, its splendors … surrealism: the internal terror of a man, his forests, his tempests, his dawns, his splendor."

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Confederacy of Snarks!

It's a fair cop, guv'nor! The Bellman, assisted by the Fellowship of the Snark, brandishes his clochetic truncheon at this wallah's stoney noggin. Note further, my dear Watson, that a close reading of the text with a fine-toothed comb and well-knitted brow elicits the following facts:

Given …
The duncedness of this otherwise un-named crewmember is literally not-to-be-believed, a statement which itself is not-to-be-believed since it has not been repeated the requisite three times.
Given …
The sole thought of this non-nonbelievable dunce is Snark.
From which …
To possess a dunce is to possess a ready-made Platonic Ideal of a Snark — and in a very handy demi-godlike package too!
And therefore…
This dunce is no dunce, eh? QED!

So, our dunce is an imposter disguising himself as an Easter Island moia with an uncanny penchant for resembling the notorious French confidence-picturist and double-crosser, Eugène Delacroix! After some rough handling and quick bell-work, the so-called Eugène made the following (internal, hence epistemologically dunciad) statement:

"… one should not be too difficult. An artist should not treat himself like an enemy. Experience ought to teach us two things: first, that we should do a great deal of correcting, secondly, that we must not correct too much."

Proof positive and bob's your uncle! This man's an absolute diabolical numbskull, cunningly fitted out with all the French Polynesian deviltry necessary to hold two simultaneously opposing thoughts at once — the very conditions necessary for a Snark to flourish inside the old brain pan! Pseudo-neoplatonic skullduggery with alarming whiffs of a faux-phrenological sub-gnostic epistemological thing-um-a-jiggery — some sort of game's afoot! I could have had a job with NASA but I'm sticking it out with this snark business, I'm a brainworker!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Nonsense is sanity, sanity is nonsense

Immigration and Customs Officer: Have you any personal articles of clothing?
A Baker resembling Lewis Carroll: I don't know.
Immigration and Customs Officer: Have you any luggage or packages?
A Baker resembling Lewis Carroll: I don't know.
Immigration and Customs Officer: Can you state your own name?
A Baker resembling Lewis Carroll: I don't know.
Immigration and Customs Officer: Can you make bridecake?
A Baker resembling Lewis Carroll: I don't know.
Immigration and Customs Officer: Do you not know whether you can make bridecake or are you simply unable to procure the materials to do so?
A Baker resembling Lewis Carroll: I don't know.
Immigration and Customs Officer: You can't be serious, what does all this mean?
A Baker resembling Lewis Carroll: I don't know.

Note that the Baker consistently eschews the binary either-or of conventional logic upon which his interlocutor is depending, resorting instead to the triunary-based logic of "I don't know". We have already seen how the principle of threes supersedes all other logical statements (what I tell you three times is true) aboard the HMS Snark. Thus, the Baker disposes of the boojum of binary Marxist dialectical materialism, its frumious one-two is slain by his manxome one-two-three! Huzzah! The vorpal blade of the trinitarian Snarkist trialectic immaterialism goes snicker-snack! Oh, there's a PhD dissertation somewhere in all of this — oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Cogito Ergo Snark

A nautical though nice bit of ink-stained gallimaufry in which we see the Baker's character (still anonymous though!) in a better light, perhaps even the light which shines down from above, the light to which the Baker refers with his finger, in fact, the light for which one does not lack when heaven guides the way. 

If one were to see the Baker in a philosophical light, one might say that he carries about him a certain Platonic air, a mystical faith in a universal flashlight which he carries about with himself wherever he goes and which enlightens his path in even the darkest caves of the human mind. It is this mental flashlight which provides him with the aplomb necessary to navigate through the thickets of hyenas and bears in which he finds himself today. Note also that he smiles at his tormentors, a Mona Lisa sort of smile which says to his would-be tormentors: I know that you are not real, that you are merely shadows of a Higher Hyena and Bigger Bear.
The ursine fellow to the Baker's left is a Gradgrindish sort of fellow, well-schooled in the Facts of Life, ma'am, a scholastic air about him, Aristotelian even, judging by his know-it-all headware. He has no need for invisible flashlights (or torches, as LC would say), he relies upon Facts, just the Facts & their Causes, perhaps even some Numbers, and that's That! He carries a book, not for idle speculation but for assaulting lesser-minded weaklings such as the Baker with.
At their feet we see a personage in the guise of a drawing of a hyena taken from a xerox of a photograph of Heraclitus copied from a painting of a second-hand redaction of the life of Michelangelo as told to Vasari. This reflective beast is lounging pool-side, debating whether 'tis best to plunge entirely into the waters or better still to merely dabble the tips of one's toes in the waters. He is consumed with doubt lest he be unable to bathe in the same waters twice. Incidentally, it appears as if he is also consumed with a petty jealousy over the excellent design of the panel in which he finds himself depicted. 

Not only is it a cunning gloss upon the above Stanza, but it also illustrates the wisdom of obtaining one's artistic training at a qualified and accredited institute of higher learning, a precaution which this hyenaic gentleman's rival, the infamous Raphael (not shown here) attended to by graduating cum laude from the Roman campus of the School of Athens.
The School of Athens, by some other Carrollian artist

Monday, July 31, 2017

Democracy Dies in Snarkness

The penultimate crew member, the Baker, AKA Lewis Carroll, the man with the foolish grin keeping perfectly still with the eyes shut tight in his head to see the world spinning around. 

Perhaps the Baker is a boojum of sorts! The authorial obsession of the Snark is obvious now, and what makes it especially tasty (as tasty as toasted-cheese-wig-fritters) is the gentle (but very thorough) dissolution of the author into his internal, safely nonsensical world. This panel illustrates the central premise of the Snark. We see the Baker in the stylized pose of the-fool-at-thought, his eyes shut for he has no need to see the Snarkian landscape — he is the Snarkian landscape, and later tonight, when the topic of supper is broached, why, he's on the menu, on the table, he's the knife and he's the waiter!


Where will it all end? What does it all mean? Is Lewis Carroll an proto-existentialist grappling with a multiply-fractured Other generated from and concealed within himself, exhausted by a crypto-Gnostic quest played out amidst a desolate wasteland littered with the semiotic debris of a long-toppled Victorian imperium? Or is he just this guy?

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Snarking of the Hunt!

After a long hiatus, this exegesis of my Snark GN (available from Melville House) has resumed at last. Your favorite time-waste is back and in full form!

The Admirable Mister Carroll would have his little surprises for The Hunting of the Snark certainly seems nothing but surprises. Of course, aside from certain unfortunate mishaps, such as sudden insanity or total annihilation, most of Mister Carroll’s Snarkian surprises tend towards the cheerily nonsensical and comfortably numb variety.

This is because he was a master craftsman and knew full well that a bit of well-oiled authorial surprise keeps the groundlings happy enough to stick through the heavy going of the more intellectual bits, such as plot or thematic development. (Hollywood, are you taking notes?)

Like revenge or cheap plonk, surprise is best served cold, and so we’ll stick to Carroll’s master plan and introduce the final member of our Fellowship of the Snark as Carroll did … vaguely, mysteriously, even confusingly … the Baker!

Do not be alarmed by the curious fact that the above drawing depicts Our Mystery Snark-Hunter’s 42 boxes on the beach as being labeled with the Chinese ideogram for "candlestub" known as “xié”. Remain calm while I remind you that our Mystery Snarkistadore's alias of “candlestub” will be revealed at a later date. And do not panic if you happen to know that the boxes and the girl with the fan are directly taken from one of Carroll’s own photographs, a portrait of Alexandra “Xie” Kitchins posing as an off-duty Chinese tea merchant.

Keep your cool, dear reader, even if the gentleman at the easel should prove to be the late and sorely missed British author Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy proved conclusively that the Answer to the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything In It is 42. Above all, take no notice of the curious coincidence of the painting of a box that he is working at. It is labeled with a variation upon Magritte’s famous anti-dictum, “this is not my box” and is itself a play upon the Belgian’s seminal work, The Human Condition I.

It cannot harm you, simply move around it cautiously whilst noting the utter absence of the seven coats and six boots mentioned in the verses. They are unworthy of inclusion in this drawing, owing to the fact that since the clothes make the man, the commutative principle of haute couture allows the man to make the clothes. Therefore, the sartorial and ontological nudity of this man (still un-named, un-manned and un-drawn) is his own lookout. No doubt, if left alone, nature will have its way and his coats and boots would multiply and eventually replenish his wardrobe (the commutative spirit of Victorian men's fashion was biblically fecund) and he will find himself the proud possessor of 42 coots and boats. QED, eh?

Surprise and anticipation, the twin bogeymen of Nonsense poets and Hollywood scriptwriters alike! Stay tuned, dear readers, for next week's exciting episode!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Make Snark Great Again

We are not famed for the number of things we forget, we are infamous for remembering  far too much useless Snark trivia. So, in lieu of introducing the penultimate crew member of the HMS Snark, we offer you instead these brain-droppings: 

Snark Trivia: 
The Snark's last line was composed in the birthplace of P.G. Wodehouse and the final terrestrial abode of Ford Prefect — Guildford, Surrey!

Snark Trivia: A possible etymology for Snark is the German verb schnarren, to jar or buzz, itself cognate with the Low German snarren, to snarl. A friend of Lewis Carroll's, Beatrice Hatch, wrote in 1898 that the author had told her that Snark was a portmanteau of snail and shark. Pshaw! The Great One never made things that easy.
Snark Trivia: Dante Gabriel Rossetti was convinced in his later, even less rational years, that Carroll intended the Snark to symbolize himself. Rossetti also identified himself with wombats to an unhealthy degree and eventually disinterred his wife to retrieve some poems which he had entrusted to her coffin, which is far more devious than the usual authorial tactic of shoving a manuscript into a drawer and hoping it reads better a year later.
Totally Unrelated to Anything Snark Which Makes It Perfectly Snark: Marie Osmond's letter-perfect phonetic performance of Hugo Ball's Karawane is American pop culture's greatest Snark moment ever. Today, we live in an age of pop culture pygmies, thank god.