Thursday, September 6, 2007
Fit One, Page Six, Panel Two (Italia Bella!)
He came as a Butcher: but gravely declared,
When the ship had been sailing a week,
He could only kill Beavers. The Bellman looked scared,
And was almost too frightened to speak:
But at length he explained, in a tremulous tone,
There was only one Beaver on board;
And that was a tame one he had of his own,
Whose death would be deeply deplored.
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 her innocent 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 crepuscular present of totemic mementos into a future Paradise Regained? Is Lewis Carroll hinting at 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?
Or is it all just a load of rubbish, just the useless odds and ends found inside an Oxford don's stolen and pilfered portmanteau, disparate rubbish strewn about the windswept paving stones of an 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."