Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 27, Panel 4 … locus snarquus



The maker of Bonnets ferociously planned
A novel arrangement of bows:
While the Billiard-marker with quivering hand
Was chalking the tip of his nose.

What a jolly Christmas treat we have for you, dear reader! A hearty quatrain of Lewis Carroll’s finest Snark vintage embellished with a festive pattern of squiggles, lines and dots which correspond to a semi-hallucinatory circus vision of Friedrich Nietzsche masquerading as a Bonnet-Maker while the Second-Greatest-French-Novelist-Ever, Raymond Roussel, exerts himself as a Billiard-Marker and dares to chalk the Prussian’s nose.

Quite a mouthful, especially when one is chewing over one’s rum-soaked Christmas plum pudding and mincemeat pie, prior to tucking into a restorative nap upon the family charpoy whilst the household domestics busy themselves with preparing the immense urns of thickly-sweet, syrupy hot tea with which they must lustrate you upon awakening.

But so be it! The lower classes will have their little jokes at one’s expense, it is the Way of Saturnalia and all of it jolly good fun. We have already had a laugh at Nietzsche’s expense, exposing the risible connection between himself and all things Bonnet, and quite frankly, the very words "Prussian philosopher" can provide sufficient innocent merriment for anyone's purposes.

As for the Billiard-Marker Raymond Roussel, it is his destiny here to powder the Nietzsche’s nose for all eternity, both of them suspended high above the circus audience, plummeting towards the earth at a frightening velocity. Roussel maintains his Gallic sang-froid with his customary grace. In fact, it may truly be said that after an initial, youthful setback, no earthly mishap or reversal ever again disturbed his composure or determination to write the Great French Novel!

To every young person who genuinely burns with a desire to make Art I say — look to Roussel! Look to him who, when asked what he thought of the Great War, remarked only that he had never seen so many men! Study this adept of Cartesian logic, who, when asked by a Parisian friend for some memento of his travels in India, mailed her an electric heater! Reflect upon the sagacity of the author who, when searching for an illustrator for his verse masterpiece, hit upon the brilliant device of employing a detective agency to find a suitable artist!

"I shall reach the heights; I was born for dazzling glory. It may be long in coming, but I shall have a glory greater than that of Victor Hugo or Napoleon … No author has been or can be superior to me … As the poet said, you feel a burning sensation at your brow. I felt at once that there was a star at my brow and I shall never forget it."

Next week : a Snarkalicious and useful New Year’s gift for all my readers! You won’t be disappointed!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 27, Panel 3 … language is the house of the truth of the boojum



Though the Barrister tried to appeal to its pride,
And vainly proceeded to cite

A number of cases, in which making laces

Had been proved an infringement of right.


Judging from both the Barrister’s exasperated demeanour (played here by the Eminent Continental Steamer, Martin Heidegger) and from the general tenor of Lewis Carroll’s verses, the Beaver has no pride worth appealing to. And who can blame her, trapped as she is in a world not of her own making?*

Of course, all of us are trapped in a world not of our own making (probably) and it is at times like this that we might resort to the philosophical musings of the Barrister-Heidegger for further enlightenment concerning any time that we might spend being in this world almost certainly not of our own making :

"We name time when we say: every thing has its time. This means: everything which actually is, every being comes and goes at the right time and remains for a time during the time allotted to it. Every thing has its time."

After reading that, would it surprise you to learn that several philosophers were injured in the production of this Snark Hunt? Moments after this drawing was made, the Beaver savagely mauled the upper ontology of the Barrister-Heidegger!

________________________________

* A common complaint of certain bright young things, those thrill-seeking, rootless cosmopolitans such as the Beaver … a Québécoise wearing an Iberian mantilla, enjoying the echt German music of Heinrich Ignatius Franz von Biber and reading the memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Babur.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 27, Panel 2 …der Schnark des Nibelungen



The Boots and the Broker were sharpening a spade —
Each working the grindstone in turn:
But the Beaver went on making lace, and displayed
No interest in the concern:

The circus-like atmosphere of this Snark hunt has turned dangerous, dangerous to a degree that Lewis Carroll would certainly never countenance! As a pedagogue, Carroll was very aware of the dangers posed by throwing sharp objects at others; he frequently had to remind his young charges to cease throwing sticks and paper clips and buttered scones at each other lest they put out someone’s eye!

The fact that the above-pictured Snarquistadores are all nominally adults does not lessen the culpability of their criminal negligence. The Broker, played here by Erik Satie, is recklessly endangering the very person of the charming Beaver with his lethal spades, whilst the Boots, embodied by the respectably hirsute Charles Darwin, says nothing.

Perhaps the Boots is afraid of Satie? Perhaps he is afraid of remonstrating with this mysterious person who founded his own religion (The Metropolitan Church of Art of Jesus, Leader), who promulgated the use of boredom as a musical motif and who took up smoking to give his physician extra income?

We shall never know for certain, this drawing furnishes as few clues as Carroll’s stanza does. The Mona-Lisa smile of the Beaver, the inscrutable visage of the Satie-Broker, they all hint at some deeper mystery … perhaps the Boot’s odd position is a clue … yes … that may be it … how does he manage to remain so firmly affixed to his trapeze board whilst upside-down?

Is he transfixed there by boredom? Can it be that he is listening to the Broker’s 14-hour long solo masterpiece (which Gavin Bryars described as a sort of "Ring des Nibelungen des pauvres"), a work of music so maddeningly dull and repetitive that the ordinary laws of gravity have simply given up in disgust and gone somewhere else — somewhere less plagued by such boojum-like Vexations?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 27, Panel 1 … the greatest snark on earth!



Then the Banker endorsed a blank cheque (which he crossed),
And changed his loose silver for notes.
The Baker with care combed his whiskers and hair,
And shook the dust out of his coats.

The alert reader will notice that I’ve taken the liberty of transporting Lewis Carroll’s Snark Hunt into a tautological circus ring, replete with circus wagons, circus folk and their circus paraphanelia and even an audience of the requisite Chiricoid and Savinionesque mannequins and homunculi (for the latter proletariat of the surrealist hierarchy, this show, nay, any show at all, is indeed the Greatest Show on Earth!).

The more alert reader will observe that the Baker, played here by Lewis Carroll himself, is engaged in a classic bit of Victorian slapstick, involving a beard and a fork and the dust accumulated in his coat after decades of teaching Christ Church undergraduates. Although Carroll appears clean-shaven for most of this Snark Hunt, it is a little known but useful fact that this is how he looked when he was lecturing: hirsute and rather discombobulated. Any scoffers or killjoys need only refer to the Great One’s own self-portrait.

The most alert reader will immediately spot the utter absurdity of the Banker (played here by Karl Marx) endorsing a blank check and then crossing it, a bit of complex British financial skulduggery involving a stale and phlegmish sight gag redolent of the vaudevillian buffoonery of those other, less hirsute Marxists : Messers Harpo, Chico, Groucho and Zeppo.

But of course, you knew that all along, didn’t you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 26, Panel 4 … boojum of solace



"For England expects — I forbear to proceed:
‘Tis a maxim tremendous, but trite:
And you’d best be unpacking the things that you need
To rig yourselves out for the fight. "

Huzzah! England expects the Bellman to insert his bell into his right eye. The Bellman promptly complies! Certain idle loafers might insinuate that he does so to ignore a signal ordering his withdrawal during the Battle of Copenhagen but the Bellman doesn’t give a fig for such talk. In fact, having lost the use of his right eye in Corsica, the addition of a large bell into the useless socket gives him a certain rakish, clochetic look which has proved quite popular with the ladies, in particular, the lovely Lady Emma Hamilton! Imagine her surprise when she discovered afterwards that the Bellman had bequeathed her to the British nation in a codicil of his will!

But her dismay was nothing compared to that of Lewis Carroll, the author of this very Snark Hunt! Imagine his surprise when he discovered that his amanuensis (and rather louche business manager) Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a maternal great-great-nephew of Admiral Skeffington Ludwidge, upon whose ship HMS Carcass a young midshipman named Horatio Nelson began his storied career … a career which included Nelson’s loss of an eye in Corsica … the disregarding of signals during the Battle of Copenhagen … and even the transferral of a Lady Hamilton to a grateful though perplexed nation.

Simple coincidence? I think not! I think what we have here is a Snark Hunt of staggeringly devious complexity, an insidious cabal hatched forth in the shadowed lair of an occluded Illuminati who will stop at nothing (cue evil laughter) … And so I say to you, gentle reader : steady on there, old chap, stiff upper lip and all that! Remember that whenever he (or she) is confronted by hopeless odds, the True Snark Hunter expects every man to do his duty!

Hip hip hooray! Rum and coke for all ratings on deck!

_______________________________




NB. Cocktails, a collection of D.A. Powell's poetry, has just been published by Luxbooks (scroll down to the next-to-last title). This new translation into German, including the entire English text en verso, is accompanied by cover & interior illustrations by yours truly.

D.A. Powell has a rare gift for pushing language towards its farthest limits without lapsing into academic gimmickry or sentimentality and I genuinely recommend his work … so much so that I must forcefully urge you to spend what little cash you have left in purchasing as many copies as possible of this rather unusual volume. Both Luxbooks and Amazon-Deutschland are offering the book — you could easily spend with twice the abandon! Throw caution to the winds this holiday season, like those Wall Street tycoons upon whose largesse we all depend! Io, Saturnalia!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 26, Panel 3 … into the woods!



"For the Snark’s a peculiar creature, that won’t
Be caught in a commonplace way.
Do all that you know, and try all that you don’t:
Not a chance must be wasted to-day!

Our favorite poet and Eminent Victorian Lewis Carroll has given us the late 19th-century equivalent of certain ubiquitious American psychobabbitries : do all that you know and try all that you don’t.

A peculiar prescription for a peculiar creature, a call of sorts to a half-hearted High Anglican Debauchery aimed at the titillation of the thinking classes. And what titillates the thinking (and unthinking) classes the very most? What is it they dream of, with their eyes wide shut … is it the Female of the Species?

Most likely. And shame on ‘em too, boo hiss boo! Objectifying women with their shameless gaze! These Surrealists, they are a menace to polite society in every city and a blight upon the land in every which way.

They are utterly unlike the respectable, petit-bourgeois Protosurrealist Snark-Hunters whom we see above, scrupulously averting their reifying gaze from La Snarque Nue concealed from them in my forest of lines. Would it surprise you to learn that I have entirely drawn the above with my eyes also firmly shut, trusting only in the animal-instincts of my feral pen to guide me safely through the labyrinth of lines in which the Snark has so cunningly concealed herself?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 26, Panel 2 … cogito ergo snarquo



"To seek it with thimbles, to seek it with care;
To pursue it with forks and hope;
To threaten its life with a railway-share;
To charm it with smiles and soap!

A reiteration of the Snarkic Galdor … a type of verse-charm first overheard by the poet Lewis Carroll whilst sipping his tea and mentally searching for rhymes in the commons room of Christ Church College in the depths of the latter half of the 19th century. No doubt Carroll was puzzled by this sudden outbreak of cryptoskáldic fervour in what was then a bastion of High Church Anglicanism but he was a discreet man and kept his thoughts to himself.

However, I am congenitally incapable of keeping any thoughts to myself! At this very moment I am mentally whirling along certain transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention, as the infamous Hedly Lamar once pensed aloud to the uncomprehending Slim Pickens.

Unlike Slim Pickens, gentle readers, you will easily grasp the essence of my thoughts, which I’ve thoroughly illustrated above. The Snarkic Galdor is baited, literally, with the tempting person of the Baker himself! Lured by his smile and a bar of soap, the unsuspecting Snark will venture underneath the requisite giant thimble and then be trapped there by the quick and concerted action of the Baker’s Fellows!

The Baker’s transient nodes of thought on the matter can only be guessed at. However, thanks to the learned Adam Roberts’ ingeniously cosmic vapors of invention, we now know that the Baker’s earlier polylingual attempts at communication with his fellow B-Boyz (see Page 25, Panel 2) were simply an enunciation of the observation that Humanorum hetaeria es auto (you are yourself the brotherhood of all men). His comrades have taken this generous, fraternal gesture of self-sacrifice on the Baker’s part as carte blanche to proffer him up as living Snark-Bait.

This business of offering oneself up as a bait for Evil must inevitably occupy the whirling, transient thought-nodes of anyone enjoying his tiffin at the aptly-named Christ Church College. Perhaps, as Carroll munched his bread and butter sandwiches and plotted his rhymes, he was entertaining first, second or even third thoughts about his own personal Boojums … or perhaps he was merely biding his time till the invention of the talking-type-wireless with which the ubiquitious Slim Pickens would finally set all of his religious doubts to rest!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 26, Panel 1 … the joy of snarking




"The rest of my speech" (he explained to his men)
"You shall hear when I’ve leisure to speak it.

But the Snark is at hand, let me tell you again!

‘Tis your glorious duty to seek it!


We have already nibbled upon — and spurned! — Beatrice Hatch’s assertion that Lewis Carroll had told her that the word Snark was a portmanteau of Snail and Shark. The etymology of the Snark is an entire Hunt unto itself (excellently summarized by the inestimable Bradshaw of the Future) but it seems that we are running perilously low on bullets, tinned goods and scotch-soaked mosquito netting, or so my faithful shikaris tell me … we had better return to civilization, such as it is, and seek our Snark indoors … such as these Snark Hunters pictured above are doing.

Please observe that these Hunters are relying solely upon their finely-tuned instincts to track down their perilous prey and as usual, everything’s become a hopeless jumble! The afore-mentioned Beatrice Hatch’s semiolinguistic brain-crumbs have joined in an unholy alliance with the semiographic cupcakes of the Belgian pâtissier (and chronophobe) René Magritte to create a novel yet frothy confection! Of course, such half-baked baked-goods would be incomplete without some of that double-plus-good explanatory frosting which the Critics love so; I append an explanatory (and thoroughly plagiarized) morsel here:

"I decided to paint the image of a shark . . . In order for its mystery to be evoked, another immediately familiar image without mystery — the image of a snail — was joined."

Well, there you have it : an Indo-Germanic-Belgo-Anglo-Saxon layer cake of ink and words … I call it Beatrice’s Revenge, for it’s a rather heterogenous and unsettling dish best served cold, perhaps as an after-dinner dessert? Of course, Lewis Carroll’s original photographic bonbon of Miss Hatch was also a bit cloying but certain artists will always indulge their sweet-tooths!



NB. Please, America, do not crush my young nephew Leopold’s already shaken faith in The System — vote early and vote often!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fit the Fourth and the LCSNA … we few, we happy few, we band of snark-hunters

The above page-spread serves as a perfect visual embellishment to my delightful experiences at the LCSNA meeting last Saturday! We see above, in order, a harmless theatrical pratfall, a gathering of urbane galants, a solipsistic-Carrollian-multiverse, some linguistic child’s play and finally, the Harmonious Genius of a SNARK-HUNTER Triumphant O’er the Unruly Debates of the Unenlightened.

A perfect visual allegory for the goings-on in NYC! And for all of this, I owe great thanks to Andrew Sellon and August and Clare Imholtz, for inviting me and giving me the chance to meet and listen to the following …

Jon Scieszka, who’s done a new version of AIW, using the formerly unpublished comps of Mary Blair. The comps are quite good, better, in my opinion, than the finished backgrounds and characters that Disney used in the film, far more expressive and personal. Jon is also the U.S. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a noble cause for which he is perfectly suited. I cannot imagine a child exposed to Jon’s ebullient enthusiasm daring not to read!

• Nancy Willard, children’s author and educator. Nancy, who wrote the award-winning A Visit to William Blake's Inn, talked about the narrative techniques of Carroll and how he made children’s literature more intimate and realistic, both technically and emotionally.

Peter Westergaard, who gave a detailed explanation of how he encoded Carrollian motifs into the structure of his latest opera, Alice in Wonderland. I really enjoyed his music and also the shoptalk, as it were, of a complex process which has so many parallels with what I’m trying to do with this Snark. I am unable to find any samples of this work on the web and if anyone does so, perhaps they could contact me?

I also must recommend the work of Oleg Lipchenko, who showed me a sample of his luscious AIW, and also allowed me to see a dummy of his Humpty Dumpty, which made me seethe a bit with goodnatured envy. I also met Tatiana Ianovskaia, who also is doing some really charming Alice work. Curious that all the illustrators present were Canadian …

In talking with the marvelous Scott Edelman, we both realized that we had been doing work for the same various publishers and magazines (Fantagraphics and Sovereign Media) since the mid 80s, which goes to show how small the publishing industry really is … yikes!

In truth, there was little Snarkian banter all-in-all but I did have the frisson of talking Snark with the poet Matt Demakos at lunch … oh, the decadent, nay, heady thrill of discussing Snarkian anapests, headless and headed, over a meal in Sin City itself!

I also met the genuinely learned Dave Haan, of Stochastic Bookmark, who very generously bestowed upon me several books of oulipian, ‘pataphysical and surrealist nature! The idea of an oulipian translation of Carroll has long intrigued me … Dave may have set in motion events which will irk future Carrollians for centuries to come!

And so, speaking of books, they are the genuine coin of our Snarkian realm. I met Monica Edinger, the educator and author, whose blog deals with the intellectual and emotional transactions between books and children. Although my Snark does jest and hoot and make rude noises at times, there is a serious purpose to all this tomfoolery : to intrigue people — young people especially — enough to further search out, on their own, the various spoors and traces that my Snark leaves behind as it evades its own Hunters!

Next Week : America Elects the Next Leader of the World’s Only Remaining Superduper Power … while I Make a Drawing of a Giant Snail Poised to Take Over and Annihilate Guildford, Surrey!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 25, Panel 3 … when they talk’d of their Raphaels, Correggios & stuff, he shifted his boojum & only took snuff




"’Tis a pitiful tale," said the Bellman, whose face
Had grown longer at every word:
"But, now that you’ve stated the whole of your case,
More debate would be simply absurd.

There comes a time when even poets such as the Talented Mister Lewis Carroll draw a blank, as the saying goes. Yet such deficiencies seem to have not bothered him a jot or tottle in the long run; he simply brewed up a fresh pot of tea, chewed reflectively upon his quid of paan and sooner or later, he would come up with the poetical goods and fend off the Boojums at the door.

However, when an ink-slinging wretch such as I draws a blank, adverse professional consequences can result. Drawing a blank may be suitable behaviour for those blessed artistes who frolic in the Elysian Fields of MOMA or the Tate but for us illustrative hacks bent over our drawing boards in the sweaty back-forty of Dante’s Inferno (Circle 8, Subsection 5, Barrators and Flatulants) such antics are the stuff of which bankruptcies are made of.

When deadlines press and the ol’ brainbox is running on fumes, remember the scuola metafisica’s dictum to draw only that which cannot be seen. The main thing is to keep one's pen busy, just bash on regardless, no thinking required … always bear in mind the words of a certain master debater and politician who once declared that he did not care what the facts were.

Who can argue with that, eh?

_________________________


The Lewis Carroll Society of North America has very kindly invited me to give a talk about this version of the Snark at their next meeting in NYC, October 25th, 2008. For further details, download the indicated PDF in the Meeting Section of the LCSNA site. The event has several other very interesting speakers scheduled and promises to be a rare treat for all concerned. As for myself, I am having Gussie Fink-Nottle-type anxieties of the Market Snodsbury Grammar School+cheap gin+orange juice species, but I'm sure that the good people of the LCSNA know what they're doing under the circs.

_________________________

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 25, Panel 2 … Die kleinsten Schnarken sind die stolzesten



"I said it in Hebrew — I said it in Dutch —
I said it in German and Greek:
But I wholly forgot (and it vexes me much)
That English is what you speak!"

These headless anapaests of Lewis Carroll rollick onwards in their frolicksome procession and who are we to deny their cantering allure? Of course, the essence of an anapaest is the idea of a reversal and what better expresses the idea of reversal than the dawning realization that one is speaking in a language that no one understands? The unfortunate Baker is quite literally going backwards as the sense of what he says is instantly transformed into nonsense by his puzzled auditors.

Snarkologists call this sort of thing the Snarkosocratic Method, a kind of dialectic in which a question is responded to as though it were absolute nonsense. This in turn forces the questioner to endlessly repeat himself until his uncomprehending auditors gradually lose interest and finally go away.

Left alone in his splendidly impenetrable semiolinguistic Fortress of Solitude, the Baker is now free to concentrate his intellectual powers upon himself. Toying with the building-blocks of language and meaning, he will arrive at some sort of Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in It … eventually …

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 25, Panel 1 … Colonel Mustard, in the sitting room, with a blunt boojum



"You may charge me with murder — or want of sense —
(We are all of us weak at times):
But the slightest approach to a false pretence
Was never among my crimes!

False pretences are the bane of modern life or so I’m told. Although Lewis Carroll seems to have composed here an entire poem devolving entirely from the concept of false pretences and all the semiotic and logical heartache they can inflict upon the tender-hearted and tender-brained, in our more louche age the concept of false pretences has inspired instead a steady diet of policiers, bodice-ripping Mills & Boons and true-life confessional serial-killer-self-help-vademeca.

Very well, let the masses have their sensationalist Lewis Carroll, their police gazette Hunting of the Snark! If it’s murder and false pretences they want, let ‘em have it!

The heart of the problem, as I saw it, was to produce a drawing with a maximum of false pretensions and a minimum of actual labor. My eyes fell upon a tattered copy of a magazine, replete with the Finest Truths the American Dollar Can Currently Buy … a magazine whose pages proclaimed the news of a certain artist skilled in the arts of portraiture, whose devotion to their practice was such that they could not bear to paint any more than one face, over and over and over, varying only the sitter’s name and the precise location of the bank in which they deposited the princely sums lavished upon them by an extremely sophisticated clientele.

Gosh! Throwing caution to the winds, I brushed aside my idly gyrating Assamese nautch girl, recklessly purchased an entire sheet of second-grade-fresh bristol board and pushed another quarter into the meter of my steam-driven pencil! Working without respite, I labored to flesh out the Baker’s criminal pretence, multiplying his crypto-Carrollian visage seven-fold!

Huzzah for the critics! In a world of false pretences, who is the menaced assassin and who is the menacing victim now? Look out, New York art-wallahs, here comes a real maverick!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 24, Panel 2 … timeo Snarquae et dona ferentes



"It’s excessively awkward to mention it now—
As I think I’ve already remarked."
And the man they called "Hi!" replied, with a sigh,
"I informed you the day we embarked.

A strange brew: a pastoral melancholy of the gods resurgent, a fête galant of the ancien regime, the reveries of Lewis Carroll and an obscure illustrator.

The Fellowship of the Snark has succumbed to the most delicious ennui, the most languid douceur possible … it is impossible, amidst the heady scent of perfumed bowers and amorous glances, to even speak that hateful word Boojum … far easier for the Boots to nibble on his ladylove’s niobic neck, far easier for the Butcher to lead the gallant company of andromachean mannequins and embryonic homunculi down the verdant lawn towards the wondrous, gilded barge whose pilot, the Bellman, will steer them to the sanctuary of Cythera, that isle of enchantment where all things distasteful softly and suddenly abrade away into their constituent semioglyphs …
________________

Attention U.S. illustrators, photographers and designers: whilst the American public's hit-and-miss attention is focussed on the financial brouhaha in Congress, the Orphan Works Bill is speeding its way to a final vote. This bill is a blunt instrument crafted by various business interests for the purpose of optimizing their legal right to pay creatives as little as possible. Our ability to defend and profit from our copyrights will depend entirely on our financial ability to hire sufficient legal talent to enforce "reasonable diligence" in court(s) after the fact, a hopelessly abstract right indeed! If you wish to contact your congressman and express your displeasure to him or her concerning this bill, go here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 24, Panel 1 … the Bellman never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the Baker



The Bellman looked uffish, and wrinkled his brow.
"If only you’d spoken before!
It’s excessively awkward to mention it now,
With the Snark, so to speak, at the door!
"We should all of us grieve, as you well may believe,
If you never were met with again —
But surely, my man, when the voyage began,
You might have suggested it then?

I submit for your perusal the word uffish in the above lines. Lewis Carroll explained it thus: "it (uffish) seemed to suggest a state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish."

Yowsuh … I shall put it to you that all this Carrollian neologicomania was nothing more than a clever, crypto-linguistic metatheory (hatched, no doubt, in some "scenic" bathing machine) which attempts to explain the Origin of Language in the Human Species by means of the Clochetic Rule-of-Three!

Simply put, the learned Mister Carroll was pointing out, through repeated utterances of neologisms such as uffish and brillig and Boojum, that whatever we tell one another three times eventually does become true, that is to say, we need look no further for any linguistic First Cause than the simple observation that long, long ago, certain sounds became words through mere repetition. We might even say that sound becomes symbol through repetition, or even better, chaos becomes logic through repetition. So much for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything in It! Mister Carroll seems to have whittled it all down to a proper size, easily digestible and suitable for the masses.

Of course, there are always certain idle loafers lounging in every philosophical woodpile, hairshirt-wallahs such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, who dismissed the linguistic and logical implications of Carroll’s Clochetic Rule-of-Three by sniffing (in German, no less!) that it was as if “someone were to buy several copies of the morning paper to assure himself that what it said was true.”

To which we reply: What rubbish! Quelle bêtise! Was für ein Quatsch!
____________________

NB. Needless to say, our prelingual, Adamic ancestors did not read newspapers. They preferred perusing the above drawing and verses, which would have been engraved upon the walls of their semi-Platonic caves. Note carefully the plethora of doors delineated in both. These are the doors of perception, which, if cleansed, would allow everything to appear to the Snark concealed behind each of ‘em as it truly is — infinite! You do realize, don't you, that to these concealed Snarks, we are the concealed infinity behind their doors?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fit Three, Pages 22 and 23 as a Spread … Work is the curse of the inking classes



Overheard in a publisher's office …

An Editor: So, this Snark epic you’re pitching, it’s great but we’d like to suggest some minor changes, nothing that will disturb your artistic integrity, of course.
Ink-stained Wretch: Muffled sigh
An Editor: Everybody's name begins with the letter B which is a nice touch, not too elitist … a few additions perhaps, relevance-wise … Basketball Player … Barista … Business Development Consultant … Bratz®
Ink-stained Wretch: Strangled groan
An Editor: About the author, we’ve googled him and it appears that there is some controversy about his identity. Sort of like Shakespeare, which we think is a neat added uplift viral-marketing-wise … for example, a hotlink, like … who was the real Louis Carroll — Francis Bacon?
Ink-stained Wretch: Incoherent sob
An Editor: Now, correct me if I’m wrong here but I got the impression that by the end of the book the good guy is destroyed by this imaginary animal, the Boojum. This word Boojum, it sounds somewhat foreign … it might give offense so our attorneys have suggested that we use the name Bunbury instead, which is super because it sounds really WASP and nonthreatening, like a fresh doughnut or a nice cozy raincoat. Nobody's burnt down an embassy over a hot doughnut … yet …
Ink-stained Wretch: Effete snarling
An Editor: Plus, we also noticed that it’s a poem, perhaps we should rework that a bit, kids hate real poetry, maybe give it a kind of hip-hop jive-street smack-down feel? That would synergize great with the Basketball Player and the Barista and the Bratz®.
Ink-stained Wretch: Herniated shriek
An Editor: And yeah, we love your drawings, do you do them by hand? They’re so retro which is really in right now except that you do realize that a retro style necessitates a retro fee? We were thinking perhaps a hand-made drawing of a xerox of a fax of a photoshopped picture of an actual check. We've gone over all that with your agent already.
Ink-stained Wretch: Meek purring

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fit the Fourth, Page 23 … Thy Snark, great Anarch! Lets the curtain fall and Universal Darkness buries All



After a successful hunting, one is always left with the remains of the dead, even in Lewis Carroll’s genteel, literary world. In this, the frontispiece to Fit the Fourth, we see the remains of a particularly jolly hunting, stuffed and mounted upon the wall of a certain someone’s hunting lodge.* The Bellman looks particularly splendid and lifelike and for those of us who keep track of such matters, the Snark-is-Eye Leitmotif can be discerned through the looking glass.

Certain folk say that is in bad taste to speak ill of the dead. Others look askance at their being stuffed and mounted upon a wall. Still others abhor those other who look askance. I place myself in the rarefied category of those who loudly proclaim that if the dead are too lazy to do anything for themselves it’s their own look-out and certainly not the business of the government! Harrumph!

Look, look there, at that uppermost head in the middle … why, it’s the Boots-cum-Charles-Darwin … what grotesque sense of humor put him there? Was it one of those Literary Darwinists? — they’re all the rage now! Lurking behind every poem and novel and feuilleton, we find these semiotifetishians who ascribe the most salacious evolutionary motives to every author — and yes, every reader! Oh the times, oh, the customs, when the reader is being read, the author is being authored, and yes … the hunter is being hunted!

I could go on like this for some time now but all this thinkery-inkery is really a bit taxing; I‘d rather be outside in the fresh autumnal air, grouse-hunting from a helicopter or seal-clubbing till midnight or whatever it is that we must do for sport in these oddly unimaginative antinomian times.

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Nota bene! The Lewis Carroll Society of North America has very kindly invited me to give a talk about this version of the Snark at their next meeting in NYC, October 25th, 2008. For further details, download the indicated PDF in the Meeting Section of the LCSNA site. The event has several other very interesting speakers scheduled and promises to be a rare treat for all concerned. As for myself, I am having Gussie Fink-Nottle-type anxieties of the Market Snodsbury Grammar School+cheap gin+orange juice species, but I'm sure that the good people of the LCSNA know what they're doing under the circs.

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*The reader should note that this is the only time in 140 years that an illustrator has dared to depict the interior of a Snark’s lair. Note the threadbare furnishings, cheap wooden flooring and fusty curtains — economy is certainly our Snark’s watchword! I have heard it said that he was once a Park Avenue Snark but now prefers to be known as a Small Town Snark. So be it, one must trim one’s sails to whatever flatulence is being emitted from the Body Politic!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fit Three, Page 22, Panel 3 … Hey-hey, ho-ho, the Baker’s Tale has got to go!



"But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,
In a moment (of this I am sure),
I shall softly and suddenly vanish away —
And the notion I cannot endure!"

The last, fateful words of the Baker-cum-Lewis-Carroll before he is smothered by the inky depths of the night, suffocated by the relentless Amorous Gigantism of Inanimate Things, transfixed by the icy glare of the Snark-Is-Eye lurking in the wardrobe — obliterated, in short, by his memories of the future!

This whole Boojum business is what literary boffins like to call Catharsis, a purging and expelling of unsettling emotions, a process which results in a post-Boojum state of relaxation, mental ease, gleaming white teeth and little or no underarm perspiration. In this state of enlightenment all of one’s troubles softly and suddenly vanish away and one is left with only the minty fresh after-taste of … Boojum-Orientalism!

Boojum-Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Boojum because the Boojum is weaker than the Baker, a doctrine which elides the Boojum’s difference with its weakness. . . . as a cultural apparatus Boojum-Orientalism is all aggression, activity, judgment, will-to-truth, and knowledge … the whole point about this system is not that it is a misrepresentation of some Boojumistic essence — in which I do not for a moment believe — but that it operates as representations usually do, for a purpose, according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting …

All hail the postsemiotic Second-Grade-Fresh-New-World-Order! Aided only by my trusty giant power-packed pen and buckets of thick, reheated cafeteria-style ink, I have deconstructed a Boojum-ridden, prostrate Baker into a resurgent postcolonial Boojum reasserting his alienated Snarkhood and casting aside the dehumanizing typology of the oppressive Victorian bourgeois Snark Hunter … (pauses for breath)

… until that time when that fickle Wheel of Fate turns again and allows a resurgent postcolonial Baker to reassert his alienated manhood and cast aside the dehumanizing typology of the oppressive Victorian bourgeois Boojum … (dabs brow with gin-soaked compresses)

… hurrah for the disappearance of the Author-Function! Hurrah for the justified tyranny of the Reader-Boojum! Hurrah for everybody!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fit Three, Page 22, Panel 2 … Boojum! Boojum! burning bright in the forests of the night, what immortal hand or eye dare frame thy fearful symmetry?



"I engage with the Snark — every night after dark —
In a dreamy delirious fight:
I serve it with greens in those shadowy scenes,
And I use it for striking a light:

The Eminent Victorian Mr. Lewis Carroll well understood the human condition! The difference twixt nonsense and tragedy is but a hairsbreadth at best. Observe the above pictolinguistic Snarkglyph. A certain baker, a maker of cakes and pastries, suffers from nightmares — possibly the result of over-eating his products — which he combats with healthful salads and the nocturnal illumination of phosphorus matches. So far, so good, an eminently plausible scenario without the least taste of Nonsense about it. In fact, it is a commendably sober and salubrious cautionary verse upon the dangers of gluttony!

And yet …

These nocturnal adversaries of which our pistorian hero complains so mightily, these things that go bump in the night, these incubi, night hags and other mares that sit upon one’s chest and pose so stylishly for certain other artists, well, that’s all very well for the likes of the Talented Mister Fuseli, but here at Chez Snark we have simpler tastes perforce — economy is our watchword! Even nightmares cost time and money! Let Messers Ernst and Holiday squander jeroboams of ink and hogsheads of paper upon their champagne-soaked renditions of the Baker’s Dream of the Snark — I cannot!

With a meager drop or two of ink (2nd-grade-fresh, alas, which makes my throat hurt so) and a few scraps of pentimenti (Chianti-stained and still reeking of garlic) I lie upon my tatty charpoy, with both pen and Assamese nautch-girl in my feeble hand and draw, as best as I can, the simple rudiments of the Baker’s Nightmare, that grim Adversary with which he struggles night after night.

I ink a hard-won fork here, pencil in a desperately-needed matchstick there … the simple yet telling domestic detail of the wardrobe drawing nearer … render the Baker’s tear-stained, tattered leaf of Boston lettuce with which he keeps at bay the nocturnal chill … perhaps I even shed a tear into my tumbler of single-malt as I labor but no matter (no one can hear you weep in a modern, soundproofed garret anyway) … for that is the task I have taken upon myself, to draw things just as I see ‘em … and that is the nature of real Tragedy! — to engage with the Snark, every night and every day — on spec …

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fit Three, Page 22, Panel 1 … Art is long, life short; judgment difficult, Boojums transient




"It is this, it is this — " "We have had that before!"
The Bellman indignantly said.
And the Baker replied "Let me say it once more.
It is this, it is this that I dread!

Gosh! This Baker-cum-Lewis-Carroll-wallah really does go on and on about Boojums. Of course, we all know how unwelcome they are and what havoc they can wreak on priceless family heirlooms like forks and hope, but methinks the Baker doth protest too much!

Yes, yes, yes, we’ve heard all of this before, a Boojum is a dreadful thing to contemplate, a Boojum fluoridated my drinking water and a Boojum tampered with my automobile’s brakes … but has the Baker ever gone mano a mano with a teenage daughter? Has the Baker any idea what it is to roll up one’s sleeves and decervellage an American atheist? Has the Baker never crossed swords with a sharp-witted Englishman forced to squander his life and considerable talents as a mere maths tutor whilst blathering absolute nonsense to his young, boojum-like charges?

As for me, pshaw to all that! Yeah, mister, I’m a tough guy! I snap my inky fingers at ‘em, these pesky Boojums, they are but a trifle compared to coming up with some nice, snappy copy for each and every line of The Hunting of the Snark … week after week … year after year … stanza after stanza … panel after panel … oh, god, it is this, it is this that I dread!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fit Three, Pages 20 and 21 as a Spread … a snark in the grass!



Of course, we all know that paranoia is the distilled essence of our postlapsarian times, simply observe this page spread heaped high with its visually corrosive effluvia. We pride ourselves on our supposed ownership of paranoia, the quintessential modernist food additive, the favorite poison of Franz Kafka and Bruce Wayne alike, but such is not the case. We, who live in an era which will eventually be considered the final perfection of the very concept of an ancien regime, must admit that paranoia was also a favorite condiment on Victorian drawing tables.

The Baker, whom we have conclusively demonstrated to be a pistorian doppelganger of Lewis Carroll, has spent these entire two pages wringing his hands in a semi-subjunctive funk over the menace of Boojums. He sees Boojums in his salad, he sees Boojums in his railway carriage, he sees ‘em in his soap dish and he sees ‘em in his sewing kit. Oddly enough, the one place where the Baker never sees Boojums is in the here and now and it is this very suspense which oppresses our souls! Suspense and paranoia, the perfect Victorian bogeymen, nay, Boojums! It was Lewis Carroll’s master stroke to introduce paranoia, dread, fear and loathing into English nonsense verse, into the very inner sanctum of Jolly Olde Escapism but there you have it. Facts are facts, however unpleasant!

I usually pepper my remarks with links to pertinent illustrations and quotations but I dare not this week … I think someone … or something is following me … trying to catch me unawares … mustn’t furnish ‘em with a cybernetic trail to my underground bunker. Remember, trust no one … there are Boojums in the woodpile!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fit Three, Page 21, Panel 2 … this snark is your snark, this snark is my snark



" 'But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again!'
"It is this, it is this that oppresses my soul,
When I think of my uncle's last words:
And my heart is like nothing so much as a bowl
Brimming over with quivering curds!

The crossing of international frontiers whilst engaged in the hot pursuit of a Snark is no excuse for scofflawyery or other antisocialism. We see here a young Surrey fellaheen, a Baker-disguised-as-Lewis-Carroll by trade, who is preparing his claim for refugee status on the grounds of Boojum persecution. Rendered supine by his well-documented apprehension of meeting a Boojum through no fault of his own, he remains a-bed to conserve precious forensic evidence, ie. decervellage and involuntary dairy-product substitution of major organs. His parents bid him a tearful, wooden goodbye. His uncle, a Major General doubling in the role of Psychopomp-cum-coyote (thus saving this artist considerable ink and labor), carefully peruses a Customs and Border Protection Declaration Form …

1. Declare all fetishes, such as smiles, soap, forks, etc., that you might have on your person for the purpose of hunting Snarks. Please have them unpacked and ready for inspection upon your arrival. The time for observation is limited and we mustn’t hold up others!
2. Notify the authorities if you are approached by anyone offering to distort the relative proportions of your surroundings. Any illicit trafficking in the amorous gigantism of the inanimate world, whether voluntary or not, may cause permanent semiotic confusion.
3. Please stay in line. Running into another line, or enjambment, might cause injury, disfigurement or even loss of life and limb. All lines should be end-stopped and masculine rhymed as befits true English nonsense.

And to where is our Baker emigrating, you might ask? Perhaps, like the late, great Hedly Lamarr, he is fleeing this poem for another, hailing a hansom cab (with ugly driver) and demanding to be taken out of this stanza to a less paranoid quatrain … where your wretched refuseniks of tired masses huddle to be free, tally ho!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fit Three, Page 21, Panel 1 … And did those snarks in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?



("That's exactly the method," the Bellman bold
In a hasty parenthesis cried,
"That's exactly the way I have always been told
That the capture of Snarks should be tried!")

Oh, you silly, mad, impetuous boy of a Bellman, of course you’ve heard it before! Your sense of exactitude may be lacking but as we shall demonstrate, that is mere subterfuge! In fact, our Bellman has a cunning plan … designed to cloak the manicheaen dichotomy of his cryptognostic brainbox with something completely different!

The Bellman’s memory of the Baker’s Snark-Hunting Method (see last week’s verse) has been divided, like William Pitt or George Bush, into two portions to conceal his heretical, dare we say, even paganistic proclivities …

The outer, more orthodox memory is derived from childhood memories of Sunday morning sermonizing at the ol’ vicarage, to wit, Hebrews 12 : 17 …

"For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears."

However, there is another, more pertinent memory lurking in the wings, a happier memory of family sing-alongs around the parlour piano, to wit, some verses from that favorite Victorian ballad, The Mistletoe Bough …

They sought her that night, they sought her next day,
They sought her in vain when a week passed away.

Nothing much to see here*, folks — until one remembers that the mistletoe is an ancient element of that paganism which was uprooted entirely by the orthodox Christianity which the Bellman supposedly espouses with his first, hebraic memory!

Say it ain’t so, Bellman! Deny, if you can, that what we have here, in this Snark Hunters’ recipe of "seeking-thimbles-care-forks-hope-railway-share-smiles-soap" is nothing less than a Celtic pagan’s verse charm, an Old English galdor in fact, cleverly concealed behind some monotheistic prattle! But he cannot deny, he cannot say it ain’t so, he stands silent.

And so, it is with heavy heart (and light kidneys) that we must unmask the Bellman and show him as he really is — an unrepentant henotheist! All this versified fancypants talk of seeking Snarks is just old-fashioned pagan charm-making — by jove, it’s plain witchcraft! Deny it all you can, Bellman, but shame on you, the fictional creation of a clergyman’s son, for your heathen ways. You and your cabal of backsliding, snark-worshipping, Anglo-Saxon cryptoskálds are found out at last! Go now, skulk in your sordid oak groves …

… How on earth did they find me out, you wonder, from whence comes this prosecutorial zeal? By Belenos, what is this, the Spanish Inquisition?
— ha, ha — nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

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* There are those quibblers who will insist upon the The Mistletoe Bough's publication date of 1884 rendering null and void all manner of thoughts concerning the influence of Old English poetry upon Lewis Carroll, and in particular, the general, pre-Christian, Northern European penchant for conflating linguistic structure with cosmological structure. I do not know whether the ballad has an older antecedent (I suspect it does, simply because I wish it so) but I do know that Carroll's fascination with linguistic world-play is undeniable and has deep roots in English culture. In addition, I cannot for the life of me remember to whom I must attribute the above Biblical and balladic Snarkological theories to … various pseudonymic postings upon the Lewis Carroll forums to whom I owe great thanks.

There are also those inquisitorial types who will point out that the premise of all of the above theorizing is the precise opposite of last week's theorizing upon the same critical Eighth Stanza. To them I must reply, with all the hauteur and superciliousness I can muster at such short notice — belgium, man, belgium!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fit Three, Page 20, Panel 2 …swept away!



" 'You may seek it with thimbles — and seek it with care;
You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
You may charm it with smiles and soap —' "

Do not mistake this infamous stanza as a magical refrain or prescription designed by Lewis Carroll to assist the B-Boyz in their Snark hunt, nothing could be further from the truth. Such misthinking is an anthrosemiotic bogeyman put forth by certain academics & philosophes of the Sir James Frazer ilk, Cheapside tailors peddling "ready-made suits" for their naked and the dead.

Consider instead the internal Mind of this poem (yes, there are such boojums), which lives a life independent of its creator, its inhabitants & even its readers. All works of art have these primeval Minds, each according to its national character. The Mind of this poem, being English, roams the midsummer nights daubed in woad, speaks in runes at high tea, shares small beer with the Mind of the Domesday Book and Prospero’s Books in the Mermaid Tavern, and dosses behind hedges with the Mind of Bradshaw’s Railway Guide, a direct descendent of Achilles’ Shield presently down on her luck.

Before you can voice your objections, I must interject — pshaw! Be unperplexed, dear reader! — the Snark and the Mind of The Hunting of the Snark are not the same bestiole. The latter is a deliberate fiction bandied about by Lewis Carroll. The former is the Art behind the fiction — a magic which the Muses have excused from the lie of being truthful.

Oh, ye of too much faith! Can’t you see that all your seeking and hunting and threatening and charming, that all of your sacrifices are meant for you, you alone, that they serve only to distract you from the truth? We heap up our sacrificial relics at the feet of the Mind of the Snark: the thimbles, the cares, the forks and hope, the railway shares, the smiles and soap, all that Victorian bourgeois clutter mouldering in our mental attic — for ourselves only!

Pack up your smiles and soap, abandon all forks and hope, ye überliterati! Repent and understand at last that the Hunting of the Snark is a robinsonade (the mysterious island from whence all Nonsense springs) and that the Mind of the Snark is its pagan god-chieftain at whose feet we pile gifts useful to no one but ourselves.
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NB. Thanks to Doug Howick for unearthing The Head of a New Zealand Chief … the etymological plot thickens and in my ‘umble opinion there is much more than meets the eye in this illustration’s cutline. And if you cannot discern the difference twixt Art and Fiction, well, that’s your own lookout.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Everywhere man is born free & everywhere man is on holiday



Dear readers, this Snark Hunt must pause for a week whilst we regain our strength by taking the waters (and beers) at Festung Schnark-Sud, ie., the family grange in Virginia. To those who need a quotidian dose of thinkery, I recommend Adam Robert's superb blog. To those with an etymological infestation, Goofy is your man. And finally, I recommend the occluded 'pataphysician, nnyhav, for all other cogitations and flanneries.

Please note the above photograph; some folks say that the peacock is a common cinematic stand-in for boojums. Yow!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fit Three, Page 20, Panel 1 … what is it men in SNARK do require? The lineaments of Alimentary Desire



"He remarked to me then," said that mildest of men,
" 'If your Snark be a Snark, that is right:
Fetch it home by all means — you may serve it with greens,
And it's handy for striking a light.

It is an undeniably Gradgrindish Fact that of all the commentaries which I’ve made on this Hunting of the Snark, the most popular by far was the Assamese Snark Curry. Obviously, my readers possess the good taste to delight in the pleasures of both the chase and the table.

The flavor of Snark, being animal, vegetable and mineral all at once, lends itself to all manner of cookery and here at Chez Snarque, we dine on snark in every season and think nothing of it — it is the original slow-food and since the Snark is a beast easily found everywhere, its carbon foot print is the lightest imaginable! The following recipe perfectly captures the flavor and ambience of freshly-caught snark in its South Asian incarnation — you won’t be disappointed!

South Indian Snark Fry
• Fetch to home by any means possible (palanquin, scooter-rickshaw, forkéd stick) approx. 2 lbs. Snark fillets. If your fishmonger has no Snark, use any skinless, boneless, firm-fleshed fish fillets such as tilapia, cod, catfish. Perfectly fresh soft-shell crabs are widely considered to be the best approximation of Snark.
• 2 tablespoons of ground coriander, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper and as much ground red chili (cayenne) as you care for
• A half-cup of grated onion
• 3 cloves of garlic, grated
• Two tablespoons of vegetable oil
• Sufficient flour to dredge the fillets, a mixture of one-half all-purpose plain flour, one-half corn meal

Combine the spices, grated onion, grated garlic and oil in a non-reactive bowl, then place the snark fillets inside the bowl, making sure that the fillets become thoroughly coated with the mixture. Let stand (refrigerated) for at least an hour or two. When ready to cook, gently dredge the coated fillets in the cornmeal-flour mix, taking care that the onion & spice mix remains on the fillets. Fry them in a pan with sufficient oil at high heat. The crust should be golden brown and if done speedily will not be at all greasy. Serve immediately.

You may indeed serve it with greens such as a simple garden salad. You may also fetch it home in the company of a thoroughly chilled crisp India pale ale. You may even use it for striking a light along with some lime pickle. But if your Snark fry be a Boojum, then just softly and suddenly vanish away … and let that Boojum do the washing-up for a change!

Onward, with forks and hope — to the table!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fit Three, Pages 18 and 19 as a Spread … and by this Snark you may contemplate the variation of the 23 letters



Amidst the spread of these pages, we are lost in the gutter but shall look to the stars

We are drawing the pictures of the pictures of the drawing

We are reading the poem of violent death reduced to errant nonsense

We are tyrannized by the nostalgic gigantism of the nursery room

We are traveling steerage in a well-snark’d ship of fools

We are the intralapsarians buoyed by the avuncular patter in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral of the very model of a modern Major-General

In sum, we are hunting a snark … lest a snark hunt us.

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NB. A propos of all things Snark, we must take note of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, whose recent opinion regarding the judicial status and disposal of Guantanamo Bay detainees was a stern rebuke to the Clochetic Rule of Three. Whilst the chattering classes harrumph-harrumph and golly-gee-whiz over the audacity of this sudden effloresence of symbolic logic (and invariably describe the Bellman as a madman or worse), the more pensive amongst us will think how it must feel to have one's legal and corporeal fate rest upon the mercy of powerful, humorless men who have just been publicly ridiculed by a well-read, Carrolliphile jurist.

We hunt the Snark for sport lest the Boojum drive us mad in earnest …

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fit Three, Page 19, Panel 3 … Family & Kinship Patterns of 19th-Century British Yahoos: Avuncular Boojumery?



"A dear uncle of mine (after whom I was named)
Remarked, when I bade him farewell —"
"Oh, skip your dear uncle!" the Bellman exclaimed,
As he angrily tingled his bell.

Yes, yes, yes, that’s all very well, dear reader … aren’t you clever to have remembered that Lewis Carroll’s devoted colleague, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was named after his dear uncle, Robert Wilfred Skeffington (gesundheit) Lutwidge.

I also know that you have made arrangements to force your attentions upon some local chorus girls and impress upon them the coincidence of the Snark’s origins; how Lewis Carroll commenced that poem’s composition in the town of Guildford on July 18, 1874 — the precise time and place where Dodgson himself was playing the role of "dear uncle" whilst nursing a terminally ill, tubercular nephew.

But there’s more. While going through an old dustbin the lid flew off and you emerged clutching the proof positive of an avuncular trifecta : a dog-eared account of dear uncle Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge being fatally wounded by a lunatic armed with a large rusty nail, the point of which had been recently sharpened in anticipation of its lethal purpose.

Enough of these dear uncles and these dear readers! It's this defective pen of mine, it will not draw uncles properly — curse these cut-rate penmongers! This hand-me-down drawing of a telegram of a newspaper clipping of a photograph of a simulated second-hand uncle will have to do for now … at least until that time when all our "dear uncles", like laughter, are doomed to disappear.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fit Three, Page 19, Panel 2 … my object all sublime, I shall achieve in time, to make the boojum’s fit the crime




"I skip forty years," said the Baker, in tears,
And proceed without further remark
To the day when you took me aboard of your ship
To help you in hunting the Snark.

The story so far … there once was a Snark … but it will be a Boojum, alas!

The Baker is suffering from what we now know to be angst. Once upon a time we would have pinned the label of big, fat crybaby upon him but these are dangerously litigious times for us thought-criminals.

Boojum-angst was first used as a legal defense by the Baker’s legal counsel, the Barrister, AKA Martin Heidegger, in his seminal brief (naughty boy) : Sein und Zeit. He excused the Baker’s regression into a second childhood with the then-novel defense of angst, which he explained as an objectless and generalized dread occasioned by the growing presence of Nothing. The boojum, a nonexistent being, fit this description nicely and the Barrister won an acquital for his client on the grounds that he was an idiot anyway. We shall see more of the Barrister’s weasel-skills in Fit the Sixth.

From whence comes this fashion to label all things boojum in the German language? Angst, schadenfreude, strafe (straffen), weltschmertz — all of ‘em teutonic and hardly a laugh in the lot. May we quote the poet Heinrich Heine (finally getting some good reviews in the notoriously anti-Heine NYT) on this subject :

"… the Germans have the curious custom of always attaching a thought to whatever they do.”

Schnitzel for thought, indeed! All it needs is this mustard-like condiment, from the cupboard of the truly inspired and genuinely missed American illustrator, Edward Gorey :

"I have a dumb theory that a creative piece of art is only interesting if it purports to be about something and is really about something else."

Milord, the defense rests in its usual, pretzel-like position. Like the Baker, at play in the ontic fields of the lord, to all the above charges of unlawful boojumizing and multiple neologizing we shall plead : ignorance, madam, pure ignorance. Or in the very best Clochetic-cum-Orwellian manner : ignorance, madam, double-plus pure ignorance.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fit Three, Page 19, Panel 1 … having placed in my mouth sufficient boojum for three minutes’ chewing



"My father and mother were honest, though poor —"
Skip all that!" cried the Bellman in haste.
"If it once becomes dark, there's no chance of a Snark —
We have hardly a minute to waste!"

Achtung bibliophiles! Avoid any authors unwilling to suffer their own characters’ fate. Eschew the likes of Samuel Beckett and whomever was behind the Book of Job, spurn the fictions of Dante and the Marquis de Sade, and turn instead to more generous raconteurs such as Lewis Carroll. Carroll’s sudden referral to childhood in this stanza provides some therapeutic respite to the Baker’s boojum-anxiety complex.

The Baker has responded positively to this authorial auto-suggestion and has infantilized both himself and his parents into an easily digestible and perfectly oedipal size, as we can see above in this fine drawing. I will not tell you which of the several nursery room objects are the Baker’s parents, I’ll leave that to you to work out! Just place one after another into your mouth whilst cooing and gurgling.

The more indolent reader might be wondering how this authorial auto-suggestion works. In short, the Baker "hears" his author’s narration and description, etc., as a voice inside his head. Naturally, he has told no one else of this phenomenon. Please note that I have chosen to provide the Baker with the physiognomy of Lewis Carroll himself and thus created an epistomological escape hatch (or trap door) of sorts for the Baker, bless his farinaceous heart.

With all this in mind, the Baker is enjoying a rich and satisfying internal life these days. He goes through the motions of a Snark hunt with his fellows whilst simultaneously believing himself to be a 42-year old Oxford mathematics don plotting the destiny of a hermetic and even pseudo-gnostic Snarkian Multiverse (similar in nature though larger in scope to Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius) which revolves and devolves and evolves solely and utterly upon a nonexistent entity which only he can comprehend — and which only he, the Baker, will apprehend!

The infinite melancholy of a long-ago summer’s day in Guildford, compressed into the infantile desire to say-that-which-is-not and to-read-the-thing-that-is-not … this Snark could be bounded in a nutshell and still count himself king of infinite space! It’s all child’s play for the talented Mr. Carroll.
___________________________

NB. The erudite Bradshaw of the Future has returned to his etymological Snark hunt and has bagged several splendid specimens, worthy of your perusal! The antecedents of Snark ramify themselves endlessly, it seems, but I know that BOTF will not be put off by their unusual habits and foreign customs, so alien to our modern ways … sniggering in public, sniting on the bus, snirting other snarks in mixed company, etc. Just look the other way and don’t make eye contact, you know how they are …

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fit Three, Page 18, Panel 2 … ecce pistor!




When at length he sat up and was able to speak,
His sad story he offered to tell;
And the Bellman cried "Silence! Not even a shriek!"
And excitedly tingled his bell.
There was silence supreme! Not a shriek, not a scream,
Scarcely even a howl or a groan,
As the man they called "Ho!" told his story of woe
In an antediluvian tone.

Martin Gardner, in his indispensible Annotated Snark, cites Eric Partridge’s assertion that the Baker’s use of antediluvian is "one of those rare instances in which Carroll uses a standard word in a completely whimsical sense". Gardner also notes the opposing theory of antediluvian being used as a foreshadowing of the Baker’s tears-to-come.

However, you and I know that he’s speaking Adamic, the universal language spoken before the Flood and the dispersal of tongues at the Tower of Babel. This antediluvian language, designed to facilitate Edenic communication between discreet data points in a secure and lossless environment (think FORTRAN or KVIKKALKUL), remains the Baker’s preferred flavor of postlapsarian blarney*. If we waxed poetic, we might even say it’s the angelic language in which animals dream and children babble when the adults are gone to bed.

But we’ll wax not, as yet, for deep, deep, deep underneath the surface, the Baker’s very shallow. Bless his simple Adamic soul but he’s just a Chomskian idiot-savant suffering from untreated postdiluvian stress syndrome. He sees the sun going down and the world spinning round and he macadamizes a postmodern, postlapsarian, postdiluvian and postbabelian man of sorrows on the comeback trail.

As for the Baker’s curious epithet of Ho; it is a typical bit of Snarkolinguistic bandinage, an orientalist snarkwallah’s reference to the eponymous language spoken in eastern India and Bangladesh, a language whose word for man is ho.

The word, the language, the man — all together now — tally ho!
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* The reconstruction of the Adamic language is a wholesome pastime for the protosurrealist insomniac. Its a priori ontological perfection requires an infinite vocabulary in which every word is a homophone of the other. All conjugations in the infinitive, all declensions nominative, no prepositions needed since every speaker is every thing and thus consubstantial, no interrogatives since they imply a lack of faith, etc. Might we not conjecture that Adamic survives today as the uneasy silence between phonemes?