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.
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.