Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Master and Snarkarita

If you've arrived here from Feral Press or Facebook, searching for the Martin Olson's Encyclopaedia of Hell poster seen above, you can order it here from CafePress. More details about the book & ordering information are available on my AVAILABLE FROM THE ARTIST page on the upper right.

All profits from the sale of this poster will be applied towards the exorcism of my drawing board and a much-needed moistening of my temples with a poultice of twenty-dollar bills soaked in gin and Rose's Lime Juice … any Shabana Azmi look-alikes are encouraged to apply for the position …

And if you've arrived here looking for some more sedate action from my GN version of The Hunting of the Snark … why, here it is also …

Strange, creepy creatures are the bane of modern life and both Lewis Carroll and myself have seen fit to embellish this crucial stanzel of The Hunting of the Snark with a surfeit of ‘em. Suitably alarmed, the Butcher has darted into a convenient telephone booth and re-emerged in the guise of St. Anthony, the father of Christian monasticism and more to our purposes, a veritable bit of human fly-paper for all manner of hallucinatory things that go bump in the night.

The attentive reader will remember that the very first stanzel of this Snark involved a direct quotation from Mathias Grünewald’s version of St. Anthony, a quotation which involved a fair bit of mirror-work and the cramming of a very hirsute and oddly fey Saint into the sturdy 19th-century country-squire’s boots of the Boots, AKA Charles Darwin. This saint-bashing mania of mine is shared with many other artists; throughout the ages, we picture-folk (or Bildervolk, gesundheit) have mass-produced St. Anthonys by the bucketful. Even Henry Holiday joined in the fun, establishing an Antonine precedent for Fit the Fifth which even the religiously fastidious Lewis Carroll approved!

From whence comes this Antiantonimania? Are Salvador Dali (the Norman Rockwell of Surrealism), Hieronymus Bosch, Feliciens Rops and Gustave Flaubert all victims of a sudden outbreak of religious fervor? Or is it all just an excuse to draw legions of naked women and creepy circus sideshow freaks mobbing a defenseless old man in a desert?

To be sure, there is a certain visual, even Luis Buñuel kind of appeal to such a proposition but nonetheless, dear reader, it’s just not very sporting, is it? The genuinely Christian thing to do is to insist that all these unreal phenomena besetting a very real person are promptly replaced with a new and improved denful of very real phenomena besetting a patently unreal person! The latter personage would be, of course, our Snark, and I’m certain that you, the readers and thus the ultimate — and only! — reality of this poem, will do a splendid job of standing in as the former.

So, that’s all settled, is it? I’ll go and have a nice lie-down while you slip into your new Snark-baiting role. Just study the above drawing very carefully and do whatever Mister Bosch says. He does have an active imagination and if anyone asks you why this is so, hint vaguely that it’s just that Hieronymo's mad againe.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Last Snark at Marienbad (The Snark of Dr. Morel)

One can say what one likes about Lewis Carroll, one can say what one likes about The Hunting of the Snark, one might even cast aspersions at Carroll’s secretive doppelgänger, C.L. Dodgson, but one cannot say that any of the above ever ignored the intellectual and literary ramifications of what we now call common, garden-variety Stupidity.

The above stanzel is proof positive of all of the above blather, 100-proof positive, I should think, with all its various pictolinguistic bits and pieces denoting a thorough inability on the part of its protagonists to perform even the simplest of arithmetical tasks.

We know that C.L. Dodgson, in his capacity as a maths tutor at Christ Church, had many opportunities to complain to his associate Carroll of the genuine dunderheadedness of most of his pupils. Many of these young scholars, being scions of the British upper classes, abjured all abstract thought whatsoever and devoted themselves instead to the less mentally taxing pastimes of drinking, gambling — and yes! — hunting!

Can we venture to guess that Carroll, sympathizing with and perhaps even assisted by the unlucky Dodgson, undertook an elaborate scheme of passive-aggressive revenge, composing a cunning lampoon which in its essence is nothing more than a verse epic dedicated to the Stupidity of the Hunting Classes, a Victorian Dunciad, so to speak?

We know that the entire Hunting of the Snark is predicated mostly upon the Clochetic Rule-of-Three, a shining example of logical inanity. We know that this poem’s very title admits of two, very opposite meanings: either a hunting for a snark, or rather, a hunting undertaken by a snark! In either case, a nitwittery is produced since the Snark is unreal and thus unavailable for hunting in any sense of the word.

Furthermore, Dodgson’s fellow Oxonian, the inestimable Dr. Johnson, himself noted that no man but a blockhead ever wrote but for money*, a pertinent observation in light of the fact that Carroll wrote all his literary works solely for his and his child-friends’ pleasure.

And so, in the most approved clochetic manner, we will triangulate from all of the above and arrive at the inescapable conclusion that the very Genius of Stupidity thoroughly permeates every phoneme of the Snark! We’ll then fritter all of the above’s wig by quickly dredging it in Jules Renan’s oh-so-Gallic remark that he never understood the concept of infinity until he contemplated the stupidity of the human race, in particular, the blockheaded stubbornness of those sportsmen who persist in chasing an infinitely receding prey!

The result is a infinitely-toasted-cheese sort of thing of utterly mixed metaphors which lets you, dear reader, off a certain hook entirely, for the fact that you have followed this ungainly argument so far is double-plus-proof-positive that you’re a Genuine Smartie and no Thickie at all! Huzzah for good breeding and the finest education that Mummy and Daddy’s pelf can buy, eh?

Now, join with Messers Carroll, Dodgson and myself in a spot of jolly good schadenfreude as we observe the Beaver and Butcher chase after those mysterious semioglyphs of numbers and language which puzzle them so. Ignore their tears, please, pay them no heed for they are but the tears of a clown!


*A statement itself proved true by the Clochetic Rule of Three in light of its triple-negative syntax! Darn these pesky liberals and their sin tax!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bring Me the Snark of Alfredo Garcia

Great news! Jacques Derrida says that my GN version of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark is "super cool and fresh!" Meanwhile, the commentary continues …

Ladies and gentlemen, please gather around this small table which I just happen to have upon me, and pay attention, you might get lucky. The name of the game is Hunting the Snark and today we’ll try to find a Jubjub Bird, a beast just like the Snark but even better.

Finding one is child’s play, especially for a smart operator such as you. Simply lay your money down and watch the origami cranes closely, the clue you seek is beneath one of them. Pay no attention to the young gentleman with the fieldstone head and vacant expression, he’s a Polynesian exchange student studying mid-19th-century British abattoir practices and he has nothing to do with me, I assure you. The epithet of shill worries him not, it's idle speculation and his empty head is entirely innocent of such nefarious thing-um-a-jigs.

Using the Clochetic Rule of Three (known to polite society as the Logician’s Variation Upon Three Card Monte) the Butcher has already won a Jubjub Bird, the lucky guy! Alas, his fellow gamester, the plucky Beaver, has lost count. Last week’s byzantine labyrinth of puzzling quills and Poes and desks and birds has befuddled her pretty head; and she now is, as they say, a flummoxed castorian incapable of reckoning the amount of anything in this farrago of pictoversical sleights-of-hand.

She is, in popular parlance, a mark, and as such, quite appealing to homi-and-femicidal beasts such as Jubjub Birds! In fact, her dizzy-headed state of pixilation is the only correct strategy to defeat this nefarious, thimblerigged scheme! Dispossessed of all common sense, proudly ignorant of all logical acumen, she blithely chooses the closest origami crane — et voilà — all the fluttering, flying, flittering semioglyphs concealed therein are freed at last!

Yes, dear readers, it’s all rather zenlike, most confidence games are, you know. Truth and deception, sense and nonsense, all enfolded upon themselves into origamic puzzles which, when upended, release into the wild the crypto-Jubjubian fledgings of raw meaning.

And if all the above crosstalk wracks your poor brains, then beware the Jubjub, my son, and watch the telly instead, it do the Snark in different voices!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Snark fishing in America

We continue our GN version of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark thusly …

When Lewis Carroll sat down at his writing desk to compose his masterpiece of passive-aggressive nonsense, The Hunting of the Snark, he often chewed reflexively upon his quill pen as he pondered what effect his words might have upon future readers.

Words, words, words! They have naughty bits which we cover up in polite company, they have sad bits to make the grownups cry, and sometimes, if you push ‘em together just so, their silly bits will make the kiddies giggle!

Of course, every word needs a voice and the above stanzel’s assemblage of words, birds, quills, desks and notes is stuffed with ‘em. Alas, poor Beaver, chronically outgrabed and all those voices in your head to boot! One of them, sounding suspiciously like the Mad Hatter, is wondering why a raven is like a writing-desk? Another (rather familiar) voice is telling her that this is so "because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front". Yet another voice (craftily mimicking Sam Lyod) is telling her that the correct answer is simply that Poe wrote on both. There’s even a voice chiming in about them both having quills dipped in ink.

These words are all meant to answer those other arrangements of words which more evolved thinkers call riddles, that is to say, an augural flock of words meant to signify something despite themselves. Replete with all the requisite overtones of linguistic juju, riddles were once all the rage in the Good Old Days. They served as social icebreakers for all manner of homicidal and imaginary beasts such as sphinxes, trolls, dragons and even — yes! — Jubjub Birds!

I shall cue the evil laughter now for our jolly little metafictional cabal stands revealed at last! Outgrabe all you like, Miss Beaver, but the bird you are really riddling here is no mere raven, it is the Urschreckvogel, the dreaded Jubjub itself!

And so, dear reader, can you enlighten the Beaver as to why a Jubjub is like a writing desk? Simple, you reply — because none has an o in it (pace Huxley). Then run as fast as you can before all these birds wreak their Hitchcockian vengeance upon your person!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Snarked and Confused

You asked for it, you got it — a 3-plus year-long exegesis of my GN version of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark … here's today's episode …

Another crypto-scholastic cri de coeur from the Subtle Don, Lewis Carroll, cunningly palmed off by him as the Butcher’s usual Snark Hunting blather. For the benefit of readers who may have just emerged from the washroom and are discreetly eying the exit whilst wondering what all the ruckus is about, scholasticism was an insidious bit of Continental thinkery brought over to England in unlicensed bathing machines and then peddled discreetly in certain no-questions-asked academic circles frequented by the finest medieval chatteratti of the day.

It was advertised as strong medicine for all manner of mental boojums, in particular, the disconcerting lapse between how we think things should be and how we actually find them to be. Such lapses seemed to plague the rook racked and river-rounded purlieus of Oxford in particular, so much so that Gerard Manley Hopkins found it necessary to work his inimitable brand of poetical juju upon the place …

… these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;
Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller …

The unvaricose Oxonian unraveller that Hopkins is rhapsodizing is none other than Duns Scotus, the professional theologian and fiendish disputant of all things trinitarian. If his name is not one which is lightly bandied about your dinner table, fret not; his Warholian fifteen minutes will be over before you have even finished your dessert!

This will be a simple transmogrification. We liberally apply several gallons of india ink recycled from an obscure Surrealist travel poster atop the hapless Duns; then we accessorize him with an appropriate chapeau and finish by triumvirating him.

Gosh, dada was right, the hat does make the man! Our rather pasty-faced theologian is now become a strapping, young specimen of a Snark Hunter flexing his rhetorical muscles with a showstopping visual demonstration of the Clochetic Rule of Three!

Yes indeed, gentle readers, this successful demonstration of a tautological trinity of Jubjubs is proof positive that wishful thinking trumps logic as far as Snark Hunting goes. Henceforth, please keep your minds empty and your beliefs in an upright and locked position for the road to hell is paved with good intentions.*

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Snarks of Navaronne

The story of this GN version of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, so far …

An Oxford don, known to the authorities as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, has been apprehended whilst soliciting various persons whose names begin with the letter B, urging them to participate in what he calls his "hunting of the snark". When pressed for more substantial details, the self-styled Mr. Lewis Carroll claimed that he had absolutely no idea what it all meant and that furthermore, he was himself being harassed by a certain Jubjub, a person of unspecified origin with possible links to a notorious organized-poetry syndicate.

And now …

A screaming comes across the sky. Somewhere a Jubjub bird was wreaking havoc on some other, less fortunate part of Oxford but the Butcher wasn’t buying it. Not anymore. The Bellman had warned him long ago. Be a man, he’d said, three times, like he really meant it … but that was long ago … and the Bellman was gone.

They were all gone, it was just him and the Beaver. And she’d lost it way back in Fit the Fourth, in that freakshow scene with that black lace and the Barrister just watching her … just watching her blow her mind.

It was all up to him now. Deep cover, total deniability, just play it straight, just take it easy and I’ll handle it from there, Carroll had said.

Sure, take it easy, try taking it easy when the anapaests are hammering your skull like jackhammers and the crosshatching makes your skin crawl. Yeah, take it easy while every two-bit, punk academic with a jones for a quickie dissertation topic takes a cheap shot at you. Like the Butcher needed a college degree to know that it was all absurd, that it was all just nonsense and that there was a Boojum waiting at the end of the road.

The Beaver said something incomprehensible in Japanese and an origami crane fluttered by. It’s time, the Butcher thought to himself.

Without thinking at all, with his mind totally empty of any thought save one, the Butcher raised his hand, slowly at first and then faster, ever faster; he raised it as high as he could, even higher than the Other’s hand, that disembodied hand with which they had all grappled every night after dark, as high as that hand which was now turning and pointing towards him and the Butcher thought to himself, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on, and then it was over; he’d already forgotten the question and it was too late, the Other’s hand had passed him over — again!

“Like a dunce!” the Butcher said, it was as if the shame of it must outlive him.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Snarkimental Education

And so it wends on, wearily but bravely, our panel by panel by panel commentary upon my GN version of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark …

Go ahead, think of your own childhood. Was it a labyrinthine Hunt for an indefinable Snark? Was it an interminable stretch of anapaestized nonsense? Did you secretly wish that you could just softly and suddenly vanish away? Of course, Victorian childhood was an entirely different matter. The uprearing and education of children in those days was a Gradgrindish matter of Facts and just the Facts, harrumph, harrumph!

Look here! The Beaver and Butcher are busy at their lessons right now, this is a perfect opportunity to observe how one can transmute Nonsense into Facts in an approved pedagogical manner with minimal expense to the taxpayer.

The Butcher is an idiot man-child, we can safely ignore him for the nonce but the Beaver is a tougher nut to crack, as we educators like to say! She seems to be constructing an origami crane according to the diagram being sketched out upon the squeaky slate by a disembodied hand. Referring to the previous stanzel of last week, we see the same hand employed with its fellow hand in the casting of a shadow, the shadow of an immense and threatening bird, the dreaded Jubjub!

The overly excitable amongst us might think that all of this is some species of symbolic play which you rather fancy, but Mister Gradgrind, the proprietor of this particular school, will have none of that. He will point out to you, after the necessary light flogging conducive to Victorian pedagogy, that you are not to fancy, no, you are to Fact! Fact, Fact, Fact!

If the artist responsible for this drawing had wished to depict a Jubjub Bird, he would have done so. In fact, Mr. Gradgrind adds (idly re-adjusting your thumbscrew), this business of human and castorian hands manipulating Jubjubian references which are typologically generating additional motifs of birds, childrens’ play and postlapsarian anxiety is not a Fact at all! If it was, the Jubjub, a patently imaginary creature, would have to exist, QED.

After a bit more pedagogically necessary fiddling about with alligator clips and car batteries, Mr. Gradgrind will point out, with a world-weary smile, that this is how it always begins, that someone starts supposing that one thing actually means another, and so on and so on and before you know it, we’re living in a Snarkian Multiverse where the very fabric of language and logic itself is ripped asunder by the unleashed superpowers of Symbolic Metaphor.

And if you dare to point out to him that language itself is symbolic metaphor, why, he’ll give you a flogging that you’ll never forget. Cheeky thing, the bliss and innocence of childhood is too good for the likes of you! And that’s a Fact!

Next week: Winston Smith substitutes for Mr. Gradgrind

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jai snark!

It’s all very fine and well reading Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark in the comfort of your favorite overstuffed charpoy before a roaring fire, an overstuffed tumbler of roaring brandy at your ready disposal, perhaps even your faithful Assamese nautch girl parked at your slippered feet. Oh yes, you feel quite cozy and secure, idly turning the pages, chuckling wryly at some particularly droll anapaest, perhaps even lingering upon a picture … perhaps even the very picture we see above …

Hmm, you say to yourself, as your Assamese nautch girl adroitly pushes aside your fashionably retrograde moustache to slip another morsel of Snark curry between your lips and then resumes her languid, opium-scented contortions of enigmatic Oriental purpose; yes, hmm, you say, what’s all this then, eh?

Well, it’s a fair cop! Speaking for myself, the proprietor of the above-mentioned assemblage of dots, squiggles and lines, I can assure you that it means quite a good deal — to the Beaver and the Butcher, the poor things!

Oh yes, you can cultivate all the insouciance you like, go ahead — it probably suits you! Be a mocky mocker and make light of their cheap second-hand Victorian hand-me-down clothes and their penchant for overwrought music-hall histrionics!

Tell ‘em that it’s all in their head, tell ‘em that it’s just a cheap bit of sleight of hand from some hopelessly fusty and uncool Victorian parlor game, that’s a good start! You could also poke a stick in the eye of Mr. Carroll’s scream-cum-shuddering-sky trope. Are not the honest, simple fear-mongering kennings of Ye Olde English Nonsense Verse good enough for Mister Carroll anymore? Good lord, man, leave the trisyllabic, sibilant-ridden adjectives of doom to Paul Bowles and his ilk, eschew all this shuddering and sheltering sky crosstalk before someone gets hurt!

Yes, you could say all that and even more but at that very moment, in an unexpected and stormy manner reminiscent of last season’s cliffhanger installment of the Book of Genesis, the rightful owner of the charpoy that you have parked yourself upon has appeared to reclaim his rightful place! An instant later, your Assamese nautch girl and you are precipitiously ejected from the premises, shame-faced perhaps, feeling a bit pale and queer even, as you should be!

Perhaps now you could favor us with a little scream, something redolent of a frightened Snark Hunter caught cucumberless in the salad season? Please try to make it as high and shrill as possible, this is your long overdue Expulsion From Paradise and we must keep up appearances!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Amazing snark

There are times when I find myself truly nonplussed at the thought of explicating yet another stanzel of this Hunting of the Snark. Some of you might think that the author and Eminent Victorian, Lewis Carroll, had a rough job of it, coming up with anapaest after anapaest, all of ‘em having to do with Snarkery and all of ‘em in the finest High Anglican-cum-Nonsense bon style. However, this pate-addling task of devising pictures for verse upon which one then devises prose easily beggars any of the rather picayune literary horrors that Mr. Carroll might have endured.

Perhaps you think that I have taken the elementary precaution of creating some sort of "plan", a detailed system of references and motifs aligned with the development of the entire poem, a conceptual blueprint with which I could then research, prepare and execute each and every one of these drawings. Armed with such a plan, it would be child’s play to whip up a bit of commentary for each stanzel after the fact.

Such however, is not the case. In fact, it is the exact opposite of the truth. I am utterly unprepared and thoroughly disorganized, quite honestly, I am making it all up as I go along and I can’t help myself for I have no plan nor strategy nor even a sense of direction about any of this Snark stuff.

What brings all of this inner turmoil to mind is the illustration shown above of the Beaver and Butcher lost in an immense maze. They are cold, they are hungry, they are nervous and upset with one another. And why is that?

The Beaver will tell you, very indignantly, that it is because the Butcher won’t stop and ask for directions. But how can he when I have never bothered to make any!

Yes, dear ladies, gentlemen and any other sort of readers, the masculine sense of direction is marvelously blank. There's no need to ask for directions when we know that all roads lead to Boojum!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Purple Snark

NB. Will Schofield's blog, A Journey Round My Skull, is migrating to a new site/layout, 50 Watts. Go! Look! Think … then look some more. It's the best book illustration blog I know of and frankly, it's an essential for professionals and enthused amateurs. Your eyes will thank you.

Yet another visual metaphor rears up on its hind legs to frighten the kiddies wandering in our labyrinthine GN version of The Hunting of the Snark. The Beaver and Butcher’s above-mentioned debilitating monocurricular monomania has put them entirely in my ink-stained hands and I have swiftly reduced them to metallic tokens in a children’s board-game.

Of course, my more logomaniacal readers are fully aware that monomania is the obscure yet potent Ursprung (gesundheit) of that dreaded literary boojum, the cliché, the lexical product of any monomania multiplied by any number of literate chatterboxes. These readers are also aware that the cliché is the final evolutionary goal of all literature, seeing as how all words are essentially clichés designating common experiences and thoughts.

Luckily for us (and Lewis Carroll), the Beaver and Butcher do not read much. Nor do they need to, when one remembers that their Snarkomaniacal minds are furnished with an infinite babelian library of literary clichés to pass the time away with. Which is why, whenever they look about themselves in perplexity, they invariably remark to one another that they are trapped in a Borgesian* labyrinth.

Armed with such potent clichés they can safely wander Mister Carroll’s Snark-Ridden Garden of Forking Paths at all hours of the night. The Boojums of English Nonsense Verse trouble them not, their lack of reality is palpable! Yes, the Beaver and the Butcher can rely upon the succinct verdict of Mr. J.L. Borges upon all such Anglo-Saxon fictioneering, when he cooly remarked of Carroll’s taciturn literary compatriot, the Tlönist Herbert Ashe, that "in (his) life, he suffered from a sense of unreality, as do many Englishmen".

Yes, indeed, Mister Borges, everything is going our way!

* A clichéd epithet which renders any labyrinth instantly inert, lifeless and suitable only for undergraduate textual lobotomies or cannabis-scented dormitory bull sessions. Postgraduate scholars say pshaw to all of the above, they smugly pat themselves on their back for knowing all along that this entire business of words, clichés and texts (ie., Cosa Nostra Literato) is a cunning dodge perpetrated by certain nefaristas to sell ‘em something, such as soap or forks or smiles! The inevitable commodification of literature and language is a subject which makes me yawn politely. Frankly, if you wordsmiths can’t de-mammonify the tools of your trade, that’s your own lookout. I draw pretty pictures for an increasingly penurious and untenable living, and frankly, nothing has changed in that department since Lascaux.

Spare a copper, if you can, guv’nor, for those proto-bohemian artists who labored away in their dank garret-caves, wretchedly coughing like prognathous consumptives while they daubed away at the world’s very first illustrated
Hunting of the Snark. They knew naught of hourly rates nor had they agents to negotiate with the homicidal cave-bears which regularly feasted upon them. Their sole tools were ochre and brush and with these ever so ‘umble means they sketched out the chthonic beginnings, the very aleph as it were, of the mighty labyrinth within which we are still wandering at this very moment …