Monday, February 25, 2013

Through a scanner, snarkly

“The result we proceed to divide, as you see,
By Nine Hundred and Ninety and Two:
Then subtract Seventeen, and the answer must be
Exactly and perfectly true.

This baffling stanzel of The Hunting of the Snark (known to Continental snarkologists as the Pons Asinorum) presents the illustrator of all things Lewis Carrollian with a genuine head-scratcher.

Unlike some illustrators who invariably resort to a stylistic and conceptual flight behind the faux-ironic concealment of an adorably semi-infantile aesthetic when confronted by any text more complex than, let us say, the plot précis of a sharp blow to the head, this illustrator (pauses to take a deep breath and a swift gulp of the restorative gin gimlet splashed upon him by the nubile Assamese hootch-kootchie girl languishing pool-side at his every beck and call), this illustrator likes to give his public some honest value for their hard-earned money.

And since this entire mighty enterprise which I call The Hunting of the Snark is offered to you through the good offices of Melville House Publishing and Editions Seghers, one would expect a certain modicum of cognitive consonance in these drawings. And yet … of cognition, there is none. And as for consonance — begone! Enter … Nonsense!

Indeed, the jig is up and I'll raise high my gin gimlet in a cheerful acknowledgment of the utterly baldfaced cheekiness of the above illustration. It’s all hokum, every last bit of it. Lewis Carroll has clearly described some sort of mathematical thingum-a-jig and all I’ve come up with is a hazy, second-hand memory of an obscure Magritte semiopictulum of Edward James going through a looking glass and finding that the more you turn around to face oneself, the more you must turn one’s back on all that. Or something like that. Mirrors and mathematics alike give me a headache with their slavish devotion to reality and all that sort of thing, each claiming to demonstrate only that which is perfectly and exactly true.

The creepily eagle-eyed reader will notice that a copy of E.A. Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is lurking in Magritte’s painting, a novel which this author boldly and a bit drunkenly asserts to be the Great American Novel. Take that, you big fat white whale! And if this opinion does not please you, sirrah, my Assamese spitfire is perfectly willing to fight you upon any terms you please!

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