Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Everywhere man is born free and everywhere man is snark’d

We return to our Snark Hunt, tanned, rested & ready after imbibing deeply of the heady Carrollian brew that was on tap at the LCSNA Spring 2010 meeting at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum. Sad to say, there were no Snark-specific events at the meeting, although the thrill of seeing one of the rejected 1st-press-run examples of Alice in Wonderland made up for that somewhat.

However, there was one guest, Dr. Maria Tatar, whose remarks are worth expanding upon here. Dr. Tatar is a professor of Germanic literature at Harvard and more to the point, she has a penchant for publicly speaking Nonsense in a refreshingly clearheaded and perceptive way. She noted that the logical inadequacies of language provide plenty of juicy opportunities for a bit of what the language boffins call Nonsense, or in the vulgate, "running amuck with the mother tongue."

Apparently it’s all good, clean fun when done by the likes of the Admirable Carroll and practically guaranteed to produce a healthy bumper crop of cucumber-laden child-philosophers in the salad season, as Prof. Neddy Seagoon (Dept. Of Lurgi Studies, University of Blauflasche-am-Rhein) once put it.

Naturally, the moment Dr. Tatar mentioned mucking about with words, this artist roused himself from his usual stupor into a less unusual stupor, the sort of thing which any Snark Hunter would instantly recognize as a sort of slobbering approximation of Deep Thought. This business of making words do that which they are not wont to do is quite frankly, their own fault and they have no one to blame for it but themselves.

Let us, for the sake of argument, pugnaciously dear reader, imagine a language which means exactly what it says, a language so perfectly designed that it can describe everything accurately. Such a language would be 100% nonsense-proof and for good reason, it would have to be a perfect and precise replica of the entire world itself and hence incapable of ever meaning anything but what it claims to mean. Such a language would in fact be a one-to-one scale model of the world, along the lines of the Other Professor’s map in Sylvie and Bruno, a map which could easily be mistaken for the world itself since there could be no detectable difference between them.

Wordsy things which perfectly resemble one another are called puns by the Illuminati and so we see that our conlang (which we’ll call YouSpeak) must be in all respects a pun upon the entire world itself.

All of which brings us to one of the most infamous stanzels of The Hunting of the Snark, the infamous Bellman’s Map as seen above. Despite sniggers and sneers in certain cartographic quarters, this map is possessed of a considerable navigational, semiotic and even metaphysical Juju.

This is a drawing of a map itself depicting a world inhabited by certain protestants who are themselves contemplating that very map. Their assertion that the map is a blank is obviously true and the legend upon the map, "you are always here" is also an obvious truth. Both qualities of the map are contradictory yet both are patently true. In this sense of shared form and divergent meanings, the map is a perfect example of YouSpeak for whilst it perfectly describes the entire world it overlaps, it is also a genuine pun of the highest water.

As an added bonus for my more easily discombobulated readers, I’ve taken pains to ensure that the map’s legend is in the French language, the most homophonous and pun-ridden language known to man and hence, the closest we’ll ever get to YouSpeak in these sadly postlapsarian times.

Take that, GermanSpeak, with your granular lexicon, regular grammar and delayed-gratification syntax — we are fashionably lost in French and loving it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to get ahead in Snark Hunting without really trying

After much delay, probably intended to elicit sensations of apprehension and excitement on someone’s trembling, custardy part, we are confronted at last with the true identity of the final member of The Hunting of the Snark — it is the Baker!

You can refer to the several proceeding weeks’ postings to see how this artist has chosen the cunning strategy of depicting the Baker as Lewis Carroll himself. In this week’s stanzel, you can ponder further the zen-like what-you-may-call-um ramifications of this conflation of both hero and poet into one giant, power-packed specimen of Jolly Old English Eccentricity.

On board the HMS Snark, seen above steaming at half-mad-speed-ahead, there is a total absence of that which the Baker needs to be a Baker. This ontological dilemma would seem to put our hero on the unemployment line tout de suite in today’s modern globalized business environment but it appears that the Bellman, being half-mad (or half-sane, but not simultaneously) will overlook this little detail in his Snark-Hunting applicant’s work history.

In doing so, the Bellman is merely obeying the Peter Principle, that axiom of business management which so many freshly-minted MBAs laugh at when they first enter the working world, and then dine off for the rest of their surprisingly successful careers.

Needless to say, the fact that we’ve chosen Lewis Carroll as the Human Face of the Baker (an oddly Prague-Springish turn of phrase best kept in check for now) is a crushing indictment of the Venerable Carroll’s fictional hiring practices. In fact, to those of us who believe that each of the Snark Hunters combined represents the totality of Carroll himself, the Baker’s dundering ways are the final straw. As the hero of the epic, and a tragic hero too, mind you, one expects a certain stiff upper lip and a bit of manly competence from the Baker, and frankly, what we have here is a sort of anapaestic Bertie Wooster let loose in a floating patisserie. All that is lacking is Aunt Agatha wrinkling her nose at the Baker as if he were a drain that had got out of order.

This parodic reversal of one of the most elemental tropes of epic poetry is a perfect example of the Peter Principle rearing its well-fed head once again. Even in prosody, the most patently unfit character will inevitably stumble upwards into the role of Number One Hero. Certain Carrollian Illuminati will nod knowingly at all this, for have they not seen the Petric Mojo of the entire corpus of Carrolian Nonsense itself inexorably shove aside and supplant Demotic Commonsense in all fields of modern life? The very fact that parsing the above bit of blovation is beyond the cognitive skills of your current employer is double-plus-proof positive!

But of course, dear reader, you understand all of the above perfectly! Yes, you get it and as you slave away in your Dickensian cubicle whilst your boss reads aloud the newspaper funny pages in the men’s room, you can munch on a bit of mostly non-existent Bridecake and have a chuckle at the expense of the Bellmen and Bakers who run our lives, god bless ‘em.

You might even consider the on-going project of Life, the Universe and Everything In It as a sterling example of the Peter Principle on a cosmological scale, if you were so inclined. But that would be half-mad, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

With forks and hope, my dear Glaucon …

The final, still anonymous, member of the Fellowship of the Snark, the mysterious Number Ten, is on the edge of the verge of probably taking a stand of some sort on actually appearing …

We see Number Ten in the above nautical-though-nice bit of ink-stained gallimaufry. We see him in a better light, that light for which one does not lack when heaven guides the way. If one were to see Number Ten in a philosophical light, one might say that he carries about him a certain Platonic air, a mystical faith in a universal flashlight which he carries about with himself wherever he goes and which enlightens his path in even the darkest caves of the human mind.

It is this mental flashlight which provides him with the aplomb necessary to navigate through the thickets of hyenas and bears in which he finds himself today. Note also that he smiles at his tormentors, a Mona Lisa sort of smile which says to his would-be tormentors: I know that you are not real, that you are merely shadows of a Higher Hyena and Bigger Bear.

The ursine fellow to Number Ten’s left
is a Gradgrindish sort of fellow, well-schooled in the Facts of Life with a scholastic air about him, Aristotelian even, for he seems to have no need for invisible flashlights (or torches, as LC would say); he relies instead upon Facts and a certain notorious book he carries about with him, not for idle speculation but for assaulting lesser-minded weaklings such as Number Ten with.

At their feet we see a personage in the guise of a drawing of a hyena taken from a xerox of a photograph of Heraclitus copied from a painting of a second-hand redaction of the life of Michelangelo as told to Vasari. This reflective beast is lounging pool-side, consumed with doubt lest he be unable to bathe in the same waters twice.

It also appears as if he is consumed with a petty jealousy over the excellent design of the panel in which he finds himself depicted, a panel which demonstrates the wisdom of obtaining one's artistic training at a qualified and accredited institute of higher learning, a precaution which this hyenaic gentleman's rival, the infamous Raphael (not shown here) attended to by graduating cum laude from the Roman campus of the School of Athens.

Genuinely hyperactive readers will also note that Number Ten’s resemblance to both Lewis Carroll and Plato (who had only one name, like Prince or Sting, so don’t get your hopes up) makes a fitting gloss upon the observation that "his form is ungainly — his intellect small." This reference to Platonic Forms on Carroll’s part is another obvious homage to the Father of Nonsense, Plato.

It’s fashionable in certain pointy-headed circles to call all Western philosophy merely footnotes to Plato but we are made of sterner stuff here at The Hunting of the Snark. We prefer instead to footnote the grand corpus of Western Nonsense with Plato; it seems more fitting somehow to honor thus the memory of a man who, despite having only one name himself, found a dizzying multiplicity of names for a dizzying multiplicity of things which did not actually exist; a situation remarkably similar to that of Lewis Carroll!

Of course, Plato’s nonsense is all Greek to us, we prefer our Nonsense taken neat in Demotic English, with our feet up on the fender, as they say in Oxbridge.

NB. The Michael McNeff film version of The Hunting of the Snark continues to pop up, like a pixillated Jubjub, around the Internet. Here are some more stills from the webpage of June Suepunpuck, a costume designer on the film. Doug Howick & Byron Sewell recently pointed out that a member of the crew seems missing and judging from these photos, it’s the Butcher. No doubt he has been conveyed in a separate film. If anyone has further information on the film and/or Michael McNeff, feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

See, see, how the blood of snark streams across the firmament

Keep ‘em guessing was the motto of Lewis Carroll and nowhere does he keep the panting mob howling for more than in the slo-mo introduction of our Mystery Snark-Hunter Number 10, first seen last week and now shown above doing a bit of nominal music-hall slapstick in the earlier stanzas of Fit the First of The Hunting of the Snark.

What we have here is a case of the AKAs run amuck or if you prefer, a surfeit of pseudonymy sufficient to make one’s senses spin in snarkish eccentricity. Our Mystery Snarkista (whose physical resemblance to Lewis Carroll bodes ill for somebody or the other) has been furnished with a total of nine names, if one accepts a generic loud cry as a name.

Mister Toasted-Cheese is suffering from what Snarkologists call Megalonamia and it’s not a pretty picture. Through the process of Epistomological Osmosis (AKA Fritter-My-Wig in academic circles) his nominal surplus is seeping into the nominal vacuum of an otherwise anonymous landscape, resulting in a Candle-End Multiverse of staggering proportions. Everywhere you look, it’s Fry Me, Fry Me, Fry Me!

One might even say the our poet is indulging in a bit of Adamic Prelapsarian linguistic Thing-Um-A-Jig or even What-You-May-Call-Um … you know, that bit in Genesis where every thing gets one name except this time around, the Reverend Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll, has seen fit to give one thing every name.

Some people call it solipsism, I call it What-Was-His-Name writ large! Yow!

NB. The Spring 2010 meeting of the LCSNA will be held this April 24th in Philadelphia. Stop by and say Hi or just loiter in the shadows looking thoughtful and grave while our speakers bewilder the crew.