Monday, October 31, 2016

Profiles in Nonsense: My Favorite Martin

The Encyclopedia Snarkiana defines a Barrister as someone who tries to appeal to the Beaver’s pride, vainly citing a number of cases in which making laces has been proved an infringment of right.

Lewis Carroll, the author of those lines, further elaborated upon them by providing the Barrister with a ready-made dream to occupy him with in Fit the 6th. This dream was also furnished with a snappy soundtrack by Messers Gilbert and Sullivan and a full supporting cast of judge, jury, witnesses and defendant. The oneiric defendant (and substitute judge and jury) was none other than the Snark itself, which led to a bit of what well-oiled jurists call a conflict of interest. The Snark’s legal status as a nonexistent, fictitious and nonsensical creature can be best summed up as being Nothing, and nothing, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, comes from Nothing.

This illustrator chewed over that legal, ethical and even metaphysical conundrum for quite a while when he was first looking about for someone to cast in the role of the Barrister. After countless auditions with aspiring non-entities ranging from obscenely wealthy middle-class American politicos to an entire gaggle of opiated American radio talkshow intellectuals, I threw my hands up in the air in despair. It was impossible, finding someone who could encapsulate the very essence of Nothing so thoroughly that it even permeated his dreams!

At that moment, the door opened and a sweaty and rotund German intellectual eased himself and his moustache onto The Hunting of the Snark’s rather tatty casting couch. It was Martin Heidegger, the notorious Continental philosopher and Black Forest gadabout. It turns out that good ol’ Martin had spent considerable ink and governmental educational subsidies bloviating ad nauseam on the subject of Nothing. It seems like everywhere Martin looked, in the kitchen, in the shower, behind the sofa, there it was, the bane of Existentialism — Nothing!

Of course, he had a fancy German name for it, curious readers can read all about it and much more here, but in short, Martin was our man. The fourth member of the B-Boyz, the Barrister, was going to be Martin Heidegger! Exhausted by the search, I lay back and lit up a hand-rolled Brazilian samba girl. Things were back to normal at Chez Snark, Nothing was working its nonsense mojo once again.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Profiles in Nonsense: Nietzsche's in Drag and I'm Feelin' Blue

We continue my GN Snark's Dramatis Personae with this week's specimen … the Maker of Bonnets and Hoods, or as he's known to the authorities, the Bonnet. Curiously, this character is given almost nothing to do in the epic, except for a brief episode in Fit the Fourth where he allows someone to chalk the tip of his nose. Other than that, not a peep, which poses obvious problems for an illustrator trying to flesh out this nonentity.

One might even say that the Bonnet poses us an existentialist problem, perhaps even a protoexistentialist problem of sorts. Luckily, the persona of Friedrich Nietzsche, the notorious Continental steamer, was available on short notice and we gladly inducted him into our Fellowship of the Snark, moustache and all.

We see him above, as he appears in Fit the Second of our version of The Hunting of the Snark, leering at the HMS Snark in a nautical manner. I think he looks rather fetching in his big bonnet, don't you?

No doubt the more well-heeled aficionados of Lewis Carroll, and Western Civ in general, are having a quick apopleptic fit upon seeing all of this. Why, they wonder aloud over their breakfast scotch-and-cornflakes, did this artist feel it necessary to clothe the persona of the Bonnet-Maker in the fleshly lineaments of the Prussian demiexistentialist Nietzsche?

Was it the leather, the machismo, the whips and such-like that Nietzsche was wont to bandy about when talking of women, a bandying which he not only spoke of in print but would even indulge in personally right in front of a camera operated by — yow! — a man named Bonnet?

And so … have we hoisted Nietzche upon his very own petard here, a petard which the philosopher had himself loaded with the scattershot observation that there are no facts, only interpretations? Have we stooped so low that we must rely upon the flimsiest of nominal accidents to populate our Hunting of the Snark?

Or is it just a petty bit of passive-aggressive revenge by an inkster who still suffers from debilitating bouts of Post-University-Philosophy-Course-Syndrome, an illness which can only be controlled by long-term exposure to Carrollian Nonsense and in severe cases, repeated applications of Three Stooges shorts?

In short, there’s nothing going on here at all, folks, just a guy with a moustache wearing women’s clothes, a guy who knows that to become what one is, one must not have the faintest idea what one is.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Profiles in Nonsense: Snark-fishing in the Yemen with the Bellman

I've been remiss with my Snark blog and I apologize. As penance, I present what I call "Profiles in Nonsense," a series of postings focusing on the ten Snark Hunters (AKA B-Boyz), beginning with the Bellman, the presiding genius and master of ceremonies of Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark.

Readers who care to do so may remember that the Bellman appears in the very first line of the Snark, crying: Just the place for a Snark! This is of course, a tautology (and a rather clever parody of the traditional Homeric invocation of the Muse) and not the first which this avuncular, cozily insane personage will commit. Other Snarkologists have already pointed out that the Bellman may well have been based on an eponymous officer at Christ Church College, "Le Bellman", whose job it was to ring a bell whenever some particularly inert don had finally popped off for good.

Of such grim details are both great poetry and academic life made! An insane man armed with a large, blunt, heavy metal-and-wooden object with which he roams our poem and Oxford alike, announcing the beginning of the verses and the ending of some other poor college-wallah's life. No wonder this illustrator saw fit to flesh out this lugubrious person's person with the above drawing.

The sharp-eyed reader who eats his carrots will instantly ferret out, in his offhand, weaselly ferret-like manner, the fleur-de-lys motif lurking in the wallpaper. This outbreak of French monarchism has been induced by the Bellman's notorious insistence upon the Rule of Three which occurs immediately afterwards in the same opening stanzas:

Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.

Such pronouncements reek of royal diktats to this artist's ear; and furthermore, the trefoil motif nicely complements the trinitarian obsessions of what we now call the Clochetic Rule of Three. Learned Snarkologists have found all manner of historical riffraff lurking inside this Rule: a reference to a Victorian mathematical classroom crib, perhaps a jab at the Mad Monadist, Charles Peirce and his triunary blatherings, or it could even be a clever Protosurrealist, anti-anachronistic reference to cybernetics and human cognition and crypto-Catholicism.

But we here at Chez Snarque are made of sterner stuff! We think that the Bellman is nutters because he just is, and we've dug up some really cool facts to support our Nutter Theory. Firstly, the Bellman's odd physical appearance is based upon that of Sir John Tenniel, the quick-fingered illustrator of both of Carroll's Alice books, and a rascally bon vivant, to boot!

Secondly, Sir John's illustrations for Carroll included several drawings of the White Knight, that avuncular, cozily insane personage who assists young Alice in her regal quest (zut! more monarchism!) in Through The Looking Glass. Well-oiled Carrollians will grunt appreciatively at all this, knowing that the White Knight was a stand-in for Carroll himself, who was notoriously shy about being bruited about in public as a avuncular, cozily insane personage.

Which leads us to our third observation, and hence, owing to the Clochetic Rule of Three, our self-evident, truly definitive and tyrannically final royal diktak upon the entire matter: the following drawing by Sir John of the Admirable Carroll in mufti as a White Knight who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain Bellman trying pass himself off as — gasp! — Sir John Tenniel disguised as a certain Christ Church don named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who had a penchant for going out in public as none other than — gasp again! — Lewis Carroll!


Well, I think that just about wraps it up for both the Bellman's little scheme of trinitarian cross-dressing and more importantly, for whatever little standing I still possess amongst legitimate Carrollian circles.

No, no applause, please, I have more simple tastes. Just rattle your kippered herrings or something like that, I'm off for a nice lie-down with some hot-gin-and-nautch-girl-compresses. I feel a lynch mob coming on …