Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fit the Fourth, Page 28, Panel 4 … it's Lewis Carroll’s Flying Circus!

“Be a man!” said the Bellman in wrath, as he heard
The Butcher beginning to sob.
“Should we meet with a Jubjub, that desperate bird,
We shall need all our strength for the job!”

Ladies and gentlemen, the Greatest Show on Earth is not to be found under some ratty canvas tent reeking of sawdust, elephant dung and stale peanuts, peopled by vagrant layabouts trying to pinch a few shekels from the pockets of certain slack-jawed rubes even less aware of their undeserved position atop the Evolutionary Ladder than they are.

For shame, sir or madam, for even thinking so! This is the Amazing Circus of Mr. Lewis Carroll and what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, boys and girls, is not only the final stanza of Fit the Fourth, not only the precise median point of this Hunting of the Snark, but also proof positive that the truly greatest show on earth is that glittering spectacle which is performed within the cerebella of all those who eschew the vulgar entertainments of the hoi polloi in favor of the baroque pleasures of parsing out the minutiae of this, our Snark Hunt!

Yes, minutiae, minutiae, everywhere, nor any drivel to think! This final stanzel is packed with all the gaudy tinsel of circus minutiae, the Broker tottering on his stilts, the Billiard Marker plunging through an abyss, the Boots juggling with the decapitated heads of the audience.

But all of this pales in comparison to the leonine circus beast swallowing the hapless Banker in the foreground. It is not at all a lion though, we have more intellectual tastes here; it is a chimera and it is the kind of beast found in only the better sort of circuses (or circi, if you must) such as our Snarkian Circus of Fit the Fourth or more to the point, the amazing Circus of Dr. Lao!

Yes, it is Dr. Lao’s Circus to which I'm paying homage to here*, to that shamefully unacknowledged American wellspring of what came to be called Magical Realism by certain labelistas in need of such things. Needless to say, the good Doctor Lao saw fit to provide his Circus with a chimera, and the chronicler of his Circus, the newspaperman and gun-slinger Charles G. Finney, also saw fit to explicate this mysterious beast in his compendious back-of-the-book catalogue, to wit :

CHIMERA : described by Rabelais, Flaubert and Finney.

Huzzah for the telegraphic simplicity of the 1920’s American newspaper style! But have no fear, dear reader, there’s no need for you to poke around in your breakfast Pantagruel just yet. My team of hashisheen-cum-wingéd-flying-monkey research assistants have already verified that Rabelais did indeed wonder aloud whether a chimera, swinging in a void, can swallow second intentions. From thence, it was child’s play for them to rummage through my tattered copy of the Temptation of St. Anthony, until Flaubert’s chimera warned them that if he perceived in any place a man whose mind reposes in wisdom, he would fall upon him and strangle him.

Strong juju, even for French circus folk, but so be it. The chimera, over-excited by the Billiard Marker swinging in a void, is swallowing our Banker — a devourment of second intentions† as specified by Rabelais! His first intention might very well have been to strangle his prey until he discovered that the Banker’s mind was most definitely not reposing in wisdom, being entirely taken up by various Snarkological absurdities and other marxist nonsenseries.

Very well, the show must go on! We turn to the Butcher, for despite his tearful unmanning by the Bellman, His Gills the Butcher dare not scarper off now! You can politely ignore his voluptuous agony at being sawn in half for circus sport or even his terror of the Jubjub bird and other chimeras that populate this hellish (though oddly compelling) circus, all of ‘em lying in wait for him and him alone!

All of this may well be unpleasant, yes, perhaps even vulgar, but you can't turn your eyes away, can you? Schadenfreude is still the greatest show on earth!

NB. Happy birthday to our dear Lewis Carroll! This week (January 27th, to be precise) marks his 177th birthday … which number, if divided by 42, leaves us with a quotient of 4.2 ! And some people still doubt that there's an underlying order to Life, the Universe and Everything in It — gosh!

*Homage being used here in its Hollywood connotation of brazen looting.

Swallowing a Snark Hunter could never be any imaginary beast’s first intention, for knowing Snark Hunters to be as mythical as chimeras, the deliberate engulfing of the former within the latter might create a self-annihilating double-negative Nonsensical Tautology. This still leaves us with the question of the Banker's ultimate destination, his reductio ad absurdam, as it were. The eponymous proprietor of the Circus explicated his chimera (of sturdy Chinese make) to the good folks of Abalone, Arizona thusly: “The chimera … has no elimination system in the sense that ordinary animals have. Instead of expelling waste matter through the bowels, he burns it up within him, and he snorts out the smoke and ashes. Yes, the chimera is its own incinerator plant”. Hence the futility of following the beast around all day, hoping to collect enough physical remnants of his prey, the Banker, for proper Christian burial. A simple ashtray would suffice.

‡ Refer discreetly to your Dictionary of Received Opinions which you always keep about your person, wherein Flaubert has the last word on the matter … CIRCUS FOLK : Use obscene practices.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fit the Fourth, Page 28, Panel 3 … I was a modest, good-humoured snark, it is Oxford that has made me insufferable

The Beaver went simply galumphing about,
At seeing the Butcher so shy:
And even the Baker, though stupid and stout,
Made an effort to wink with one eye.

The story so far … a darkness has fallen upon the land and there are B-Boyz abroad … they search for the one snark, the Baker’s-Bane of eldritch lore … the one snark to rule them all, the one snark to find them, the one snark to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

Both Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien were Oxford men and both had full-blown language manias. We’ve already seen how the Forks and Hope refrain of the Snark (if not the entire poem) was begat by the Old Norse galdors, those pagan charms from the same realm of verse which Tolkien plundered so fruitfully. We can also classify Carroll’s Snark (Snarquus boojum) in the same genus as Tolkien’s Ring (Annulus horribilis), the genus of all imaginary, highly sought-after and utterly annihilating thingamabobs or such-like fritter-my-wigs.

In addition, both men’s œuvres sternly eschewed romance except in the most cursory way. Hence, it is with a bit of a naughty giggle that I’ll let you have a quick peek at this picture of the Beaver showing off a bit of ankle! Hubba hubba, these Carrollians know how to live it up! The Beaver is obviously inebriated with her vampish power over the stupid and stout Baker, who has also succumbed to the heady bacchanals of this metamorphic circus! His wink (poorly rendered here, I admit, the result of using second-grade fresh india ink instead of the real, silken-smooth article) suggests to us his Houyhnhnmic approval of the Carrollian portmanteau which tops off this sinnful stanza : gallumph!

All of which begs the question — what on earth has this to do with J.R.R. Tolkien? What on earth possessed me to follow this discombobulated line of addled thinking comparable to the meanderings of a slightly concussed bee?

To which I must reply, in the words of yet another celebrated Oxford man: ignorance, madam, pure ignorance!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fit the Fourth, Page 28, Panel 2 … snark-drops keep falling on my head

“Introduce me, now there’s a good fellow,” he said,
“If we happen to meet it together!”
And the Bellman, sagaciously nodding his head,
Said “That must depend on the weather.”

The above stanza may be a bit unclear to some readers (particularly those possessing an iota of common sense). The Butcher, seen above as a lugubrious sort of rude mechanical’s nightmare of an Easter-Island-Pierrot, is requesting the Bellman to formally introduce him to the Snark whenever they might encounter it. The Bellman is noncommittal, stating that either the introduction* or the meeting itself (or both) is entirely contingent upon the weather.

What gives, Lewis Carroll? Are we still hunting snark or are we just marking time now? Are we waiting for Godot or even his late-Victorian progenitor, Mistuh Kurtz? Very well then, so be it! We shall once again call upon Oscar Wilde for some quick and snappy enlightenment. Being both Irish and dry-witted, he was particularly qualified to make the following pronouncement upon the English and their mildewed sense of meteorology :

"Pray don't talk to me about the weather … Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else.”

Following this trail of bread crumbs deeper into the naughty forest of edible children, we stumble over the twitching presence of the Great Cham himself, Dr. Johnson, who tossed off this trite observation with his customary gravitas:

“It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.”

A thing that always means something else, a thing that is always the prime topic of discussion … hmmm … we will proceed by mentally triangulating all of this with our above, freshly-minted illustration of a Bellman under the weather.

End result? A compact semioglyph of an Englishman feeling out of sorts because he is compelled by national habit to say something that always means something else, in short, to say the thing that was not! Yoicks, the game’s afoot at last! Behind the jolly good sport of our Snark Hunt, behind the labyrinthine hedgerows of English Nonsense, we have once again detected the spoor of that irascible Yahoo, Dean Swift! Oh, to say the thing that is not is all the rage these days, you add a dollop of Nonsense to it and it will cover a veritable multitude of sins, not the least of which is my penchant for the most byzantine mixing of metaphors yet known to man!

To horse, to Houyhnhnm, the Yahoos are let loose for there’s a scent of Snark in the wind and the weather’s fine!

NB. Today being the deathday of Lewis Carroll, I thought it quite serendipitous that the latest publication of the LCSNA has just arrived here, totally unexpected and very much appreciated! A volume of Carrollian criticism by Elizabeth Sewell, entitled Lewis Carroll: Voices From France, at first glance it seems highly interesting, especially from the Snarkologist's point of view. And from this Snarkologist's immediate impressions, Dr. Sewell's emphasis upon the links between high modernism, French poetry & Carrollian nonsense is utter catnip! I plan to do a longer posting upon this work after a careful reading-cum-rumination; its relevance to the strategies employed in my ever so 'umble Snark is immense!

If you are not a member of the LCSNA and if you are a regular reader of this blog, you are neglecting the opportunity to receive some very exciting publications, not to mention the regular Knight Letter, all at a very reasonable price. You won't be disappointed!

*One can imagine the grim consequences of any letter of introduction to a beast such as a Snark or even, heavens forfend, a Boojum! Pity the poor Butcher as he hands over his letter to some supercilious flunky in an icy waiting room, the contents of which letter are invisible to him but which we already have guessed to be a simple directive of utter Boojumistic malevolencekeep this Butcher running!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fit the Fourth, Page 28, Panel 1 … the tears of a clown when there's boojum around

But the Butcher turned nervous, and dressed himself fine,
With yellow kid gloves and a ruff —
Said he felt it exactly like going to dine,
Which the Bellman declared was all “stuff".

It was probable that Lewis Carroll never intended for us to have any notion of what actually went on behind the scenes of his Snark Hunt. Snark hunting, like the legislative process, is a notoriously messy business similar to stuffing sausage meat into casings or cash into briefcases. It is an affair ill-suited to dandies or clowns, which is precisely the fugal state into which we now see the Butcher fleeing into, a delusionary state which is based, as such things so often are, on certain Gradgrindish factoids which be-Boojum our oh-so-brief sojourn in this Vale of Illusions! Yikes!

The ruff that our Butcher wears is derived from ruffle which is itself derived from the Old Norse hrufla, to scratch. This quality of scratching has already been defined as one of the distinctive qualities of the Pandemonic-Boojum subspecies of Snarks (Snarquus boojum infernum) as they are found in the wild.

The yellow kid gloves, a term smacking of an overly dainty or delicate temprament, are redolent with intimations of the overly-refined British buffoonery of the late-Victorian Aesthetic genre of art and literature. One of the luminaries of this movement, Oscar Wilde, made a small though crucial contribution to Snarkology when he concocted that character Bunbury, who had an entirely unsettling or even annihilating effect upon anyone who encountered him — despite his nonexistence! This is a protosurrealist homage of sorts from one great genius to another, the Bunbury effect being entirely similar to the Boojum effect. But wait, dear reader, there’s more …

It is an interesting though useless fact that Bunbury is also a verb, to bunbury meaning to assume a different persona in the countryside as opposed to the city. Nowadays, this verb is mostly employed by ornithologists, to describe the variant personae and behavior of birds in rural and urban environments. And of course, birds also have feathers and bite, which is the defining characteristic of the other Cherubic subspecies of Boojums, Snarquus boojum angelicum.

Well, that’s pretty much QED, I should think, for my Unified Snarkian Multiverse Theory. Stuff indeed, Mister Bellman, harrumph, harrumph!