Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fit the Fifth, Page 32, Panel 2 … I’ll have a snark panini, toute garnie and a side order of masaccio

Then a scream, shrill and high, rent the shuddering sky,
And they knew that some danger was near:
The Beaver turned pale to the tip of its tail,
And even the Butcher felt queer.

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!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fit the Fifth, Page 32, Panel 1 … take my snark, please!

But the valley grew narrow and narrower still,
And the evening got darker and colder,
Till (merely from nervousness, not from goodwill)
They marched along shoulder to shoulder.

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!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fit the Fifth, Page 31, Panel 2 … I saw the survivors of a snark hunt sending out picture postcards

Each thought he was thinking of nothing but “Snark”
And the glorious work of the day;
And each tried to pretend that he did not remark
That the other was going that way.

Yet another visual metaphor rears up on its hind legs to frighten the kiddies wandering in our labyrinthine 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 …

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fit the Fifth, Page 31, Panel 1 … maxwell’s silver hammer made sure she was snark’d

But the very same plan to the Beaver occurred:
It had chosen the very same place:
Yet neither betrayed, by a sign or a word,
The disgust that appeared in his face.

What ho for all things quizzical, oh to be young again and studying all things 'pataphysical, in particular the semiotrinitarian proclivities of the Indispensable Mister Lewis Carroll, such things as his Clochetic Rule of Three, or in this particular stanzel, another trifecta of similarities which our Hunters of the Snark, in the persons of the Beaver and the Butcher, have just bagged …

1. the same plan
2. the same place
3. the same look of disgust

Of course, it will have already occurred to you, the Testimonial Reader Sans Pareil, that the Hunting of the Snark is essentially a thermolinguodynamic crusade against the Forces of Entropy which are such a blight upon our otherwise happening cosmic scene, a quixotic crusade which takes as its goal the discovery and capture of that counteracting force of vigorous chaos, scientifically known as Maxwell’s Demon but which answers here to the name of Snark, possibly subspecies Boojum.

That being the case, all such reiterations as described above are rather counterproductive, expressing as they do patterns of orderly repetition conducive to further entropy, if not outright boredom and a comfy postprandial nap (on company time, naturally).

Every verse, every strophe and trope and kenning and galdor of our Snark Hunt is taking us only further and further away from our prey — every word we read and write plunges us deeper into a world not even of our own making!

And so, as the young Tolstoy once asked his demimondaine, what is to be done?

To which I reply: we must be silent. We must remain mute and dumb. We must not speak nor read … we must … look! And what do we see when we look at one another? We see ourselves as we really are, as inanimate tokens in the Snark’s childish game, as the helpless objects of his middle-aged gaze! Disgusting!