Wednesday, April 29, 2009
It felt that, in spite of all possible pains,
It had somehow contrived to lose count,
And the only thing now was to rack its poor brains
By reckoning up the amount.
Ladies and gentlemen, please gather around this small table which I just happen to have upon me, and pay attention, you might get lucky. The name of the game is Hunting the Snark and today we’ll try to find a Jubjub Bird, a beast just like the Snark but even better.
Finding one is child’s play, especially for a smart operator such as you. Simply lay your money down and watch the origami cranes closely, the clue you seek is beneath one of them. Pay no attention to the young gentleman with the fieldstone head and vacant expression, he’s a Polynesian exchange student studying mid-19th-century British abattoir practices and he has nothing to do with me, I assure you. The epithet of shill worries him not, it's idle speculation and his empty head is entirely innocent of such nefarious thing-um-a-jigs.
Using the Clochetic Rule of Three (known to polite society as the Logician’s Variation Upon Three Card Monte) the Butcher has already won a Jubjub Bird, the lucky guy! Alas, his fellow gamester, the plucky Beaver, has lost count. Last week’s byzantine labyrinth of puzzling quills and Poes and desks and birds has befuddled her pretty head; and she now is, as they say, a flummoxed castorian incapable of reckoning the amount of anything in this farrago of pictoversical sleights-of-hand.
She is, in popular parlance, a mark, and as such, quite appealing to homi-and-femicidal beasts such as Jubjub Birds! In fact, her dizzy-headed state of pixilation is the only correct strategy to defeat this nefarious, thimblerigged scheme! Dispossessed of all common sense, proudly ignorant of all logical acumen, she blithely chooses the closest origami crane — et voilà — all the fluttering, flying, flittering semioglyphs concealed therein are freed at last!
Yes, dear readers, it’s all rather zenlike, most confidence games are, you know. Truth and deception, sense and nonsense, all enfolded upon themselves into origamic puzzles which, when upended, release into the wild the crypto-Jubjubian fledgings of raw meaning.
And if all the above crosstalk wracks your poor brains, then beware the Jubjub, my son, and watch the telly instead, it do the Snark in different voices!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Beaver had counted with scrupulous care,
Attending to every word:
But it fairly lost heart, and outgrabe in despair,
When the third repetition occurred.
When Lewis Carroll sat down at his writing desk to compose his masterpiece of passive-aggressive nonsense, The Hunting of the Snark, he often chewed reflexively upon his quill pen as he pondered what effect his words might have upon future readers.
Words, words, words! They have naughty bits which we cover up in polite company, they have sad bits to make the grownups cry, and sometimes, if you push ‘em together just so, their silly bits will make the kiddies giggle!
Of course, every word needs a voice and the above stanzel’s assemblage of words, birds, quills, desks and notes is stuffed with ‘em. Alas, poor Beaver, chronically outgrabed and all those voices in your head to boot! One of them, sounding suspiciously like the Mad Hatter, is wondering why a raven is like a writing-desk? Another (rather familiar) voice is telling her that this is so "because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front". Yet another voice (craftily mimicking Sam Lyod) is telling her that the correct answer is simply that Poe wrote on both. There’s even a voice chiming in about them both having quills dipped in ink.
These words are all meant to answer those other arrangements of words which more evolved thinkers call riddles, that is to say, an augural flock of words meant to signify something despite themselves. Replete with all the requisite overtones of linguistic juju, riddles were once all the rage in the Good Old Days. They served as social icebreakers for all manner of homicidal and imaginary beasts such as sphinxes, trolls, dragons and even — yes! — Jubjub Birds!
I shall cue the evil laughter now for our jolly little metafictional cabal stands revealed at last! Outgrabe all you like, Miss Beaver, but the bird you are really riddling here is no mere raven, it is the Urschreckvogel, the dreaded Jubjub itself!
And so, dear reader, can you enlighten the Beaver as to why a Jubjub is like a writing desk? Simple, you reply — because none has an o in it (pace Huxley). Then run as fast as you can before all these birds wreak their Hitchcockian vengeance upon your person!
NB. Apropos of none of the above, the unwelcome news of J.G. Ballard's death. Young people following this blog who might be unfamiliar with his work are recommended to search it out. Ballard's work in SF is a sharp reminder to many mainstream authors and artists that the genuine avant-garde of the last third of the 20th-century was SF, in particular the British flavor. Deeply influenced by Surrealism throughout, at times he also pursued a less aggressive vein of visionary art (more palatable, I think, to many Carrollians), in such semi-neglected novels as The Unlimited Dream Company. Eschewing the transatlantic temptation of commodifying and infantilizing the imagination, Ballard upheld the grand tradition of Blake, Carroll, Peake and Angela Carter.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
“’Tis the note of the Jubjub! Keep count, I entreat;
You will find I have told it you twice.
‘Tis the song of the Jubjub! The proof is complete,
If only I’ve stated it thrice.”
Another crypto-scholastic cri de coeur from the Subtle Don, Lewis Carroll, cunningly palmed off by him as the Butcher’s usual Snark Hunting blather. For the benefit of readers who may have just emerged from the washroom and are discreetly eying the exit whilst wondering what all the ruckus is about, scholasticism was an insidious bit of Continental thinkery brought over to England in unlicensed bathing machines and then peddled discreetly in certain no-questions-asked academic circles frequented by the finest medieval chatteratti of the day.
It was advertised as strong medicine for all manner of mental boojums, in particular, the disconcerting lapse between how we think things should be and how we actually find them to be. Such lapses seemed to plague the rook racked and river-rounded purlieus of Oxford in particular, so much so that Gerard Manley Hopkins found it necessary to work his inimitable brand of poetical juju upon the place …
… these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;
Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller …
The unvaricose Oxonian unraveller that Hopkins is rhapsodizing is none other than Duns Scotus, the professional theologian and fiendish disputant of all things trinitarian. If his name is not one which is lightly bandied about your dinner table, fret not; his Warholian fifteen minutes will be over before you have even finished your dessert!
This will be a simple transmogrification. We liberally apply several gallons of india ink recycled from an obscure Surrealist travel poster atop the hapless Duns; then we accessorize him with an appropriate chapeau and finish by triumvirating him.
Gosh, dada was right, the hat does make the man! Our rather pasty-faced theologian is now become a strapping, young specimen of a Snark Hunter flexing his rhetorical muscles with a showstopping visual demonstration of the Clochetic Rule of Three!
Yes indeed, gentle readers, this successful demonstration of a tautological trinity of Jubjubs is proof positive that wishful thinking trumps logic as far as Snark Hunting goes. Henceforth, please keep your minds empty and your beliefs in an upright and locked position for the road to hell is paved with good intentions.*
* Yes, yes, I know. And while we’re on the subject of the Great Cham, have you seen this?
NB. There is a live-action film version of the Snark which seems to be in post-production at UCLA, an MFA thesis film by Michael McNeff. A short video dwelling upon Mr. McNeff's project is here; a large gallery of stills posted by the makeup artist, Miriam Writer, is here. Head west, young Bellman, Hollywood-Babylon beckons!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
“’Tis the voice of the Jubjub!” he suddenly cried.
(This man, that they used to call “Dunce.”)
“As the Bellman would tell you,” he added with pride,
“I have uttered that sentiment once.
The story so far: An Oxford don, known to the authorities as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, has been apprehended whilst soliciting various persons whose names begin with the letter B, urging them to participate in what he calls his "hunting of the snark". When pressed for more substantial details, the self-styled Mr. Lewis Carroll claimed that he had absolutely no idea what it all meant and that furthermore, he was himself being harassed by a certain Jubjub, a person of unspecified origin with possible links to a notorious organized-poetry syndicate.
And now …
A screaming comes across the sky. Somewhere a Jubjub bird was wreaking havoc on some other, less fortunate part of Oxford but the Butcher wasn’t buying it. Not anymore, not today. The Bellman had warned him long ago. Be a man, he’d said, three times, like he really meant it but that was long ago and the Bellman was gone now.
They were all gone, it was just him and the Beaver. And she’d lost it way back in Fit the Fourth, in that freakshow scene with all that black lace and the Barrister just watching her, just watching her blow her mind.
It was all up to him now. Deep cover, total deniability, just play it straight, just take it easy and I’ll handle it from there, Carroll had said. Sure, take it easy, try taking it easy when the anapaests are hammering your skull like jackhammers and the crosshatching makes your skin crawl. Yeah, take it easy while every two-bit, punk academic with a jones for a quickie dissertation topic takes a cheap shot at you. Like the Butcher needed a college degree to know that it was all absurd, that it was all just nonsense and that there was a Boojum waiting at the end of the road.
The Beaver said something incomprehensible in Japanese and an origami crane fluttered by. It’s time, the Butcher thought to himself.
Without thinking at all, with his mind totally empty of any thought save one, the Butcher raised his hand, slowly at first and then faster, ever faster; he raised it as high as he could, even higher than the Other’s hand, that disembodied hand with which they had all grappled every night after dark, as high as that hand which was now turning and pointing towards him and the Butcher thought to himself, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on, and then it was over; he’d already forgotten the question and it was too late, the Other’s hand had passed him over — again!
“Like a dunce!” the Butcher said, it was as if the shame of it must outlive him.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
He thought of his childhood, left far far behind —
That blissful and innocent state —
The sound so exactly recalled to his mind
A pencil that squeaks on a slate!
Go ahead, think of your own childhood. Was it a labyrinthine Hunt for an indefinable Snark? Was it an interminable stretch of anapaestized nonsense? Did you secretly wish that you could just softly and suddenly vanish away? Of course, Victorian childhood was an entirely different matter. The uprearing and education of children in those days was a Gradgrindish matter of Facts and just the Facts, harrumph, harrumph!
Look here! The Beaver and Butcher are busy at their lessons right now, this is a perfect opportunity to observe how one can transmute Nonsense into Facts in an approved pedagogical manner with minimal expense to the taxpayer.
The Butcher is an idiot man-child, we can safely ignore him for the nonce but the Beaver is a tougher nut to crack, as we educators like to say! She seems to be constructing an origami crane according to the diagram being sketched out upon the squeaky slate by a disembodied hand. Referring to the previous stanzel of last week, we see the same hand employed with its fellow hand in the casting of a shadow, the shadow of an immense and threatening bird, the dreaded Jubjub!
The overly excitable amongst us might think that all of this is some species of symbolic play which you rather fancy, but Mister Gradgrind, the proprietor of this particular school, will have none of that. He will point out to you, after the necessary light flogging conducive to Victorian pedagogy, that you are not to fancy, no, you are to Fact! Fact, Fact, Fact!
If the artist responsible for this drawing had wished to depict a Jubjub Bird, he would have done so. In fact, Mr. Gradgrind adds (idly re-adjusting your thumbscrew), this business of human and castorian hands manipulating Jubjubian references which are typologically generating additional motifs of birds, childrens’ play and postlapsarian anxiety is not a Fact at all! If it was, the Jubjub, a patently imaginary creature, would have to exist, QED.
After a bit more pedagogically necessary fiddling about with alligator clips and car batteries, Mr. Gradgrind will point out, with a world-weary smile, that this is how it always begins, that someone starts supposing that one thing actually means another, and so on and so on and before you know it, we’re living in a Snarkian Multiverse where the very fabric of language and logic itself is ripped asunder by the unleashed superpowers of Symbolic Metaphor.
And if you dare to point out to him that language itself is symbolic metaphor, why, he’ll give you a flogging that you’ll never forget. Cheeky thing, the bliss and innocence of childhood is too good for the likes of you! And that’s a Fact!
Next week: Winston Smith substitutes for Mr. Gradgrind