Explorations in the Field of Nonsense ed. Tim Wigges

This book is a collection of essay on Nonsense collected and edited by Tim Wigges, unfortunately I cannot find a full copy and a new one is currently £200 on amazon so i have had to make do with a part copy on google books.

According to Le Fablier La Fontaine a fable has two parts; body and soul; the (nonsense) story and the (sense) moral – Stefan Thomersson, On Logic and Fiction. pg 8.

In the 18C there was always the danger that anyone uttering or writing Nonsense would be declared mad.- Anthony Burgess, Nonsense. pg 20

I would define Nonsense , then, as a genre of narrative literature which balances a multiplicity of meaning with a simultaneous absence of meaning. This balance is effected by playing with the rules of language, logic, prosody and representation, or a combination of these. In order to be successful, Nonsense must at the same time invite the reader to interpretation and avoid the suggestion that there is a deeper meaning which can be obtained by considering connotations or associations, because these lead to nothing.The elements of word and image that may be used in this play are primarily those of negativity or mirroring, imprecision or mixture, infinite repetition, simultaneity, and arbitrariness. A dichotomy between reality and the words and images which are usedto describe it must be suggested. the greater the distance or tension between what is presented, the expectations that are evoked, and the frustration of these expectations, the more nonsensical the effect will be. – Tim Wigges, Anatomy of Nonsense . pg 27

In this chapter Wigges goes on to connect Nonsense to Oddities and Curiosities of Literature and light verse. He cites examples from C.C Bombaughs Oddities and Curiosities of Words and Literature. This example is a ‘snnow ball sentence in which each word is one letter longer than the previous.

I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality, counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalizes intercommunications’ incomprehensibleness  ! pg 31

However Curiosites lack the tension inherent in Nonsense and strive to make the most coherence possible in difficult circumstances.

Light verse must use wit to entertain us, whereby wit is not essential to true nonsense.

nonsense is not grotesque because words are removed from their emotional connotations thereby the often inherent violence is made harmless. Wigges gives an example comparing a lear limerick and a scene from Roald Dahls Chocolate factory when Violet beauregarde blows up like a giant blueberry. The limerick is without emotion and very matter of fact and the accompanying illlustration shows us how it is possible.

There was an old person of Pinner

as thin as a lath, if not thinner

They dressed him in white and rolled him up tight, 

That elastic old person of pinner 

‘In dahl story, the little girlwho swells up to the shape of a blueberry clearly evokes horror in author, characters and reader alike’ – wigges.pg 35.

‘The doodle like  quality of the drawing creates a distance from reality; here too, although the face of the thin man clearly expresses ( apparently blissful) madness, that of the left hand spectator stupidity and possibly cunning, no emotion is conveyed.’ pg 35

Joseph Schindelmans original illustration adds no more tension to the story.

I wonder if Wigges would have thought the same about Quentin Blakes illustrations ( 2001 – Wiggs book was published in 1987) which contain much more than a sprinkling of the spirit of nonsense.

It is suggested that Lear (and carroll )used Nonsense as an escape from feelings of despair and failure into a ‘land of logic and language’. This is similar to perceived views  of child play. The nineteenth century also saw Children become seen as not only ‘adults in miniature’ which ‘led to the rise and growth of childrens literature’. Lears and Carrolls books were landmarks  in Child literature.( pg 43).

‘Nonsense is indeed ‘ a product of the victorian era”( prickett, pg 126

Victorian Fantasy Stephen Prickett (Author) ) it was an alternative language for coping with the conditions of a world at once more complicated and more repressive’, constituting ‘ an entire alternative aesthetic, making a radically different kind of art.’ wigges. pg 44

A reaction then to an dramatically expanding world that was so scientific and precisely ordered – like darwins discoveries and the revelations of prehistoric life ( dinosaurs) .’Is not the dinosaur the remote ancestor of the jabberwocky?’ pg 44. So perhaps the dramatic increase in information in the victorian era could be mirrored in a young childs learning about the world and thats why nonsense works so well as an escape??



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