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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Through the Looking Glass V -- chapter 3: NAMES and NO NAMES

  1. Curiously, there are no bishops in the book, except here, however, this very subtle mention: bishops were once calls elephants, and in Russian still are.
  2. "'Oh, I liked it well enough--' (here came the favourite little toss of the head)...."
  3. The chorus on the train--like a musical or a Greek play--interests me (not the "pounds a ____," but its very presence).  What do you make of it in the Alice context?
  4. (The passengers in the train coach are full of puns and suggestions of once-famous puns and rhymes.)
  5. An interesting combination: the gnat sighs, much like the lamenting wasp in the retracted "Wasp in a Wig" episode; there is a "shadow of a sigh" mentioned in the prefatory poem; trains are classic symbols of choice, change, and the relentless passage of time, and this train is also "traveling the wrong way" (a reversal, of course, but also a metaphor for Alice's growth away from Carroll); finally, remember that Alice, according to the conductor, has forgotten her name, which may correlate to the Red Queen's advice at the end of chapter 2.  The gnat: "I know you are a friend, a dear friend, and an old friend.  And you wo'n't hurt me, though I am an insect."
  6. If Carroll is the Gnat (which, considering the conversation, is, I think, inevitable), and we extend the characteristic adult-ishness of Wonderland to Looking-Glass House, then perhaps the fact the insects' silence where Alice comes from works on a level beyond the simple fact that, duh, bugs don't talk, at least not to children; and this then emphasizes Carroll's grief, where Carroll is so fundamentally different than the rest of his caste.
  7. The fantastic thing, at least for Carroll, of a secret place without names or labels is its utter anonymity.  Here, nothing would prevent him from approaching Alice, especially in such form as an innocent fawn.  Only on leaving would the fawn and the girl remember who they were and, as it happens and by necessary skittishness of the former, have to part (or is it not Carroll, but merely an analogue of the otherwise inevitable distance between human/wild animal and the impossibility of their continued relationship?).  Note also that in its very beginning Eden must not have had names either.  (This is another scene, so much like that of Alice's moment thinking favorably of the snow forever beyond the window, that touches my soul.)  From Martin Gardner:  The wood in which things have no name is in fact the universe itself, as it is apart from symbol-manipulating creatures who label portions of it because--as Alice earlier remarked with pragmatic wisdom-- "it's useful to the people that name them."  The realization that the world by itself contains no signs--that there is no connection whatever between things and their names except by way of the mind that finds the tags useful--is by no means a trivial philosophic insight.
  8. All the issues with names, and Carroll's own split between writer Carroll and professor Dodgson!
"My First Sermon," by John Everett Millais


  1. 3. I don't know. I really couldn't figure this one out. It does kill some blank space during a transition scene. Do you have any ideas because I've got nothing?
    5. Good catches. Also, I don't know if there's anything to it, but the word in German for a train and also a chess move is, "Zug."
    6. Yeah, I think that he is, too. All the corny puns that the gnat makes are a dead giveaway.
    7. Yeah, I agree. Also, I'm starting to wonder if Carroll was like a vegetarian or something. He's clearly deeply disturbed by the prospect of eating animals (whether he still eats meat or not, I don't know), which I think is evident throughout all of "Alice" and now in "Looking Glass" too.

  2. 3. I want to come back to this one at the end; I don't have an answer, but it doesn't feel arbitrary.
    5. That's awesome! I had no idea. What's the move, by the way?
    7. I've never caught, heard, or thought of this. I'm interested in hearing more about this.

  3. 5. "Zug" just literally means, "move," so every move in chess is known as that. And they also call trains that, apparently because they move, and Germans are a fairly literal bunch.
    7. I'm just thinking of all the terror involved in the books when Alice mentions her cat or when she thinks about eating lobsters or now, the reason that the fawn runs away is because of humans killing it (for food and other reasons). Like I said, I don't know what he actually did about it, but it seems likely to me reading the text that he sees something cruel, or at least regrettable, in killing animals for food. Maybe I'm off-base again, though.

  4. 5 -- Makes sense. And more, there always seems to be an audible similarity between German and English. Zug. Move. I don't know. This is me and my ignorance! And I think we should have more verbs that are nouns. Why not call a train or a car "move"?
    7 -- If you'd brought this up just after Wonderland, I'd have doubted it, as I think the fear is conditional to the characters around Alice; however, the deer is different. I'm going to keep watching it. Good catch.

  5. 5. We seem to have the opposite habit lately. Take a noun and verb it--like that. And I think that the point about sounding similar is true, probably because we come from the same ancestor language. I don't know if Zug and Move are so close (although I'm willing to go along with it), but there are tons of words that are.
    7. Read the next chapter. Of course, this could just be confirmation bias on my part, so I want to hear what you think.

  6. There's a lot here about the issue of violence. I found an interesting tidbit for the post coming this afternoon (I need a couple of quotations from books at home before I can post it up) on the poem. There should be ample room for discussion.


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