Glory

peter-blake-and-to-show-you-im-not-proud-you-may-shake-hands-with-me[1]
Peter Blake-Alice through The Looking Glass 1972
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There-Lewis Carroll 1871

Alice’s encounter with the proud and doomed egghead philologist Humpty Dumpty, who is naturally sitting on a wall, is one of the most memorable scenes from her visit to the Looking Glass world. Humpty’s practise of assigning private meanings to words raises a whole series of puzzling and unsettling philosophical questions which have only gained in urgency over the last century with its ever greater linguistic and moral relativism.

Carroll, as a philosophical Nominalist (the belief that universal terms do not refer to objective existences, they are mere verbal utterances) and a writer of childrens nonsense books and comic poetry, affirms Humpty’s dictum that a word means just what you choose it to mean in his Symbolic Logic:

…I maintain that any writer of a book is fully authorised in attaching any meaning he likes to any word or phrase he intends to use. If I find an author saying, at the beginning of his book. “let it be understood that by the word ‘black’ I shall always mean ‘white’, and that by the word ‘white’ I shall always mean ‘black’, I meekly accept his ruling, however injudicious I may think it.

While private meaning is an acceptable, even a necessary principle in fiction and poetry, it is far more problematic in other areas. Surely politicians, journalists and judges, for example, are under a moral obligation to avoid weighting words with hidden meaning. Unfortunately many unscrupulous leaders has perverted language in this fashion and imposed the new meaning upon the people.  One of the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes is the power of propaganda to re-define reality; black will indeed become white, a fall from the heights is actually glory. Another technique is of bland technocratic euphemism, making even genocide seem merely a matter of bureaucratic and administrative procedure.

As we drift rudderless in this post-factual, post-truth age with its unprecedented information overload and polarities, we would do well to do the exact opposite of Humpty (after all, he lives on the other side of the mirror), and remember that words are our master, otherwise communication will eventually become impossible.

More Illustrated Alice

Peter Blake-Alice In wonderland 1970
Peter Blake-Alice in Wonderland 1970

I previously wrote about the illustrations that have graced the Alice books over the years, with a special emphasis on the Surrealists (see my post Illustrating Alice). However this generated such a large response from readers that I soon realised that I had barely scratched the surface, as Alice has been published in thousands of editions in over a hundred languages, with a myriad of differing artistic interpretations worldwide and therefore a follow up post was very much in order.

Several Australian readers mentioned the paintings of Charles Blackman featuring Alice which certainly possess intensity and verve. Also noted was another artist from the Antipodes, (or the Antipathies as Alice called the Land Down Under during her descent down the rabbit hole),  Donna Leslie and her brilliant illustrations for the bilingual adaption Alitji In The Dreamtime in Pitjantjatjara and Australian English, that drew heavily on her Aboriginal artistic heritage.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Alice is somewhat of a cultural icon in Japan and Yayoi Kusami, one of Japan’s leading contemporary artists  illustrated the recent Penguin Classic edition with over a hundred drawings in her characteristic hallucinogenic dot style.

Sir Peter Blake, the leading exponent of Pop Art in the U.K illustrated the Alice books and also painted watercolours of certain celebrated scenes in a rather groovy, psychedelic style (see header image and my post Glory).

The noted Bulgarian illustrator Iassen Ghiuselev drawings for the Alice books combine a Central European folkloric sensibility with paradoxical perspectives reminiscent of Escher.

Finally featured are two American artists, Barry Moser whose sharp, dark engravings illustrated the Pennyroyal edition of 1982 and the vibrant semi-abstract paintings of Deloss McGraw.

Charles Blackman-Alice 1956
Charles Blackman-Alice 1956
Charles Blackman-Goodby Feet-1956
Charles Blackman-Goodbye Feet-1956
Donna Leslie-Alitji In the Dreamtime 1992
Donna Leslie-Alitji In the Dreamtime 1992
Donna Leslie-Alitji In the Dreamtime 1992
Donna Leslie-Alitji In the Dreamtime 1992
Yayoi Kusama-Alice In Wonderland 2012
Yayoi Kusama-Alice In Wonderland 2012
Peter Blake-Mad Hatter 1970
Peter Blake-Mad Hatter 1970
Iassen Ghiuselev-Alice Through the Looking Glass 2014
Iassen Ghiuselev-Alice Through the Looking Glass 2014
Iassen Ghiuselev-Alice in Wonderland 2000
Iassen Ghiuselev-Alice in Wonderland 2000
Barry Moser-The Queen Sheep 1982
Barry Moser-The Queen Sheep 1982
Deloss McGraw-Wonderland Playing Cards 2001
Deloss McGraw-Wonderland Playing Cards 2001
Deloss McGraw-Alice In Wonderland 2001
Deloss McGraw-Alice In Wonderland 2001