Monday, June 19, 2006

Lewis Carroll: Postmodern When Postmodernism Wasn't Cool

My daughter Hannah was in a Blackbox (local children's theater) production of "Alice in Wonderland" last year. She played the middle-sized Alice and did a great job (in my unbiased opinion). Seeing the play made me want to read Lewis Carroll's strange books ["Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass"], which I finally finished just this week.

Lewis Carroll was the pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98). See the Wikipedia article. He published "Alice" in 1865 and "Through the Looking Glass" in 1872. After reading the books, I was not surprised to find in the Wikipedia article questions raised about Dodgson's departure from the faith of his orthodox Anglican father and his interest in "minority forms of Christianity" and "alternative religions (Theosophy)." More disturbing questions are raised about his character, but this might be the modern tendency to debunk the morals of any figure from the past.
Reading "Alice" makes one think that Dodgson was a postmodern before postmodernism was cool.
Take, for example, this interchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty:
"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."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master--that's all."
Humpty Dumpty could well be Bill Clinton saying, "That depends on what the meaning of "is" is," or the modern literary professor saying that the text means whatever the reader says it means.
Dodgson's sad life shows what a blind alley this path becomes.

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