I wasn’t expecting postmodern philosophy when I opened the New York Times Opinionator blog this week, but there was filmmaker Errol Morris rambling on about truth, relativity, Jorge Luis Borges and Humpty Dumpty. It appears to be the fourth of a five-part series called “The Ashtray,” no doubt what he was staring into when he starting questioning existence and art. Part Four, “The Author of the Quixote,” is named after Borges’ story about Pierre Menard, a 20th century Frenchman who wrote a book called “Don Quixote,” which has the identical text to Cervantes’ book of the same name. Borges’ book review of it complains that Menard’s 17th Century Spanish seems affected, unlike Cervantes. Read the whole Morris essay here, which drags in a long quote from Through the Looking Glass. “…It addresses the issue: can words mean anything we want them to?” asks Morris. “Humpty-Dumpty is suggesting an ‘authoritarian’ theory of meaning. Words mean whatever I want them to mean. It is easy to see it as an earlier version of ‘The Ashtray Argument.’”
Michael Everson released six Carroll books in 2009 from his publishing company Evertype, starting with the Irish AAIW, Eachtraí Eilíse, and continues now with more new unique oddities. All this exciting activity is causing Mark Burstein to wax Borgesian about La biblioteca de Babel:
Borges and others have spoken of a universal library; for our purposes, let us imagine an enormous set of the two canonical Alice books, all with matching covers and identically formatted with the Tenniel illustrations, each being in one the ninety or more languages into which they have been translated. Michael Everson is moving in that direction with matching editions of the books in, thus far, English, Irish, Cornish, German, and Esperanto, and soon he promises French, Italian, and Swedish, as well as the constructed language Lojban. Aside from the new translations (Irish, Cornish), the European languages (Michael is fluent in six) are taken from the first editions, but romanized (in the case of the German Fraktur) and modernized in terms of spelling and, occasionally, vocabulary, the goal of which is to have thoroughly readable texts for modern readers.
(That continuing-to-evolve ‘Burstein on Everson’ essay will appear in a future Knight Letter.)
Mrs. J. C. Gorham (who will be known to history only by her husband’s name!) created a series of books using only one syllable words, including Gulliver’s Travels (1896) and Black Beauty (1905). “Having read the Gulliver’s Travels retelling,” writes Mr. Everson, “I can say that it is a fine example of monosyllabic writing [...]. Although Mrs Gorham ‘cheats’ rather a bit more than this in her 1905 retelling of Alice—her style is still both vigorous and enjoyable. It is for this reason that Mrs Gorham’s ‘Alice imitation’ (to use Carolyn Sigler’s term) deserves to be put back into print.” You can see what he means by ‘cheats’ (as I did in my attempt at a monosyllabic title to this blog post) in this excerpt:
“Do you like your size now?” asked the Cat-er-pil-lar.
“It is a good height, in-deed!” said the Cat-er-pil-lar, and reared it-self up straight as it spoke (it was just three inch-es high).
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Retold in words of one syllable (Evertype, $11.95, available on Amazon.com).
The other new offerings are two fresh reprints of the Boer War-era political parodies, Caroline Lewis’s Clara in Blunderland and its sequel Lost in Blunderland, originally published in 1902 and each being sold for $12.95. Why is this dated comedy being dragged from the vaults? “I should make it clear that I am not a student of early twentieth-century British politics—but I’m not publishing this book because of its value to the study of that time and place,” writes Everson. “I’m publishing it because it’s a splendid parody, amusing both for what it parodies as for its reflection of Carroll’s original.”
All of Everson’s Evertype Alice books can be perused at alice-in-wonderland-books.com.
Also known as, “AN ANNOTATED INTERNATIONAL BIBLIOGRAPHY OF LEWIS CARROLL’S SYLVIE AND BRUNO BOOKS” by Byron Sewell and Clare Imholtz. New Castle and London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2008. 4to, cloth. 274 pages.
Now available is this comprehensive bibliography of over 1,000 entries listing all known editions of Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie & Bruno books, their translations into foreign languages, excerpts from them, the appearance of their poems in anthologies, critical articles and studies, parodies, and much more. This book establishes for the first time the full bibliographic record of these long-neglected works by Carroll, including several little-known bibliographic rarities.
This descriptive bibliography will introduce many of its readers to the important techniques of the novels, with their multiple and shifting levels of reality, and the delightful nonsense of the Mad Gardener’s Song and other poems in the books. The bibliography includes a 30-page scholarly essay by Anne Clark Amor, one of Britain’s foremost Carroll scholars, as well as a complete list of the recipients of Lewis Carroll’s presentations of the two books, compiled by Carroll scholar Edward Wakeling.
In identifying the riches to be found in the bibliographic outlands of Carroll’s Sylvie & Bruno books, Sewell and Imholtz have demonstrated that there has been far greater interest in them than has generally been recognized. The bibliography reveals the many literary and cultural figures who have commented on, disparaged, imitated, parodied, quoted or in some other way drawn upon the Sylvie books, including: T.S. Eliot, Harold Bloom, Jorge Luis Borges, G.K. Chesterton, James Joyce, Ogden Nash, Elizabeth Sewell and Evelyn Waugh, among others. The extent and thoroughness of the bibliography is in no small part due to the wonderful cooperation the bibliographers received from collectors and scholars in Great Britain, Japan, Russia, Finland, France, the United States and elsewhere.
“The range and extent of the work is indeed impressive, and the volume is bound to become a cornerstone of Lewis Carroll scholarship. ” —Professor Morton Cohen
Available from Oak Knoll Press. 20% off to LCSNA members. www.oakknoll.com/detail.php?d_booknr=94203