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Logical Nonsense: The Logic within Lewis Carroll's Works and Life
Juliana O'Neill Dr. Kent, Dr. Bart, and Dr. Raney Honors Thesis: HON 401-402 8 April 2011
O'Neill 2 Most readers consider Lewis Carroll's works delightful, entertaining, and hilarious, but few consider them logical. After investigating the life and writings of Carroll, however, logical is the only word to describe his work. Lewis Carroll, a pseudonym for Charles Lutwedge Dodgson, was a mathematician with a very logical mind. By playing with language, Carroll went beyond nonsense writing and created logical nonsense. With this paradoxical genre, he could express his worldview, amuse readers of all ages, and offer them an escape from the chaos of reality. By infusing nonsense with logic in his writings and life, Carroll reveals his positive worldview and his love for the complexities within people and the world. Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwedge Dodgson on January 27, 1832 and was the oldest son of an Anglican clergyman. A very imaginative child, he loved to write plays and draw pictures for his seven sisters and three brothers. After attending a boarding school, he lived and studied at Christ Church, Oxford. Although, he was a very devout Christian and planned to enter the clergy, he received special permission from the Dean of Christ Church to remain at school as a Deacon without taking Holy Orders. He never married and was known as a shy man with a stutter. Although he taught mathematics at school and published a few books about logic and geometry, he was by no means a great mathematician. In his spare time, he was a photographer. He was very fond of children, especially little girls. On July 4, 1862 while rowing to a picnic with three girls (one of them was named Alice), he told a story that would make him famous. He only made one trip abroad, retired early, and died on January 14, 1898 at his sister's house near London (Woolf 2-3). Both Carroll and his work have received extensive analysis from critics since his death. Some of these critics believe Carroll was a twisted man and others see within him an innocent, childlike man. The former opinion is surely the more tempting one, which may explain its
some recent scholars believe that “flashy” conclusions about Carroll's personal life have “gotten into the hands of those unskilled in psychology. He also had an immense love for others. Even though his interests varied.But there is no reason to believe that his conscious affection was ever impure” (Kirk 5). and to think it out of place to even so much as mention Him on a week-day. his friends focused on these two facts.. he centered his life around his faith.. Regardless.. Other scholars believe that Carroll had a split personality due to the disparity between Dodgson the mathematician and Carroll the frivolous companion of children. Carroll expresses his love for other people: “One of the deep secrets of Life [is] that all that is really worth. The Alice books..And if I have written anything to add to these stores of innocent and healthful amusements that are laid up in books for the children I love so well.doing is what we do for others” (Dodgson Letters Vol 1 813). the Freudians have had a field day analyzing [Carroll's] relationships with small girls. After rejecting these claims. In one of his letters.. The commemorative cards at his funeral reveal a particularly insightful passage from his sermon called “An Easter Greeting”: I do not believe God means us to divide life into two halves – to wear a grave face on Sunday. At his death. these opinions and debates have not discouraged the steady appreciation and love of Carroll’s work. and What Alice Found There. have delighted and intrigued readers of all ages since the day of their publication. it is surely something I may hope to look back upon without much shame and sorrow (as how much of life must then be recalled!) when my turn comes to walk through the valley of shadows.. especially children. with the result that what should be cocktail-party chatter now appears under the guise of scholarship” (Kirk ii).. the only way to discover the truth about a mysterious man is to study his own words. Carroll's writings reveal his loving nature. (In Lindseth i) Carroll understood the importance of maintaining a unified life. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Indeed. His letters also reveal his .O'Neill 3 popularity among present day scholars: “As might be imagined.
Isa Bowman – one of Carroll's young friends – truly adored this man. but they also reveal his whimsical and childlike side. the amount of references to the goodness of his deeds and heart cast doubt on this theory. treating them to the theatre.. telling them stories. tutoring them in mathematics and logic. he consistently wrote in purple ink. Indeed. He saw her perform in a play and became good friends with her until his death. For example. Carroll's writings reveal his heart. While Carroll possibly performed all of these kind deeds in order to create a façade to distract the world from his true nature. getting them jobs. buying them railway tickets.O'Neill 4 focus on service: The letters. (Cohen Preface to Letters Vol 1 xv) His writings and the testimonies of his contemporaries create a picture of a loving and innocent man. music. the pure nonsensical nature of his work also reveals his childlike and whimsical personality. She referred to him as “the greatest friend that children ever had” (Bowman 132). Much of Carroll's nonsense has tempted scholars into over-analyzing both his work and the minute details of his life: “For twenty-one years (approximately 1870-1891). the accounts of the children he befriended do not support this theory. and art. guiding their careers. for their lessons in French. taking their photographs. His poem . feeding and clothing them. For instance.spell out the way that Dodgson practiced what he preached. He even dedicated his novel Sylvie and Bruno to her. paying for their schooling. and. meeting their dentists' bills. Lewis Carroll: As I Knew Him. he spent much of his life in the service of others: writing for their instruction and amusement. reveals her strong affection for this loving and caring man. though many scholars believe that Carroll was a pedophile. The significance of this is unclear” (Greenacre 168). giving them religious guidance. of course. and then suddenly stopped. inventing games and puzzles for them. This eagerness to find deeper meaning in Carroll's everyday actions casts doubt on some of the current popular opinions about this author. giving them inscribed copies of his books and other presents.. Her book. Besides personal testimonies to Carroll's innocence.
people begged Carroll to tell them whether the poem was an allegory. Some parts of Carroll's life and works are not worth overanalyzing merely for the simple reason that they do not contain any hidden. for instance. Gardner's analysis of Carroll's .O'Neill 5 “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Through the Looking-Glass. (Kelly 60) Carroll himself admitted that some of his work was merely nonsense. deeper meaning. After the publication of his nonsense poem. [The illustrator] chose the carpenter. and Carroll apparently had no strong preference as far as the nonsense was concerned. he offered the artist a choice of drawing a carpenter. Sense did not always have the strongest influence over his word choice: When Carroll gave the manuscript of his poem to [the illustrator]. The author only had one response: “I don't know!” (Kelly 64). stammering deacon and mathematician? Some scholars used this disconnect between Carroll's two sides as proof for the scandalous theories about him: “Dodgson considered himself a happy man. one would be well advised not to press such a poem too hard for a meaning. Any of the words would have suited the meter and rhyme scheme. political satire. Could the whimsical man responsible for the popular Alice books also be the same person as the reserved. Carroll may have found release from his impure thoughts through the logical and dry nature of mathematics. The Hunting of the Snark. does not contain hidden meaning beyond its nonsensical value. or full of some hidden moral. inhibited bachelor who lay awake at night battling what he called 'unholy thoughts” by inventing complicated 'pillow problems' and solving them in his head” (Gardner Sphere Packing 43). but there is a gentle undertow of sadness that runs beneath much of his nonsense: the loneliness of a shy. The key to discovering the truth behind Lewis Carroll and his works is to focus on the important parts of his life and his works as a whole. The first step to understanding Carroll is to integrate his seemingly disparate personalities. a butterfly. Since Carroll acknowledged that some words in this piece are interchangeable. or a baronet.
the famous author? I have for no particular reason. There is no meaningful reason to choose one name over the other since both names refer to the same man.' Only such a broad. Carroll's writing is more than just nonsensical. a random reversal of ordinary experience and an escape from the limitations of everyday life into a haphazard infinity. to refer to this man as Carroll since his literary works are more popular and well known than his mathematical works published under the name Dodgson. He approached literature both with a logical. there cannot be two separate men. is essential since the unity between them reveals insight into Carroll's work. It is convenient.' as his friends and family knew him. his works probably would have never achieved their past and current popularity nor would they have delighted countless readers if they had contained an “undertow of sadness.' derived from 'semeiotic. however. seems to gloss over much of the joy within his life. whose uncommon mind went out to language in almost all of its facets” (Kirk 1-2). When looking at language from a mathematical prospective. however. the reader must integrate these two sides. The separation of these names is sometimes used in arguments proposing that Carroll had a split personality. L.O'Neill 6 nonsense. His nonsense “is not merely the denial of sense. exotic.' a modern name for the study of 'any system of signs which can be used in some communicative function. however. Indeed. but is on the contrary a carefully limited . or 'Lewis Carroll'. Before understanding Carroll. it is logical nonsense. A recent scholar has found such a way and coined the term “semeiotician” to describe Carroll: “I have chosen 'semeiotician. The problem with Carroll's two personalities begins immediately with his two names: “It is always a problem to know how to refer to Carroll. chosen the later” (Woolf 9). it is possible to see the connections among Carroll's writing. mathematical mind and with the heart of a child. and yet precise name properly describes Dodgson. Under this analysis. Dodgson. Should he be 'C.” Finding a way to understand these two sides.
with separate units held together by a strict economy of relations. Carroll's mathematical mind never leaves him. is highly original. The subject of Carroll's work seems outlandish and absurd. romantic. Their actions. and regulations in his comic poetry and nonsense. ordered world. their logical nature eventually becomes quite evident: . logical. ultimately make no sense because they are all emblems of the unknowable void that underlies Carroll's nonsense. Carroll's nonsense reveals his love for language. not subject to dream and disorder with its multiplication of relationships and associations” (Sewell 113). however. and moral. and careful determination. sentimental.Underlying and unifying both modes of poetic expression is Carroll's profound and obsessive concern with order and meaning in a world that constantly threatened him with anarchy and absurdity” (Kelly 30). His writings appeal to children due to its whimsical nature. Tweedledee and Tweedledum fighting over a rattle. the Walrus and the Carpenter – all go about their business with a cool.. amoral and sometimes sadistic. controlled and directed by reason. even in the midst of his literary writing: “His serious poetry is largely derivative. lyrical..O'Neill 7 world. His nonsense poetry. numbers. the Snark hunters. This creation of logical nonsense sets Carroll apart from all other nonsense writers and explains his lasting success: When he 'relaxes' into his nonsense mode he implicitly acknowledges the terrifying absurdity and chaos of reality and proceeds to deal with it as if it were capable of control. there is a logic to his nonsense. rules. cerebral. but it is governed by the rules of nonsense. His nonsense seems to be a way for Carroll to deal with the chaos of the world. Thus the importance of puzzles. They are comic characters because they act as if they are operating in a comprehensible. While his works do not strike people as beautiful or full of life meaning. he escapes to a world that is both ridiculous and organized. but also to adults by releasing them from the world and returning to a childlike wonder and imagination. formulae. a construction subject to its own laws” (Sewell 5). In this sense. (Kelly 37) Carroll's nonsense completely changes the rules of language. on the other hand. The goal of this nonsense is “to create a universe which will be logical and orderly.
' and 'Bandersnatch' makes the poem mysteriously fun.. The words conjure up associations in our minds that provide a 'feeling' for their meanings” (Kelly 58). and organizes them within a strict self-referential framework.. and the objects of that play are words. The specific details of the nonsense.Nonsense disorders references that words have to the familiar sequence of events in everyday life” (Kelly 38).' 'borogoves. Our unfamiliarity with 'slithy toves. is that it means what it says and nothing more” (Kelly 38). Since what is highly variable cannot be played with. an attempt to render language as a closed and consistent system on its own. in nonsense. ambiguity must be stripped as far as possible from the language. with the stuff of his very life. In fact. do not mean anything to Carroll: “The natural tendency of a reader is to ask. not according to the rules of prose or poetry.Games. or baronet. this time. does not mean anything. his nonsense becomes logical nonsense.. Carroll's whimsical and logical nature allows him to reach the full potential of nonsense. What does this line mean? The answer. and at the very top of his game” (Gray x-xi). [It is] an activity that releases man from mechanical routine and enhances his human spirit.. The nonsense. it is the ordered response to the chaotic world. Nonsense should be organized. In his works. butterfly.. Within these works. He makes “structures so complex and entire that. such as whether the Walrus goes for a walk with a Carpenter. but Carroll uses nonsense as a medium for expressing his worldview. Carroll reveals “the inestimable value of play. Taking Carroll's works as a whole reveals his outlook on the world.O'Neill 8 “Nonsense is by nature logical and anti-poetic. [a famous poem from Through the Looking-Glass.. in itself.. Nonsense works with discrete units or words. It reorganizes language. It also should be enjoyable.] we come to them and.we [are] held within them simply by the pleasure of watching Dodgson playing. but according to those of play. understanding the plot or the definitions of the words is not even necessary to enjoy Carroll's nonsense: “The central interest in 'Jabberwoky'. remind us of our humanity in so far as they .] is not in its story line but in its language. for whatever reason[.. Carroll perfectly combines his intellect and playfulness. like laughter.
arouses and engages our human instincts” (Kelly 166). riddles. If games. is essentially a game” (Kelly 166). In a letter to his brother Skeffinton in 1893. a bit of nonsense is useful if it has helped at least one person in the “puzzle of Life. for the most part. Carroll reveals how this worldview has affected all parts of his life: “I always feel that a sermon is worth the preaching. few explore this part of his life and how it relates to his writings (Kirk 2). His mathematical life did not really have an effect on the . Indeed. Carroll's work does have meaning. how when mishandled it can lead the mind down devious paths. rescue man from the drudgery of life and release his true humanity.. Carroll's “view of life as a game is essentially a comic (not frivolous) one.[an] absurd world made comfortable by the grace of wit and laughter” (Kelly 167). Carroll's mathematical background allowed him to create logical nonsense. and such a view. he succeeds in lifting his readers from the world by delighting them with his nonsense: “Carroll's unique vision of the world has now been assumed into our own dream life. with its focus upon objectivity and upon spontaneity within rigidly defined limits. and our popular culture. His response is to create logical nonsense and. The details of Carroll's nonsense meant nothing. but its overall message meant everything. how it can be used for puns. language was merely an extension of mathematics and it fascinated him “how its words can be manipulated like mathematical symbols to make sense or nonsense. While many scholars note that Carroll was a mathematician. Carroll could see the mathematics contained within language.. our imaginations. and fantastic tricks” (Kirk 1).. Logic. to Carroll. and therefore logic. how it can entertain or bore.” Carroll has two thoughts regarding the world.O'Neill 9 free us of mechanical routine. it is an enigma and the people within it need help. For him. In the same way. Some readers even consider his logic books a “waste of time” (Kirk 23). if it has given some help to even one soul in the puzzle of Life” (Cohen Letters vol 2 946).
truly reveals Carroll's wit and love for mathematics. (Crilly 309) This disagreement over methods of teaching geometry lasted for over thirty years (Crilly 310). often leading to the parroting of Euclid without any conception of what it meant to think geometrically. One of his more well-known mathematical pieces. All of Carroll's works. Minos dreams later that he meets the ghost of Euclid. contain the same lightheartedness and frivolity that is typical of his other works. Kirk 12-13). his book. begin complaining about how the new geometry textbooks have caused the students to turn in papers filled with circular. and confusing proofs. This work was relevant in Carroll's time because of the current debate over Euclid's geometry in the mathematical world: In the late 1860s there was widespread concern that Euclid's geometry. This work is truly unlike any other mathematical piece of the time. conscientiousness. Carroll was one of the few supporters of Euclid's geometry. named after the judge of the dead in Hades. Carroll's book continues with various defenses for Euclid (Carroll Euclid. either as a teacher or writer” (Kirk 8).In England. illogical. The French had abandoned Euclid in the Napoleonic era. never was he to contribute important ideas to the growing field of theoretical mathematics. was archaic when compared with the more flexible approach to geometry taught in Continental schools. Euclid. however. He and a colleague. is a defense of Euclid written in dialogue form and divided into four acts. Rhadamanthus. Euclid and His Modern Rival. reveal Carroll's firm sense of order and logic: “Thoroughness. correcting student papers.. as taught in English secondary schools. who defends his works against modern rivals.O'Neill 10 world: “Never was he to appear as a startling and original scholar. The book begins with a geometry professor Minos. Although Carroll signed . however.. Carroll often adds humor to the book. His works. and conservatism – these qualities remained characteristic of all the serious mathematical work Dodgson did” (Kirk 8). but it never detracts from his argument and points (Kirk 13-14). teachers were obliged to follow geometrical propositions in Euclid's order without deviation.
. “I nearly died of laughing” (Bowman 24). This skill of integrating the ideas of mathematics with literature impressed his readers.where nonsense rules?” (Cohen Interviews xxii). Indeed. Considering the wordplay in the Alice books.. Much of his books revolve around characters attempting to interpret the world by understanding everything by its literal meaning.. straight disciplined lines. Carroll was . one would need to have a firm grasp of logic in order to create such nonsensical worlds found in the Alice books. Carroll certainly puzzled many people with his two different interests: “How could a professional mathematician. This blend of mathematics and literature also made Carroll's opinions very unique.O'Neill 11 all of his mathematical work as Charles Lutwedge Dodgson. even in mathematics his whimsical fancy was sometimes suffered to peep out.. he – being a very precise and logical man – hated exaggerations. this hatred for hyperbole does not seem too far-fetched. This unusual but pleasing practice made all of Carroll's activities amusing: “Still. Bowman remembered that Carroll particularly disliked the phrase. he clearly integrated the two sides of his life in every activity. he brought mathematical thinking to literature and literary ingenuity to mathematics. and little girls who learnt the rudiments of calculation at his knee found the path they had imagined so thorny set about with roses by reason of the delightful fun with which he would turn a task into joy” (Bowman 5). “but more fascinating is [his] humorous introduction of mathematical and logical terminology into contexts where they normally would never appear” (Kirk 31). This blend of mathematics and literature set Carroll and his work apart from contemporaries and possibly explains his success throughout various time periods. thinking customarily along strict. For instance. In his academic pamphlets.create.worlds. he inserts numerous puns and variations of wordplay.. His mathematics and creative interests could not remain separate..
be love she. when I yield so will She I would her will be pitied cursed. I would her Cursed be love! (Gardner The Universe 20). the “often” in the second line also stands for “of ten. This kind of logical playfulness allowed Carroll to create logical nonsense and delight countless readers. The answer to the riddle is ten. and also by some adults” (Wakeling Preface Rediscovered Puzzles xiii). dear. Also. the symmetry of the poem is quite pleasing from a mathematical perspective. Carroll is merely “playing with ordinary language on the level of syntax. This poem must have taken time and patience. – How many would appear? (Carroll in Kirk 35) Here. His characters . One time Bowman and her sisters ended a letter to Carroll saying that they sent him “millions of kisses. riddles. Carroll's works are full of games.” In Carroll's response. if I counted all. he calculated exactly how long it would take for Bowman and her sisters to distribute these millions of kisses – about twenty-three weeks – and then told them that he just could not spare that kind of time (Bowman 24-25). These puzzles “will be enjoyed by children of ages five to ninety-five. drained of all semantic meaning” (Kirk 35). and logic problems that he created based on his love for logic and other mathematical concepts. He is also credited with writing a square poem.” thus giving the answer. I dreamed that. which can be read across and down: I often wondered Often feared where Wondered where she'd When I yield. Many of the games in the Alice books are syntax games: Dreaming of apples on a wall And dreaming often.O'Neill 12 likely to rebuke any use of exaggeration in his younger friends. Some of Carroll's jokes are based on more basic mathematical concepts. but also jokingly ridicule them (Bowman 24). pitied! me. which Carroll needed to have as a mathematician.
Carroll. would have surely caught such an error. In modulo seven. For example. There is no value for x in the final equation. It involved adding four different values computed from the century. that the process must end with the same number you start with. 6 would remain 6. . he adopts a procedure that starts with 3 and ends with 3. Rhyme? And Reason?. When the Butcher. also reveals an example of an interesting mathematical equation: Yet what are all such gaieties to me Whose thoughts are full of indices and surds? x2+7x+53 = 11/3 (Carroll in Gardner The Universe 15) Some scholars have speculated that this stanza may be a whimsical self-portrayal of Carroll. sometimes called clock arithmetic. These two examples of mathematical equations in his literary works reveal Carroll's mathematical mind. with the solution giving the day that corresponded with the proper number (Gardner The Universe 25).tries to convince the Beaver that 2 plus 1 is 3. Carroll’s writings also contain mathematical ideas that do not involve any algebra. Perhaps he meant the equations to be nonsense (Gardner The Universe 15-18).. 1 Modular arithmetic. Most readers would probably pass over these algebraic details and miss this interesting puzzle. logic paradoxes. Some of Carroll's puzzles and games had more useful values. month.O'Neill 13 argue by using algebraic ideas: Carroll's great nonsense ballad.g. is a form of addition where the numbers return to zero after reaching a factor of the selected number. and 49 would become 0. year. 19 would become 5. and mathematical nonsense. then the problem would have two irrational solutions. the logical and organized mathematician. unless you write an algebraic expression for the operations. If the 53 had instead have been -53. In modulo seven. The Hunting of the Snark. A stanza from one of Carroll's poem from his book. e. and day in modulo seven 1. 8 would become 1. he devised a system for figuring out the day of every date. bristles with word play. It is not apparent. (Gardner The Universe 10) This algebraic expression simplifies to x. The algebraic expression is: [(x+7+10)(1000-8)/992]-17.. 7=n.
” Carroll continues to play with the logic within language: “[T]he same mind that was attracted to the . would have bought it. All of the puzzles within his works reveal Carroll's delight in combining literature and mathematics. and will not take more than a minute.' That is easy: a penny. The first is the Hatter's question.' That is easy: a baby. “Jabberwocky. In his poem. 'Next. could have caught it. while it lies in the middle: Which is easiest to do.A good deal of logic and mathematics falls into the category of syntax” (Kirk 34). Un-dish-cover the fish. 'Bring it here! Let me sup!' It is easy to set such a dish on the table.. which is concerned with the relationship between linguistic symbols. Carroll offers answers for neither of these riddles: “[A]n unanswered riddle exemplifies Carroll's idea of language games” (Kelly 63).. THAT is so hard that I fear I'm unable! For it holds like glueHolds the lid to the dish. I think. “Why is a Raven like a writing desk?” (Carroll Wonderland in Completed Works 68) and the other is the last comic poem in the Looking-Glass: 'First. 'Now cook me the fish!' That is easy. Much of the puzzles and jokes in the Alice books reveal Carroll's love for logic. He brings his logical and mathematical mind into all of his activities and it can be credited with some of Carroll's success. the fish must be caught. He was mostly interested in “syntax.. I think. 'Let it lie in a dish!' That is easy. or dishcover the riddle? (Carroll Looking-Glass in Completed Works 242) Some readers believe that answer to the latter riddle is an oyster.O'Neill 14 Carroll also has two riddles without answers. 'Take the dish-cover up!' Ah. because it already is in it. logic was relevant in mathematics and in language. For Carroll. the fish must be bought.
Carroll's logical nonsense not only delights and intrigues readers. This intrusion of logic reveals “that the Mad Tea-Party is not quite so mad after all” (Kirk 63). during the mad tea party with the Mad Hatter in Wonderland. This vague confusion follows the reader throughout Wonderland. but it also reveals some philosophical issues from his time...[T]he very same confusions with which Wittgenstein charges philosophers were deliberately employed by Carroll for comic effect” (Pitcher 231). the Hatter attempts to teach Alice the importance of converses (Carroll in Collected Works 69). One scholar even made the bold claim that Carroll “influenced modern British philosophy more than any other English writer” (Rosenbaum 13). expressed itself indirectly in some of the finest passages of Alice” (Kirk 57-59). an Austrian philosopher.O'Neill 15 peculiar symbols of logic and mathematics. Carroll's Alice books contain some of the philosophical ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein. logical . Alice does not understand the difference between most of the statements. Much of Carroll's nonsense “has its source in certain fundamental confusions and errors. despite their surrounding nonsensical environments: “Sometimes the folk of Wonderland make sense. The characters in Carroll's works are subject to his logical mind. For the philosopher. sometimes not. When they speak nonsense. he explains that “I mean what I say” and “I say what I mean” are not the same. They are actually converses and the party continues with a variety of examples of converses. For example. both of these men considered nonsense a world governed by logic. this comparison reveals Carroll’s positive worldview. instead of frustrating the readers. but often the exact nature of their error is not so easily grasped” (Kirk 63). and that sought in the technical works to investigate the ambiguities and tangles of linguistic confusion. Although their approach and reaction to nonsense differed. it amuses and fascinates them. In particular. a reader is instantly aware that sometime has gone wrong. Despite his confusing nonsense. however.
“Of course you don't — till I tell you. “I don't quite understand you. so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.” Humpty Dumpty said.” said Alice.” “The question is. Though Carroll enjoyed discovering logical nonsense. I meant ‘there's a nice knock-down argument for you!’” “But ‘glory’ doesn't mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’. I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!” . and yet it was certainly English. The Hatter's remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it.” Alice said. as politely as she could. Much of Wittgenstein's instances of logical nonsense deals with the details of language which absolutely delighted Carroll. some of them — particularly verbs: they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with. in fact make no sense whatever” (Pitcher 232). Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. Some of these characters admit that they are choosing a meaning of the words that disagrees with the conventional meaning: “I don't know what you mean by ‘glory’. Wettgenstein “makes the point that one must not be seduced into thinking that one understands a certain sentence simply because it is grammatically well-formed and consists entirely of familiar words: The sentence may. He “attacks the idea that what a person means when he says anything is essentially the result of his performance of a mental act of intending (or meaning) his words to mean just that” (Pitcher 242). in rather a scornful tone. This example of nonsense happens countless times in the Alice books: Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. Carroll's works are full of instances of characters meaning one thing and saying another.” Alice was too much puzzled to say anything.” Alice objected. Wittgenstein warned against this sort of nonsense.” she said. For instance. “whether you can make words mean so many different things. “When I use a word. like syntax problems and confusing the meaning of words.O'Neill 16 nonsense was more dangerous than regular nonsense since it “has the semblance of sense” (Pitcher 230). “which is to be master — that's all.” “The question is.” said Humpty Dumpty. but not verbs — however. (Carroll Wonderland in Collected Works 70) Wittgenstein also comments on the meaning of words. “They've a temper. “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.
This deviation from the common and well-known symbols – the practice of being “master” over the definition of one’s words – guarantees a breakdown in communication.” said the Knight. In the world.. Carroll understood this need for a common language. Everybody that hears me sing it – either it brings tears into their eyes or else–” “Or else what?” said Alice. Carroll addresses this idea in Alice’s conversation with the Knight: “It's long.say[s] nothing” (Pitcher 234). As a mathematician. which were a significant part of Carroll's life as a mathematician. looking very much pleased. it does not make sense to suggest that everyone might make nothing but false moves in every game” (Pitcher . knowing that either of two options is true does not necessarily add to one's knowledge and understanding.” (Carroll Looking Glass in Collected Works 224) In a sense. but never both or neither. Wittgenstein argued that in philosophy. Wittgenstein also argues that “one cannot always with sense make the easy transition from some to all” (Pitcher 237). “Or else it doesn't. he would frequently use different symbols and terminology in his mathematical proofs (Rice and Torrence 94). He provides the example: “[A]lthough it certainly makes sense to say that people sometimes make false moves in some games. “the Law of the Excluded Middle. Wittgenstein also identifies some nonsense that relates to mathematical proofs. this belief that the meaning of words can change to fit a situation causes problems when attempting to communicate an idea. (Carroll Looking-Glass 196) While amusing in Carroll's works and a typical occurrence in everyday life. either the proposition is true or its negation is true. for the Knight made a sudden pause. which states that for every proposition. It is essential in mathematical proofs since nothing can be assumed without being proven. the Law of the Excluded Middle is not actually helpful in a real world setting. “but it's very. “what that means?” “Now you talk like a reasonable child. One such mathematical idea is the Law of the Excluded Middle. very beautiful.” said Humpty Dumpty. although.O'Neill 17 “Would you tell me please.” said Alice.. you know.
. they do not have the consequences or connections that are needed to make them into the kind of acts they purport to be” (Pitcher 233). etc. a small amount of inaccuracy is usually not enough to ruin the whole composition. He makes the point that “there are acts which make little or no sense because nothing of the right sort follows from them. I'm afraid. Carroll plays with this idea when the Cheshire Cat describes himself as “mad” because he does not fit the description of a cat: “Well.) is and what it is called” (Pitcher 238).” said Alice timidly: “Some of the words have got altered. Carroll playfully brings up this issue when the Caterpillar scolds Alice for incorrectly reciting the words of a poem. “That is not said right. then.. “Not quite right. and there was silence for some minutes. but because it does not provide any information regarding height. and wags its tail when it's pleased. logical nonsense and to cause his reader to think about some of the illogical practices in the world. and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size” (Carroll Wonderland in Collected Works 22). Wittgenstein also studies relationships “between. process. and wag my tail when I'm .” the Cat went on. and said anxiously to herself 'Which way? Which way?'.what a thing (quality. This action is a very typical childlike response. holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing. it ruins the entire piece. Now I growl when I'm pleased.” said the Caterpillar. Carroll brings his mathematical mind to his writing to create pleasing.” said the Caterpillar. If one part of a poem or mathematical proof is incorrect.O'Neill 18 237). (Carroll Wonderland in Collected Works 52) Carroll reveals his mathematical precision in this passage. it is nonsensical: “Alice ate a little bit. In the world. however.” “It is wrong from the beginning to end. “you see a dog growls when it's angry. Alice discovers this fact when she attempts to measure her height by placing her hand on the top of her head. Wittgenstein also focuses on instances where the relationship between ideas fails.
The Alice books truly reveal Carroll's delight for language. While Wittgenstein and Carroll both identify sources of nonsense. This passage merely provides an example of Carroll playing with logic and leaving the reader without any concrete answers. yet the reader feels Alice's exasperation. Therefore I'm mad. “No. who was by this time completely bewildered. The reader is unsure whether Carroll agrees with Alice or with the Cat. not growling. “The song really is 'A-Sitting On A Gate': and the tune's my own invention.” (Carroll Looking-Glass in Collected Works 224) The Knight and Alice clearly have different ideas about the relationship between an item and its name. that's the name of the song. “I was coming to that. but she is never able to locate the source of the trouble” (Pitcher 238). (Carroll Wonderland in Collected Works 66) The Cat's response is quite interesting. Renaming concepts in order to fit an idea can lead to an illogical system. Carroll uses nonsense whereas Wittgenstein attempts to destroy it.'” “Then I ought to have said 'That's what the song is called'?” Alice corrected herself. The nature of nonsense can be frustrating.” “I call it purring. “No. what is the song. but the Cat's initial comparison to a dog did not really have a basis. trying to feel interested.” the Knight said. you know!” “Well.” said the Cat. This passage exemplifies Carroll's logical nonsense. is it?” Alice said.” the Knight said. The Knight clearly has a strong grasp of language and of the importance of precise language. “That's what the name is called. Even Alice struggles to understand the nonsense surrounding her: “Alice's 'ear' for nonsense is infallible. then?” Said Alice.O'Neill 19 angry.'” “Oh. you don't understand. Carroll's .” said Alice. Another famous passage dealing with relationships occurs when the Knight attempts to tell Alice the name of his song: “The name of the song is called 'Haddocks' Eyes. “Call it what you like. looking a little vexed. you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called 'Ways and Means': but that's only what it's called. The name really is 'The Aged Aged Man.
O'Neill 20 logical nonsense is very childlike. Isa Bowman .[I]t is funny. being a philosopher. and universal in its significance – in short. a masterpiece of the first rank!” (Kirk ii). Carroll is one of the most quoted authors (Cohen Interviews xvi). Wittgenstein is unable to see this childlike innocence in nonsense and this point more than any other divides him from Carroll’s worldview: “[Nonsense] tortured Wittgenstein and delighted Carroll. Carroll's works also reveal his love for people. instructive. and people throughout his works and this interdisciplinary nature of his writings is responsible for their success. The Alice books changed children's literature into a less serious and a more entertaining genre. exerted all his efforts to drag us back to reality from the (horrible) world of myth and fantasy” (Pitcher 250). Besides the Bible and William Shakespeare. There are two reasons for Carroll's immense success: he loved mathematics and he loved making people happy. logic. Wittgenstein. beautiful. Carroll turned his back on reality and led us happily into his (wonderful) world of myth and fantasy. if only they were not so sensible. The Alice books have certainly received all sorts of praise: “Alice in Wonderland is worth the attention of all literate people. Carroll and his readers experience the most joy from his writing when he uses mathematical concepts: “Carroll the mathematician and logician. Indeed. logic. It is nonsense. Carroll reveals his love for mathematics. entertaining. in any case. and gamesmanship hold the same for both. thought provoking. sophisticated. Nearly all of Carroll's jokes are jokes either in pure or applied logic” (Kelly 157).. is inseparable from Carroll the nonsense writer: the principles of order. which is why it appeals both to children and to the child in every adult: “It is the kind of nonsense that results from the very natural confusions and errors that children might fall into. this delight in logical nonsense and childlike joy are the reasons for Carroll's lasting success. especially children. then. that can delight and fascinate children” (Pitcher 249).
than it was to be hailed by the press and public as the first living writer for children” (Bowman 117). Lewis Carroll created logical nonsense and used it to express both his positive worldview and his love for people.O'Neill 21 recalled that when Carroll became famous. She did believe. With his passion for logic. he dreaded the attention. With his logical nonsense. This kind of interdisciplinary thinking allowed him to create a new genre and infuse it with meaning beyond the typical frivolousness of children's literature or nonsense works. the reader can see Carroll’s delight in the world and the people within it. . however. Carroll could see the mathematics within language and the beauty within all mathematics. that he was proud of his work and its positive effect in the world: “I believe it was a far greater pleasure for him to know that he had pleased some child with Alice or The Hunting of the Snark. Carroll was able to connect with his audience and bring joy to readers of all ages. Examining his overall work.
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