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It's a wonderful night for eyebrows.

Chapter VII of Carroll's renowned book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) introduces its eponymous heroine to a most unusual tea party with three very curious attendants: a March Hare, a Hatter, and a very tired Dormouse who frequently falls asleep only to be jostled awake by the other two characters. What makes the reunion "curioser and curioser" is its repetition. As the Hatter discloses, a recent quarrel had made the sensitive Time mad and he was punishing the three by standing still at 6 pm, so that the party was now forever stuck at tea time and had "no time to wash the things between whiles" (Carroll 1920: 104). Like her previous adventures in this topsy-turvy world of anthropomorphic creatures and things that defy logic and commonsense, the mad tea-party putts Alice's patience and reasoning ability to the test, until, tired of being bombarded with riddles and silly stories, she becomes insulted and leaves, claiming that it was the stupidest tea party that she had ever been to. Soon after arriving on the scene, for instance, Alice is greeted with the Hatter's brusque remark that "Your hair wants cutting" (Carroll 1920: 96). To her admonition that "it is very rude" to make personal remarks about people, the Hatter merely replies with the now-famous question: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" And although Alice's interest is piqued by the puzzle and she declares with some confidence that she can provide an answer to the unexpected riddle ("Come, we shall have some fun now! ... I'm glad they've begun asking riddles--I believe I can guess that"), she is unable to find a meaningful connection between ravens and writing-desks and must finally admit defeat. Like Alice, the reader is intrigued by the surprising association of the two disparate lexemes and endeavors to find a logically-satisfying answer, even after the Hatter and the March Hare both confess that they "haven't the slightest idea" (Carroll 1920: 101). Rather than being convinced, the reader suspects that some deeper connotation motivates the association and is left with the impression that meaning is being purposefully withheld. The natural impulse, then, is to dig and probe until some scrap of meaning can be uncovered to satisfy the reader's expectation of and longing for coherence. For such is the human mind, that it stubbornly tries to catch even the tiniest thread of patterns it recognizes and can guide itself by. In fact, after the book's first publication, hundreds of readers wrote to Carroll wanting to learn the "real" answer to the riddle. The flood of letters prompted the author to offer the following reply, which was included in later editions of the novel:

"Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!" This, however, is merely an afterthought: the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all. (Huxley 1976: 21, emphasis added)

Carroll's predisposition for playing with language and stretching the boundaries of meaning-generating logic is evident in the answer, for he intentionally spelled "never" as "nevar," which is "raven" spelled backwards. The intended pun, however, is often ruined when correction or miscopying intervenes and the supposed misspelling is changed back to "never." Or, what if the puzzle is not meant to have an answer. To have an answer ready would require forethought before the riddle was expressed, and nonsense does not allow such deliberation. In nonsense, "one never knows what one is going to say until one has said it" (Huxley 1976: 12). The raven "riddle" is thus a perfect example of the delicate balance of nonsense, which offers with one hand what it denies with the other, frustrating Alice, at the same time that it confuses and delights the reader.

The absence of sense--in the conventional understanding of the term as something that can be grasped and organized through the logical and reasonable faculty of the mind--is a precondition of nonsense. To try and find meaning in nonsense literature, then, is to do violence to the genre, to force upon it patterns of signification it does not inherently contain or recognize. Defined as such, nonsense literature can justly be proclaimed as difficult or impossible to understand. What, then, accounts for the fascination that the nonsense genre has exerted on both readers and scholars? The answer lies in the very peculiarities that make nonsense productions stand out. For all its defiance of language conventions and/or logical reasoning, nonsense literature is far from senseless and absurd. It delivers, in fact, an excess of meaning, rather than a lack of it. Or, more precisely, it defeats meaning at the same time that it imparts an overplus of it. Nonsense thus becomes "non-sense," a mode that allows the literature not to mean but to be (Heyman, apud McGillis 1999: 186). Still, writing outside sense "proves to be surprisingly difficult, for meaning puts up a fight." To be successful in his endeavour, then, the nonsense writer "must be wily--he must possess intuitions about the workings of language that are of the most acute type" (Lecercle 1994: 115). It is precisely this intuitive dimension of nonsense literature that is of interest to us in the current paper. To provide a more informed analysis, it is first necessary to have a look at what intuition is.

Into the wilderness of intuition

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the "gift." (Albert Einstein)

Beyond the fight of reason and unreason, at the intersection of consciousness and the subconscious lies a difficult to scrutinize ability that makes possible a direct, unmediated knowledge of the universe. To have access to this elusive faculty, however, one must surpass the contesting dimensions of rationality and unreason that divide the human psyche and allow the intellect to be illuminated by intuition (Humphreys 1976: 10). While religion, spirituality and philosophy have recognized the value of the pure, non-referential knowledge provided by intuition, scientific research is still trying to grasp the origin and cognitive architecture of this faculty. Broadly defined, intuition represents 'direct knowing,' or knowledge obtained in the absence of conscious information processing in other words, knowing something without knowing how. In the attempt to illuminate the cognitive source of intuition, scientific investigators have advanced, for instance, the hypothesis that intuition is handled by the mind's experiential system, which is "preconscious, rapid, automatic, holistic, primarily nonverbal, [and] intimately associated with affect" (Pacini & Epstein, apud Sinclair 2011: 4). Such a theory implies that, since intuition is preconscious, it cannot result from processing that employs the neural system for deliberation. The general assumption is that deliberation requires awareness, which is by definition conscious and therefore incompatible with the view of intuition as preconscious. Equally flawed is the naturalistic view of intuition as resulting from "quick pattern matching that is too fast for us to register consciously" (Klein, apud Sinclair 2011: 4). This theory merely clashes with the experiential perspective in that it considers the process through which intuition (or rather intuitive expertise) occurs to be non-conscious, rather than preconscious. However, the understanding of intuition as 'direct knowledge' does not necessarily exclude deliberation through neural processing. Deliberation is currently assumed to be a conscious process, but future research may still prove that it too is part of the complex set of behaviors and activities that humans are capable of without conscious awareness.

Despite the impossibility to provide a clear answer to the question of how and where is intuition produced in the cognitive system, scientific investigation has produced a number of important classifications regarding intuitive processes. Of interest to the current paper is the distinction between the inferential and the holistic type of intuiting, as well as the differentiation between incremental and radical intuiting. Inferential processing is believed to rely on automated responses based on a quick recognition of memory patterns created through previous experiences. Whether this type of processing is associative (a quick impression immediately evokes previous experiences and creates associations with past events, facts or knowledge) or matching in kind (the current situation is mentally compared with stored schemas until a match or an anomaly is found), it relies extensively on experience and it lends itself more frequently (and easily) to investigation. The holistic type of intuiting, on the other hand, processes information non-sequentially, in a jigsaw puzzle-like manner and often synthesizes "unconnected memory fragments into a new information structure," integrating information that is too complex for a speedy conscious deliberation (cf. Sinclair 2011: 5-6). The dissociation of intuition into incremental and radical could be proposed as a way to accommodate the dynamics of unconscious thought, which presupposes that our mind processes information when we divert our conscious attention elsewhere. After all, incremental intuiting is a process whereby information is connected in a new but predictable manner, drawing on existing domains of knowledge in the mind. Radical intuiting, on the other hand, departs dramatically from the existing knowledge patterns and generates a surprising novum in a truly "creative style," which requires a certain predisposition and talent. (Sinclair 2011: 6)

Illuminating as the above mentioned investigations may be, they are primarily concerned with measuring and understanding intuition from a more pragmatic point of view (examining, for instance, the role of intuition in entrepreneurial activities, strategic decision making or interpersonal relations). However, given that the current paper focuses on the literature of nonsense and its intuitions, it is also necessary to look at intuition from a philosophical perspective. Declaring (rightly so) that our contact with reality has the structure of a representation, philosophy agrees with science regarding the immediacy of the knowledge provided by intuition. To the philosophical conception, intuition constitutes pure, untaught, a priori knowledge independent of any reasoning process, or, in other words, the immediate apprehension of an object that does not rely on a previous cognition of the same object. This is essentially the same as the previously mentioned view of intuition as 'direct knowing.' Beyond this concurrence, however, the nature of intuition is somewhat debated by philosophy, and it is beyond the scope and space of this paper to review this controversy. It is nevertheless worthwhile to mention the distinction that Husserl makes between "signifying acts," or "signifying intentions," which are empty because they only aim at their object without causing it to be seen or reached (the object is only meant, as in the case of a word, which can only evoke an object without actualizing it), and "intuitive acts," which are characterized by fullness because they reach their object directly and cause it to be realized. In other words, intuition has the power to escape the tyranny of sensible perception and presents its object by analogy, without the need for representation (Levinas 1995: 65-67). Under the term intuitive acts, Husserl encompasses, on the one hand, perception (what he calls Gegenwartigung or presentation) and, on the other, imagination and memory (the so-called representation, Vergegenwartigung). Perception is characterized as a privileged intuitive act, a "primary intuition" that produces being. Whereas memory and imagination work with "phantasms," perception operates with sensations, characterized by the German philosopher as "reflections and shadows" of objects that make it possible to apprehend the object "in flesh and bones." (Levinas 1995: 70)

What is essentially significant about Husserl's theory of intuition is his assertion that it is possible to distinguish between what is "merely meant" and what is "intuitively given." This distinction, along with Sinclair's comments about the creative products of radical intuiting, will be kept in mind as they will prove significant for the subsequent analysis of the relationship between intuition and nonsense literature.

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously

I was brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; / All mimsy were the borogoves, / And the mome raths outgrabe.

Any reader of English literature will recognize the stanza as belonging to the now-famous and strangely nonsensical poem "Jabberwocky" printed in Lewis Carroll's 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, a sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In an early scene in which she first encounters the chess piece characters White King and White Queen, Alice finds a book written in a seemingly unintelligible language. Realizing that she is travelling through an inverted world, she recognizes that the verse on the pages is written in mirror-writing and she holds a mirror to one of the poems, reading the reflected verse of "Jabberwocky." However, she finds the nonsense 'verse as puzzling as the odd land she has passed into (which is later revealed as a dreamscape). The playful, whimsical language and the abundance of nonce words have made the poem one of the greatest examples of nonsense verse in the English language. Amusing and readable as the poem may be, though, it hardly makes any sense if one attempts to decipher it on a semantic level. Phonetically, all the words conform to the phonotactics of English, even the coined ones, and are therefore pronounceable. Morphologically, the poem follows the rules of word separation and punctuation, and its lexemes are susceptible to an analysis of constituents. Syntactically, every word can be ascribed as a part of speech and the lexemes enter into identifiable syntagmatic relationships. However, from the point of view of semantics, the discourse produced--although coherent--is filled with words, nouns, adjectives and verbs that have lost their normal signification and have become meaningless (cf. Lecercle 1994: 21-22). The reader is therefore compelled to declare with Alice that the poem "seems very pretty... but it's rather hard to understand!... Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas--only I don't exactly know what they are!"

Such a description could easily be applied to the whole experience of reading nonsense literature, a genre characterized by unique structural patterns that make it stand out among the canon of literary works. By subverting general logic and the conventional rules of language, literary nonsense destabilizes and frustrates, at the same time that it delights the reader and the characters. Although the origins of the genre are unclear, its roots are estimated to be in traditional folklore and nursery rhymes, for which reason nonsense is often associated with children's literature and critically dismissed as incongruous or not serious (enough). George Orwell confirms this communal origin of nonsense when he affirms that probably the best nonsense poetry is produced gradually and accidentally, by communities rather than by individuals. The deep-seated relation between nonsense and madness, as well as the association of nonsense with absurdism further increases the negative attitude towards the genre (Khasawneh 2008: 2). However, to dismiss nonsense as mere irrationality, chaos, or fantasy, or as meaningless productions for a young audience is to not be aware of the dynamics and meanderings that make the genre more complex and significant than it appears. In other words, it means to dismiss or disregard its powerful intuitions.

Still, it is true that some of the most applauded nonsense creations were produced during the Victorian era, when the literary style gained popularity as a playful form of juvenile literature. The purest examples from this period are Lewis Carroll's Alice books, closely followed by Edward Lear's volumes of nonsense poetry. In his essay on Nonsense Poetry (1945), George Orwell appreciates Lear as "one of the first writers to deal in pure fantasy, with imaginary countries and made-up words, without any satirical purpose. His poems are not all of them equally nonsensical; some of them get their effect by a perversion of logic, but they are all alike in that their underlying feeling is sad and not bitter. They express a kind of amiable lunacy, a natural sympathy with whatever is weak and absurd." Orwell, like other critics before and after him, finds Lear most valuable when he keeps his imagination in check and lets his poetry stream from a kind of intellectual intuition (in Husserlian terms). Like with Carroll's Alice, nonsense literature is at its best when "haunted by the ghost of logic." Such is, for instance, the case with Lear's "The Pobble Who Has No Toes." As it may be remembered, the Pobble, who once had toes "as many as we," went fishing in the Bristol Channel:

[...] But before he set out he wrapped his nose, In a piece of scarlet flannel. / For his Aunt Jobiska said, 'No harm / Can come to his toes if his nose is warm; // The Pobble swam fast and well / [...] He tinkedly-binkledy-winkled a bell. / [...] And all the Sailors and Admirals cried, / When they saw him nearing the further side, --/ 'He has gone to fish, for his Aunt Jobiska's / 'Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!' // But before he touched the shore, / [...] A sea-green Porpoise carried away / His wrapper of scarlet flannel. / And when he came to observe his feet / Formerly garnished with toes so neat / His face at once became forlorn / On perceiving that all his toes were gone! // [...]And she said,--'It's a fact the whole world knows, / That Pobbles are happier without their toes.'

From limericks and nonsensical alphabets to rhymes, songs and stories, Lear developed every kind of nonsense, and rightfully earned his fame as the "Laureate of Nonsense" (Murphey 1953: 9). Experiencing the world around him as gloomy and oppressive, and bemoaning that his own life seemed to him "more and more unsatisfactory and melancholy and dark," Lear probably found in nonsense a space of happiness and beauty. His nonsense verse therefore frequently employs the pleasant sound effects of nursery rhymes, though some of his limericks can be violent:

There was an old man who screamed out / Whenever they knocked him about; / So they took off his boots, / And fed him with fruits, / And continued to knock him about.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, one of his most famous poems, on the other hand generates a feeling of harmony and tranquillity based on regular euphonic combinations, even if it defies the common rules of logic:

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea / In a beautiful pea-green boat; / They took some honey, and plenty of money / Wrapped up in a five-pound note. / The Owl looked up to the moon above, / And sang to a small guitar: / O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, / What a beautiful Pussy you are, / You are, / You are! / What a beautiful Pussy you are!

Less fantastic than Lear,--and for this reason appreciated by Orwell and other critics as funnier--Lewis Carroll produced a kind of nonsense that focused more on the linguistic dimension of discourse and the subversion of logic and rules. His nonsense is "all about words," as can be clearly evidenced from the Alice books. "Carroll endows everything with the power of speech so that endless exchanges of words become possible. Flowers, insects, animals, legs of mutton, Christmas puddings, playing cards and chessmen can speak. Even in the wood where things have no names there is the communicative possibility of using French" (Khasawneh 2008: 73). His intellectual intuitions revealed the mechanistic manner in which language is commonly used, as well as the wealth of unintended meanings and associations that a word can evoke in the speaker and listener alike. As a logician and mathematician, Carroll manipulated mathematical rules to produce humour, so that his nonsense is filled with puns, riddles and plays with logic that are lacking in Lear's more emotional rhymes, which are characterized by topsy-turvy inversions, neologisms and alliteration. Lear's nonsense often mocks conventional meanings and takes delight in the sounds and rhythms of words and verbal inventions, whereas Carroll's more sophisticated nonsense plays with ideas and their logic, as well as their representation in language.

We're all mad here

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' / 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat. / 'I don't much care where--' said Alice. / 'Then it doesn't matter which way 'you go,' said the Cat / 'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked. / 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.' / 'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice. / 'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'

What the Cheshire Cat acknowledges in the above paragraph is an inherent relation between nonsense and madness, a connection that has not gone unnoticed by critics, given that the discourses of eccentricity and of insanity are both discourses of exclusion. The predisposition of nonsense characters toward eccentricity and the easiness with which they sometimes slip into delirium and even raving madness proves that there is indeed a very thin line between nonsense and madness. "The whole universe of nonsense is the universe of the mental patient," and as such "the text of nonsense is a verbal asylum, in which madmen speak, but within the limits and constraints of the text, which phrases both the discourse of madness and the discourse on madness" (Lecercle 1994: 207-208). Lecercle posits the limerick as a locked glass case or cell in which the madman is "regularly exhibited for the enjoyment of audiences." Such a subjugation (which reminds of the Victorian habit of putting on display in madhouses and at fairs those deemed abnormal, grotesque, bizarre or unacceptable by the norms of society) necessarily invites the reader to gape at the eccentricities of the nonsense character, to point and laugh at him, or to "prod and interpret, before sending him back to his padded cell, like psychiatrists." (Lecercle 1994: 206)

This gaping and prodding, however, is a clear indication of the fact that nonsense and madness do not overlap. On the contrary, by picturing the exclusion of madness in comic form and modeling itself on the speech of madmen, nonsense actually seeks to inscribe and contain madness. In spite of its apparently demented nature the genre's "constitutive strategy is one of last ditch defence against the contagion of madness" (Lecercle 1994: 204). As such, nonsense not only reflects on the behaviour of madmen, but also exhibits a powerful intuition regarding the laws that govern demented speech. In fact, as Lecercle observes, the same three maxims that underlie the language of madness (possession, literalness and negation) are also structuring devices of literary nonsense. The madman is often possessed and spoken against his will by spirits who avail themselves of his voice and speak metaphorically in order to deceive. In Carroll's Adventures in Wonderland, whenever Alice tries to recite a poem the words come out all wrong, and the sentences have a tendency to let her down and utter contradictions, which she regrets but cannot help saying (Lecercle 1994: 207). Similarly, in Chapter 5, after experiencing several confusing changes, Alice fails to explain to the stern Caterpillar who she is, confessing rather shyly that "I--I hardly know, Sir, just at present... because I'm not myself, you see." (Carroll 1920: 58)

The Caterpillar's literal reply that "I don't see" is correct, yet irrelevant in the context, for Alice never mocks the Caterpillar's lack of sight, but merely appeals to his understanding. Nonsense literature frequently makes use of the literalisation of abstractions, as well as set phrases and metaphors to generate a comic effect. In Chapter 7, for example, the Hatter's scornful comment that Alice has never spoken to time causes the girl to reply: "Perhaps not... but I know I have to beat time when I learn music" (Carroll 1920: 101). Yet, like the Caterpillar, the Hatter fixates on the literal meaning and quickly responds: "Ah! That accounts for it... He won't stand the beating." In the madman's case, too, the spirits who possess him speak poetically, yet his limited abilities make it impossible for him to grasp the metaphorical meaning. Since he can only interpret the instructions literally, his speech appears to the outside world as demented.

Finally, the third tenet identified by Lecercle as common to both nonsense and the discourse of madness is that of negation. Whenever the speaker claims not to care about something, in reality the respective subject is infinitely important. The whole of Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass is governed by this principle of inversion.

Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Like the productions of the genre, working critically with nonsense is difficult and slippery, and critics often agree that any theory of nonsense can be patchy at best. Any attempt to impose rules and clear-cut distinctions on a genre that is itself subversive of rules and conventional meaning will inevitably affect the dynamics that make nonsense what it is.

In An Anatomy of Literary Nonsense (1988), Wim Tigges attempts to define nonsense rather strictly, aiming to create his own theory of the genre on the basis of canonized works by acclaimed authors such as Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Christian Morgenstern, the Marx brothers and others. Intent on delineating what nonsense is and what it is not, Tigges employs the notion of "unresolved tension" to distinguish between nonsense literature and other literary genres such as the joke, the absurd, the parody, the satire, the grotesque, surrealism, dada, the fairy tale, the nursery rhyme, myth and light verse. Useful as such a clear-cut dissociation may be, it has the disadvantage of virtually proclaiming the death of nonsense as a productive genre. Considering Carroll and Lear as the founding fathers of nonsense, Tigges actually divides the works of nonsense into "learean" and "carrollean" (cf. [section] 4, "A Literary Appraisal"), estimating that all there is to nonsense has already been created by either Lear or Carroll and has only been developed a little further by other long dead authors. However, examples from more recent literature could very well invalidate such an affirmation. While not accepted as canonical, the highly imaginative children's books produced by American writer, poet and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel (more famously known under the penname of Dr. Seuss) took nonsense to a new level of refinement. Convinced that "fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living" and that nonsense "wakes up the brain cells," Geisel spun fantastical worlds inhabited by imaginative characters that speak in rhymes and anapestic tetrameter (a meter employed by many poets in the English canon). Geisel's most celebrated creations include characters such as the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax, Sam-I-Am (the protagonist of Green Eggs and Ham, who pesters the book's unnamed narrator to sample a dish of green eggs and ham, until the latter finally gives in and after tasting states happily that "I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am!") and the Grinch. A bitter, grouchy, cave-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small," the latter has even entered the common vocabulary of the English language as a noun denoting a person or thing that spoils or dampens the pleasure of others. In Halloween is Grinch Night, for instance, the Grinch comes out of his cave to terrorize the inhabitants of Whoville, yet on the way down to the village he has an accident that prompts him to exclaim: "Gall-don brickle bush, Ehh! I've got brickles in the britches!" And the description of the causes for the so-called "Grinch Night" is equally filled with coined, nonsensical words:

Sour-sweet Wind across the tree stumps on the wrong side of punker's pond. / When that wind wakes up the greegrumps / From their sleep inside the tree stumps. / And all the greegrumps start a-growlin' / And that growlin' and that howlin' / Runkles and grunkles up the pond. [...] / 'Cause when old punker's gets runkle-grunkled... / That always disturbs the Hakken-Kracks / And the Hakken-Kracks start ayowlin'. / And the yowlin' of the Hakken-Kracks pulse that runklin'-grunklin', / Howlin'-growlin', always irritates the Grinch. / And then, that Grinch starts in a-prowlin'.

Highly fantastic and nonsensical, yet musical and rhythmical, Geisel's stories are imbued with a sort of consistent madness, for he never wavers from his creations. If he creates, for instance, a three headed person living in his home, he stays within the contextual frame of the story and imagines three of everything, so that the story come across as sound as any other tale. This bespeaks an author endowed with the talent of radical intuition, which departs dramatically from existing knowledge and produces a truly surprising and creative novum.

Intuition and nonsense are in fact closely connected. One of the genre's most valuable aspects is its ability to make powerful intuitions about the nature of sense and meaning-production, the arbitrariness of rules and the limitations of human intellect. And it does this intuiting by employing a series of structuring devices, the most important of which is paradox. Nonsense literature constantly confronts the reader with paradoxes at various textual levels and stubbornly refuses to resolve these paradoxes and the tension thus created, stretching the limits of the reader's ability and willingness to endure the pressure as far as possible and then a little farther. Since the best effect is obtained if the tension remains unresolved, nonsense delivers no punch line. This unresolved tension could be produced through the interplay between the presence and absence of meaning:

[Nonsense's] most essential characteristic is that it presents an unresolved tension ... a balance between presence and absence of meaning. This balance has to be prevalent in the work as a whole, but frequently it also features as a device on smaller scale within the work. Once this type of balance is signaled, it cannot be confused with that of irony, where meaning is also frequently negated. (Tiggers 1988: 51)

On the other hand, one could simply describe this unlikely balance as a paradox:

A nonsense text plays with the bounds of common sense in order to remain in view of them, even if it has crossed to the other side of the frontier; but it does not seek to limit the texts' meaning to one single interpretation--on the contrary, its dissolution of sense multiplies meaning. This is because a nonsense text requires to be read on two levels at once--two incompatible levels: not 'x means A', but 'x is both A and, incoherently, B'. In other words, nonsense deals not in symbolism but in paradox. (Lecercle 1994: 20)

Whatever the terminology employed, the two authors agree that it is often conventional meaning (or common sense) and its absence that are played against each other to give the text its energy. In nonsense, then, paradoxes are omnipresent and the reader is caught in a net of meaning that constantly seems to emerge, but never actually does. It is exactly this standing tension between meaning and its subversion that marks the shifty boundary between pure gibberish and a piece of nonsense literature. If the text were meaningless from beginning to end, it would not provoke in the reader a flourish of mental activity and would fail to arouse interest. As it is, the reader's mind is forced to labor in a compulsive search for a conventional explanation, before being compelled to accept there is none--as in the case of the raven and writing-desk riddle.

Nonsense literature also presents the reader with a paradoxical tension between the presence and absence of rules on all levels of language. As the above mentioned examples prove, at the same time that the nonsense text observes some rules on the levels of phonetics, morphology, syntax and semantics, it also consciously breaks the imposed tenets. Deeply conservative and nondestructive toward the rules it breaches, "nonsense breaks rules not by forgetting about them, but by following them to the letter, in a deliberately blind fashion, thus legally extending their scope" (Lecercle 1994: 48). To honor the rules blindly and follow them all the way to areas where they are overstretched and worn thin is a much more subversive way of pointing out their arbitrariness and limits than if the text were to simply acknowledge the rules and then openly choose to disobey them. This subversion turns nonsense into a game with constantly changing rules and no transcendental aim--a paradox in itself, for what makes a game a game is the creation of a micro cosmos with special regulations and a prize to win. What nonsense offers in terms of compensation is a chimera of meaning. It promises to make up for the chaos and lack on certain structural levels by offering an excess of information elsewhere, yet a logical balance is never reached, for the added information often does not fit in the place where something is missing. Thus, there is always lack on some levels and excess on others.

Last but not least, nonsense literature makes intuitions about the imperfection of the faculty of intellect by exposing its compulsive need for congruity and logic. Nonsensical texts play with the mind's "default setting" for coherence and generate continued tension by systematically frustrating expectations. All readers consciously or semiconsciously develop a set of patterns they consider to be fixed, such as rules of social contact, story development, logic, grammar and linguistic usage. These they then expect to be fulfilled, and when this doesn't happen frustration arises. Nonsense repeatedly denies the reader this fulfillment, presenting him/her instead with an incongruity created through the tension between the actual material of the text and the pattern the reader tries to project onto it. The result is not complete meaninglessness, but rather a sense of disjointedness. The reader, trying to catch the seemingly ever beginning continuity, is frustrated almost constantly. Thus, in nonsense texts unreason functions not as a negation of reason, but as a way out of the grasp of the imperfect intellect while still being in possession of it.

The illustrations in this article have been reproduced from Edward Lear's A book of nonsense, 1846.


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Alina E. Anton

Alexandru Ioan Cuza University

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Title Annotation:The creative process
Author:Anton, Alina E.
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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