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Bibliography by Rama Hoetzlein

Page history last edited by Alan Liu 15 years, 9 months ago

Bibliography by Rama Hoetzlein




1. Brooker, Will. Alice’s Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture. Continuum International Publishing, Inc. New York, NY, 2004


William Brooker’s book is a definitive guide to analysing Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865) in the context of modern culture. Beginning with a survey of Carroll himself, he goes on to analyse the many adaptations of Alice, including Jan Svankmajer’s film adaptation (1988), the Walt Disney version (1951), and the many illustrators of Alice in Wonderland editions. Later chapters, such as Dark Wonderland, focus on Alice as a modern sub-culture, including a gothic video game adaptation (American McGee’s Alice, 2000), and fan websites. Overall, Brooker’s analyses can be understand as a close reading perspective on the many facets of Alice, focusing on the emotions, mental states, and personality of Alice herself, the artists, and those of her post-modern fans. Brooker also examines the backgrounds of the adaptors themselves, such as Svankmajer’s stop-motion film adaptation, for example. “Svankmajer is a long-standing member of the Czech Surrealists and explicitly takes inspiration from Dali and Luis Bunuel; unsurprisingly, his Alice, like Miller’s, recalls the psychoanalytic readings of Carroll’s books.”  (216) Brooker’s in depth analysis draws on the historical contexts that explain why an artist portrays Alice in a particular way, focusing throughout on the mind of the creators to explain the existence and identity of Alice, and in particular how each artist breaks certain rules to re-portray Alice. In general, Brooker’s book can be viewed as starting point for close reading the adaptations of Alice. The only distant reading appears as an appendix, which systematically compares scene transition across five film adaptations. Yet this work provides a solid starting point for future, distant reading analyses of the nonsense that is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.


2. Word-Twisting versus Nonsense, Littel's Living Age, Fifth Series, vol. LVIII, April- June 1887, pp. 379-81. Anonymous



Word-Twisting versus Nonsense, originally from The Spectator, appeared in an early 1887 edition of Little’s Living Age, a generic magazine of American culture. A brief, anonymous article, it is notable for being nearly contemporary with the original 1865 edition of Lewis Carroll’s work. In it, the author describes the works of Carroll and Edward Lear as exemplar works of nonsensical literature. Lear is known primarily for his limericks for children, such as those found in The Book of Nonsense (Lear 1846):


       There was an Old Man of the Hague

            Whose ideas were excessively vague;

            He built a balloon

            To examine the moon,

            That deluded Old Man of the Hague.              (Lear 1846, #76)


The author of Word-Twisting versus Nonsense makes the unique observation that much humor of the time may be viewed as the beginning of a mechanical breakage of language whose rules are systematic flips of grammar, word play, or puns. “Nothing is more characteristic of the humorists of the age in contrast with those of previous generations, than their employment of purely mechanical processes to secure a grotesque result.. so we cannot help thinking that the spread of this mechanical fun is a sign of decadence.” In addition to the text the title itself, Word-Twisting versus Nonsense, attempts to separate this mechanical rule-based nonsense apart from those whom the author considers established literary nonsense makers such as Carroll and Lear. It is notable that, in the Industrial Age in which this article was written, we find that even in humor and nonsense, rules of language begin a systematic breakdown. This is set in contrast to the intentional rule-breaking of Carroll and Lear, who are viewed as exceptional literary scholars. The author draws on specific examples which may be taken as systematic rule-breaking of the time. These may even be unconscious, or internal, such as the example of a “headmaster who, if at all flurried, transposed his words freely, as in `Do you mean to say, you’ve never heard of the Michael Angelo, by Moses.` ”  These example are intended to distinguish the lingual, even biological, breaking of rules from the intentional breaking of rules by Carroll and Lear. While brief in length and scope, Word-Twisting versus Nonsense is remarkable for its time in attempting to establish a clear distinction between purely mechanical rule breaking and scholarly, human-motivated nonsense. As such, it can be viewed as the start of a dialog regarding how rules are broken to achieve nonsense and more importantly who those rules are broken by, and why they are broken.


3. Sacks, Oliver. An Anthropologist on Mars. Vintage Books, NY, 1995


Oliver Sacks is a neurologist whose book, An Anthropologist on Mars (1995), focuses on autism and other neurological disorders in people leading extraordinary lives, such as an artist who loses the ability to see color, a boy who draws perfect reproductions of buildings by age ten, and a surgeon with Tourette’s syndrome. Dr Sacks examines the personal, emotional, and cognitive aspects of the lives of his patients. Whereas Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland sets out a world in which rules are continually broken, Dr Sack’s work examines the opposite spectrum in patients, such as a boy with autism for example, for whom systematic rules become the primary mode of being. "Unlike most children, who tend to draw less from direct observation than from symbols and images seen second-hand, Stephen Wiltshire draws exactly what he sees – no more, no less.” (206) Dr. Sacks speculates that when the emotion aspect is missing, as with autistic patients, the result is what we might call a distant reading approach to the world itself, a purely systematic view of the world. The authors many examples of interactions with his patients are particularly telling of this idea of “reading” the world in a particular way.


“I pointed out [a license plate spelling ‘AUTISM2’] to Stephen.

`What does it say?` I asked. He spelled it out, laboriously...

`Almost, not quite. Not utism – autism. What is autism?`.

`It’s what's on the license plate.` he answered.”  (p. 230)


An Anthropologist on Mars explores the lives of a variety of people for whom the emotional aspect - close reading - of life may be entirely absent. Another example given is Dr. Carl Bennett, a surgeon with Tourette’s syndrome who is able to perform detailed, meticulous operations despite uncontrollable bursts of profanity and obsessive physical motions characteristic of this neurological condition. Particularly striking is how these outbursts, understood as a form of social rule-breaking in Tourette’s syndrome, only occur outside the operating room. While operating, Bennett performs the necessary, specific, and systematic procedures perfectly. An Anthropologist on Mars looks at the lives of people with a unique relation to the rules of life, behavior, and perception. The breaking of rules of etiquette, for example, are common in both Dr. Bennett outside the operating room (due to Tourette’s) and in Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Yet, in Dr. Bennett, and the other patients of Oliver Sack, there is an implicit system of rules for working, operating and seeing the world which is necessitated by a neurological condition. An Anthropologist on Mars explores people for whom we might say a level of distant reading is the only possible relationship to reality. In this way, it is a contrast to Alice in Wonderland, in which layers of rules are broken for particular emotional effect.


4.  Dali, Salvador, 1969, Alice in Wonderland, Heligravures and Etchings,

Franklin Bowles Gallery, San Francisco.



Salvador Dali is one of the founders of the surrealist movement in art. He is particularly well known for his reflections on time and space, with the Persistence of Memory (1931), being nearly ubiquitous in the art world. Less well known, however, is that Dali created several etchings and heliogravure (an intaglio printmaking process using deeply etched copper plates) on the theme of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Dali’s Alice series, from 1969 (see link above for images), is a unique combination of the literary surrealism of Lewis Carroll and the visual surrealism of Dali himself. In these works, we can see how Dali utilizes different visual devices to achieve the whimsical mood and feeling of Carroll’s richly illogical narrative while also adding his own particular disturbing interpretation to the original text. For example, in “Alice”, an etching, we see a depiction of Alice herself. The long shadow, extended perspective, and loop of wire establish her as an unusual, even magical, character. Salvador Dali’s adaptation of Alice is unique in that it is a surrealist view of a surrealist author. As shown in Brooker’s analysis, the many illustrations of the various print editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are mostly literal visual interpretations of the characters of the narrative. In this way, they illustrate the book in a classical sense. Using devices unique to his art, Salvador Dali makes a true adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, by transforming space, conveying mood, and expressing nonsense in a way that it is both reflective of the original text, and particular to Dali’s own unique perspective and art.



5. Schlabach, John. “The Random Nonsense Generator”. Retrieved from http://pages.prodigy.net/jschla/random.htm. Feb, 2008.


The Random Nonsense Generator, by John Schlabach, is a website capable of generating nonsensical sentences. Using purely random means, it generates a seemingly inexhaustible range of sentences with definite, yet nonsensical meaning. Examples of its output include the following:


-  The deranged leprechaun romantically hypnotized the rancid chicken patty.

-  The sleepwalking mermaid enthusiastically hosed off the so-called croutons.

-  The sunburned trapeze artist surprisingly devoured the prizewinning mustard seeds.

Such programs, also explored by Douglas Hoftstadter and others, raise critical questions about meaning and language. An especially important issue in this regard is the concept of authorship. If any program can generate nonsense, without understanding it, what distinguishes it from the scholarly nonsense of Lewis Carroll, for example? This is precisely the issue addressed above in Word-Twisting and Nonsense, in which the systematic breaking of language is at odds with the human author creating nonsense for a particular purpose, in a particular cultural and social context. Yet with pure nonsense, i.e. a random arrangement of words, it may be impossible to tell if the author is human or machine. The Random Nonsense Generator thus asks us to consider what is special about human-developed nonsense. In this regard, Alice in Wonderland may be understood not as pure nonsense, but as a complex set of rules on multiple levels which are broken and unbroken by Lewis Carroll in order to convey a narrative and meaning.


Despite its suggested range, the program which generates the output above is extremely simple. Attached below, it is only a few lines of code. It works by randomly selecting nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives from predefined lists, and composing them in a very simple way. The grammatic arrangement of the sentences are thus fixed to six (6) word choices. Not expanded in the code below, the website actually contains roughly 40 fixed word phrases for each list. Thus, although seemingly inexhaustible, we can compute the total number of sentences the Random Number Generator can create.

This number is 640  =  13367494538843734067838845976576


Viewing with a distant reading, the Random Number Generator is capable of a truly vast output of semi-meaningful, yet absurd, sentences despite the fact that it consists of a program with a dictionary of only 200 words total (6 lists, 40 words each), and a fixed syntax and grammar. A close reading of the Random Number Generator would ask: Of the extremely large number of sentences above, which are the meaningful ones? Perhaps more importantly, what is it about the human aspect of writing nonsense that selects a very small subset of the total range of possible written words? Compared to the Random Nonsense Generator, even the most extreme scholars of literary nonsense, such as Carroll, Lear and E.E. Cummings are thus highly selective. This human aspect of literature is thus central to the theme of close and distant reading.


//--Function to generate the random nonsense

//   from http://pages.prodigy.net/jschla/random.htm, John Schlabach



adj[] = {furry-tongued, bodacious, half-crazed, squeezably soft,

         flavorful, quivering, slimy, … }

noun[] = {hypnotist, ventriloquist dummy, trapeze artist, … }

adverb[] = {tenderly, generously, actually, graciously, obliviously,… }

verb[] = {pulverized, hypnotized, tossed aside, gulped down,

          bull-whipped, liquified, vaporized, … }

function nonsense () {

   msg = "The " + adj[random()] + noun[random()] + adverb[random()] +

              + verb[random()] + “ the “ + adj[random()] + noun[rand()];

   return msg;



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