To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reconfiguring Romanticism (41): Lewis Carroll’s Syllogisms as Experimental Poetry

Once master the machinery of Symbolic Logic, and you have a mental occupation always at hand, of absorbing interest, and one that will be of real use to you in any subject you may take up. It will give you clearness of thought - the ability to see your way through a puzzle - the habit of arranging your ideas in an orderly and get-at-able form - and, more valuable than all, the power to detect fallacies, and to tear to pieces the flimsy illogical arguments, which you will so continually encounter in books, in newspapers, in speeches, and even in sermons, and which so easily delude those who have never taken the trouble to master this fascinating Art.
-- Lewis Carroll

All babies are illogical.
Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile
Illogical persons are despised.

None of the unnoticed things, met with at sea, are mermaids.
Things entered in the log, as met with at sea, are sure to be worth remembering
I have never met with anything worth remembering, when on a voyage.
Things met with at sea, that are noticed, are sure to be recorded in the log

No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste.
No modern poetry is free from affectation.
All your poems are on the subject of soap-bubbles.
No affected poetry is popular among people of real taste
No ancient poem is on the subject of soap-bubbles.

My saucepans are the only things I have that are made of tin.
I find all your presents very useful.
None of my saucepans are of the slightest use.

No potatoes of mine, that are new, have been boiled.
All my potatoes in this dish are fit to eat.
No unboiled potatoes of mine are fit to eat.

No ducks waltz.
No officers ever decline to waltz.
All my poultry are ducks.

Every one who is sane can do Logic.
No lunatics are fit to serve on a jury.
None of your sons can do logic.

No experienced person is incompetent.
Jenkins is always blundering.
No competent person is always blundering.

All puddings are nice.
This dish is a pudding.
No nice things are wholesome.

No one takes in the Times, unless he is well educated.
No hedgehogs can read.
Those who cannot read are not well educated.

All the old articles in this cupboard are cracked.
No jug in this cupboard is new.
Nothing in this cupboard, that is cracked, will hold water.

All unripe fruit is unwholesome.
All these apples are wholesome.
No fruit, grown in the shade, is ripe

All hummingbirds are reichly colored.
No large birds live on honey.
Birds that do not live on honey are dull in color.

Colored flowers are always scented.
I dislike flowers that are not grown in the open air.
No flowers grown in the open air are colorless.

All my sons are slim.
No child of mine is healthy who takes no exercise.
All gluttons, who are children of mine, are fat.
No daughter of mine takes any exercise.

Things sold in the street are of no great value.
Nothing but rubbish can be had for a song.
Eggs of the Great Auk are very valuable.
It is only what is sold in the street that is really rubbish.

No birds, except ostriches, are 9 feet high.
There are no birds in this aviary that belong to anyone but me.
No ostrich lives on mince pies.
I have no birds less than 9 feet high.

No boys under 12 are admitted to this school as boarders.
All the industrious boys have red hair.
None of the dayboys learn Greek.
None but those under 12 are idle.

The only articles of food, that my doctor allows me, are such as are not very rich.
Nothing that agrees with me is unsuitable for supper.
Wedding cake is always very rich.
My doctor allows me all articles of food that are suitable for supper.

The only books in this library, that I do not recommend for reading, are unhealthy in tone.
The bound books are all well written.
All the romances are healthy in tone.
I do not recommend you to read any of the unbound books.

All writers, who understand human nature, are clever.
No one is a true poet unless he can stir the hearts of men.
Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet”.
No writer, who does not understand human nature, can stir the hearts of men.
None but a true poet could have written “Hamlet”.

Promise breakers are untrustworthy.
Wine drinkers are very communicative.
A man who keeps his promises is honest.
No teetotalers are pawnbrokers.
One can always trust a very communicative person.

I despise anything that cannot be used as a bridge.
Everything, that is worth writing an ode to, would be a welcome gift to me.
A rainbow will not bear the weight of a wheelbarrow.
Whatever can be used as a bridge will bear the weight of a wheelbarrow.
I would not take, as a gift, a thing that I despise.

No kitten, that loves fish, is unteachable.
No kitten without a tail will play with a gorilla.
Kittens with whiskers always love fish.
No teachable kitten has green eyes.
No kittens have tails unless they have whiskers.

Animals, that do not kick, are always unexcitable.
Donkeys have no horns.
A buffalo can always toss one over a gate.
No animals that kick are easy to swallow.
No hornless animal can toss one over a gate.
All animals are excitable, except buffaloes.

No shark ever doubts that he is well fitted out.
A fish, that cannot dance a minuet, is contemptible.
No fish is quite certain that it is well fitted out, unless it has three rows of teeth.
All fishes, except sharks, are kind to children.
No heavy fish can dance a minuet.
A fish with three rows of teeth is not to be despised

No one, who is going to a party, ever fails to brush his hair.
No one looks fascinating, if he is untidy.
Opium eaters have no self-command.
Everyone, who has brushed his hair, looks fascinating.
No one wears white kid gloves, unless he is going to a party.
A man is always untidy, if he has no self-command.

The only animals in this house are cats.
Every animal is suitable for a pet, that loves to gaze at the moon.
When I detest an animal, I avoid it.
No animals are carnivorous, unless they prowl at night.
No cat fails to kill mice.
No animals ever take to me, except what are in this house.
Kangaroos are not suitable for pets.
None but carnivora kill mice.
I detest animals that do not take to me.
Animals, that prowl at night, always love to gaze at the moon.

NOTE. Carroll, “surrealist in nonsense” (thus: André Breton), was also a professor of mathematics & logic at Oxford University. In the foregoing, a series of faux-syllogisms, he draws on & distorts source examples found in standard textbooks of logic. The resemblance in both method & result to David Antin’s “Stanzas,” 150 years later, is serendipitous but may still be worth noting. E.g.: “no one who can manage a crocodile is despised / children are illogical / illogical persons are despised / illogical persons cannot manage a crocodile.” (D. Antin, from Meditations, Black Sparrow Press, 1971) In a recent reading for Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, Antin was confident enough to take credit for his belated influence on Carroll.


Anonymous said...


Peter Greene said...

Alice's Pieces (with a Cheshire apology)

Careful - whoops! You got logic all over my poetry!

Well - you got poetry all over my logic! Jerk!

(they read it anyway)

Together: Hmmmmm!


Oh, ah.

Thanks for the Carroll treat.

Peter Greene said...

Ah, I enjoyed those twice. I must have come here from somewhere quite recently. Have I been reading on the sly? Sheesh. Poets are SO lazy.


Anonymous said...

on the contrary poets aint lazy
they are expressions of the heart
w true meaning and SENTIMENT......