Narrative Through the Looking-Glass

"The cause of lightning," Alice said very decidedly, for she felt quite certain about this, "is the thunder--no, no!" she hastily corrected herself. "I meant the other way."

"It's too late to correct it," said the Red Queen: "when you've once said a thing, that fixes it, and you must take the consequences."

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass



"It is getting increasingly difficult now to remember which of one's friends remain alive,and which have gone `into the land of the great departed, into the silent land.' Also, such news comes less and less as a shock, and more and more one realises that it is an experience each of us has to face before long. That fact is getting less dreamlike to me now, and I sometimes think what a grand thing it will be to be able to say to oneself, `Death is over now; there is not experience to be faced again.'"

C.L. Dodgson, letter to a friend, 1896


Agenda for Today

  1. Email exchange
  2. VICTORIA reports
  3. Next week's readings and meeting place
  4. A Writing Exercise on Carroll's "Looking-Glass" Narrative
  5. The Snark
  6. Landow, Chap. 3
  7. Kathryn Cramer's In Small and Large Pieces

A Writing Exercise on Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass

You will find in your email the topic reproduced below. I would like you to spend some class-time writing on this topic, and then you are to post your response to me via email (so you can go into your Inbox and simply hit the "reply" button to do this assignment).

Landow describes the tendency of traditional narratives toward "closure" in the first part of Ch. 3, and on p. 112 he lists some pre-20th-century examples of narratives that have resisted closure. I would like you to consider Carroll's work in this context:

Is Through the Looking-Glass a text that subverts traditional notions of narrative and resists "closure" in any way? Explain why it is or is not.

A few things to consider:


Let's Consider the Snark

How does this text strike you as a narrative? Does it have closure? How did reading it on the WWW (with illustrations) construct your experience of it?

According to critic Michael Holquist, Carroll's nonsense reaches its point of greatest sublimity (and greatest resistance to "allegorical" meanings) in The Hunting of the Snark. Consider his comments below and how they might relate to the ideas about hypertext we've entertained this semester:

"For the moral of the Snark is that it has no moral. It is a fiction, a thing which does not seek to be `real' or `true.' The nineteenth-century was a great age of system building and myth makers. We are the heirs of Marx and Freud, and many other prophets as well, all of whom seek to explain everything, to make sense out of everything in terms of one system or another. In the homogenized world which resulted, it could be seen that art was nothing more than another--and not necessarily privileged--way for economic or psychological forces to express themselves. As Robbe-Grillet says, `Cultural fringes (bits of psychology, ethics, metaphysics, etc.) are all the time attached to things and making them seem less strange, more comprehensible, more reassuring.'

Aware of this danger, authors have fought back, experimenting with new ways to insure the inviolability of their own systems, to invite abrasion, insist on strangeness, create fictions. Lewis Carroll is in some small degree a forerunner of this saving effort. To see his nonsense as a logic is thus far from being an exercise in bloodless formalism. That logic insures the fictionality of his art, and as human beings we need fictions. As is so often the case, Nietzsche said it best: `we have art in order not to die of the truth.' ("What is a Boojum?: Nonsense and Modernism')


Landow, Chapter 3

Below are some key concepts from Landow's chapter on narrative. Explain how each is an element of hypertext's transformation of traditional narrative:


Kathryn Cramer's In Small and Large Pieces

To test out these ideas further and to see the impact Carroll has had on a contemporary fiction writer, let's look at Kathryn Cramer's "postmodern Through the Looking-Glass (from the advertising copy on the package): In Small and Large Pieces.

The short story is available by finding the email I have sent you with the link to the story in it (like we did for the "In Memoriam" Hypertext) and clicking on it. Read Cramer's story a couple of times.

(ADVICE: follow it "linearly" the first time by simply hitting "enter" at every screen; then, the second time around, play around with the links).

Then answer the following questions and post them to the entire class as your first email contribution of the coming week:

  1. What sense can you make out of this narrative? What is it about?
  2. How many allusions to Carroll's text can you find? What are their significance?
  3. Does this hypertext fiction fulfill any of the predictions/claims Landow makes about nonlinear form?
  4. What kind of reading experience have you had with it? Satisfying? Interesting? Frustrating? Something altogether different?

Enjoy the Sherlock Holmes stories for next week, and consider whether or not they raise any questions about the nature of "narrative."


Back to Reading Schedule for LIT: 400