Nonsense is a key term in my research, and I’ll soon be devoting individual posts to four sub-categories that I see as crucial to literary modernism:
- Nonsense language: What it sounds like. First, made-up words that lack specific meaning. Just before I was learning to read as a kid, I remember going about spelling backwards—that is, for example, asking which word “yvqeimz” spelled. So I had a basic misunderstanding of language that yielded nonsensical results. Nonsense language is less often a signal of a misunderstanding of the way language works, though, than of an intentional reversal of language for aesthetic purposes. Hugo Ball’s sound poems are a good example, and so, I would argue, is Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons.
- Nonsense literature: A willfully silly literary tradition (which sometimes makes use of nonsense language), generally centered on the work of the Victorian writers Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Lear’s nonsense tends more toward the absurd and preposterous, whereas Carroll’s tends to humorously reverse normative logic.
- Logical/philosophical nonsense: That is, a willful, often playful and comic, breakage of logic. The category of nonsense that figures into my work the least (I’ll take a stab at elaborating it more soon), though it plays a prominent role in work on nonsense by scholars including Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Gilles Deleuze, and Michael Lemahieu.
- Nonsense!: That is, a perceiver’s often visceral response that some statement or work of literature either doesn’t make sense, can’t possibly be serious, or must represent a lie.
An emphasis on this fourth category of nonsense—that is, “nonsense!”—is one of the primary ways I distinguish my approach to nonsense from critical studies of nonsense that have come before. In the days ahead, I’ll offer more extended commentary on each of these types of nonsense, which should offer a clearer sense of how each of them plays into my work. Once we get to “nonsense!,” I’ll explain more thoroughly why I see it as the category that explicitly or implicitly hangs over all the others.
DigiWriMo scorecard: this post 331 words; month-to-date 2,143