Matt C on the Duchess

The Duchess Experience

Tenniel's Duchess from AliceI find myself staring at the Duchess. I’m not sure why, but I am enthralled by her picture (104) in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is a peculiar version of an ordinary domestic scene. The cat is smiling, for starters, the cook resembles a sullen goblin, and the Duchess looks like a forty year old man in a mug shot. Instead of holding a sign she holds a baby and her prison uniform is an absurdly extravagant dress. This is just the picture, however; the scene it comes from is just as inexplicably fascinating.

This peculiar infatuation is part of my attempt at a blog entry; the process being appropriately absurd in itself. My computer is being a flamingo instead of a croquet mallet. Having spilt water on the keyboard, it often continuously types the letter j which is actually more palatable than its alternative of continuously producing the number six. If I leave it turned on, and unattended, it makes loud dinging sounds prompting me to tell it to be quiet. The computer seems to have a mind of its own, so I may as well try to communicate. When I do manage to write something down I need to be attentive and make sure my computer does not write six pages of j. Like Alice I need to get my flamingo under control before I can use it (125). I am immersed in nonsense so I have decided to follow the most interesting path through it.

The Duchess scene is darkly comedic with a semi-psychotic lullaby and a hostile cook, (106) but I can’t say for sure that I am drawn in for these reasons. Nothing makes the scene better than all the other nonsense in the story. This is the nature of many experiences; an indescribable feeling. Experience cannot always be explained. Some components will remain mysterious or nonsensical. As an English major, it is my objective to analyze literary experience. In Dr. Martin’s lecture, the other day, the topic of comedy came up and the fact that analyzing it destroys the experience, much like studying literature can spoil the feeling that literature otherwise provides. I don’t generally feel that loss. I can analyze something until all its flaws are known to me and all its humour is dissected. I can still go back and recapture the feeling that a book gave me because I believe that it is not possible to fully understand experience.

Words cannot describe every feeling; it’s an odd stance for an English major. I still try to find the best possible way to say something but I’ll savour the silences too. You can add something. You can subtract something. If you do it just right you will feel something. Music may be the best example. I will get goose bumps when listening to something and never really know why. It’s difficult, and not always possible, to figure out exactly what makes a song resonate with someone. There’s the tone and lyrics of course, but there’s always some other element that’s hard to talk about. For me, when I listen to music, I’m forming some kind of matching narrative which, of course leads me in a circle. Like music, narrative can have an indescribable draw. Literature, music, or any kind of art can be as unique as the person who creates it.

“Who are you?” the caterpillar asks of Alice (93). The question is as hard to answer as my infatuation with the Duchess scene is to analyse. Like Alice, I have a hard time describing myself. I don’t like being labeled a student, a runner, or someone who plays video games. These are all true but they do not tell anyone who I really am. Each of these examples carries positive and negative connotations, depending on who is reading them. None of them provide the actual Matt experience. I could have an hour long conversation with someone without bringing any of those descriptors up. There are feelings that arise when talking to a person that cannot be encapsulated in a summary of their interests. It’s why people who should be perfect for each other don’t always connect.

It’s the same for literature. It is experience and it cannot always be understood in the terms we desire. Experiences of humans or by humans will always have an abstract quality I look for. I love this feeling. I love not knowing. I would be a terrible philosopher, a worse psychologist, but I know when to step back and absorb an experience. The Duchess is worth staring at, I know not why. I’m where I started. Nonsense brought me here. Maybe that is the nature of it. Nonsense is raw experience with no labels. There’s a little bit of nonsense in every book, song, or person. Whether it’s only an internal manifestation of the person experiencing it, or something designed by the one who introduced said nonsense, it is something that refuses to be defined.

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