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Rejecting Apology II

May 23rd, 2010

Well, we just received two comments (click here and here)  on this blog of a kind I’m sure is nauseatingly and yawningly familiar to everyone who runs a Lewis Carroll website. We all get them by the ton, and mostly we just trash them. But these two so perfectly exemplify everything Contrariwise has been saying about this subject recently that, queasy (and horrendously spelled) as they are, we’re not trashing them this time. We’re letting them stand. As a kind of monument. Or  waymarker.

Because Mr Porlaverdad3 (don’t you just have to hope he isn’t really anyone’s dad?!) didn’t arrive at his ideas in an intellectual vacuum. He got there in the same way millions of others have, by reading what’s been written, and by assuming stuff from the silences where rebuttal should have been. His drooling and dishonest image of Lewis Carroll as the proud emblem of a whole fraternity of ‘child-lovers’ channeling their desire to have sex with kids into a beautiful expression of ‘love’ and enchantment is not really very far removed from the picture the Apologists have painted, and, sadly, continue, in some circles, to paint.

That’s really why Carroll’s sexuality matters so much. Because it’s been adopted as a symbol for a group of very dangerous and deluded people. And when we dodge the issues about him, when Derek Hudson squeamishly begged for understanding of the guy’s weaknesses, because he was a genius, and when other authors whine that  ‘yes he was weird about little girls, but he can’t have done any harm because the kids all loved him too much’ (as if predatory pedophiles are never adored by their victims), we’re handing over the man’s reputation to these people.

We contend there is simply no evidence to show Lewis Carroll was pedophilic in desire or action, and that his relationship with children  has been distorted and simplified by legend to appear a lot ‘weirder’ than it actually was.  But if you think that’s not true. If you think Carroll ‘loved’ children even slightly inappropriately, then you can’t dodge what that means. You have to go with the corollary, that when he sought their unchaperoned company, photographed their naked bodies, he was behaving like a predatory and dangerous sexual pervert. Avoiding that obvious and stark choice, being coy and fluffy about it, using special pleading to argue he was somehow above such questions, sanctified by magic and joy, is something we can’t afford to do, because it plays straight into the hands of the too numerous people like Porlaverdad3, who want to believe they can be ‘innocent’ pedos, just like Mr Carroll, frolicking happily in a rainbow Eden with the children they ‘love’.

We think Lewis Carroll would probably have deplored being associated with such individuals, and deplored possibly even more, the false logic and queasy special pleading that puts him in such company.

Biographising the Famous & Dead

May 2nd, 2010

Thinking about this lately.

Living people are complicated and multi-layered, make jokes, contradict themselves, change as they age, have different viewpoints at twenty from the ones they hold at fifty.  They are almost impossible to fully understand and would take years of close study to be able to describe with any accuracy or completeness. But the Famous and Dead are different.

Or they are if you happen to be a certain kind of biographer.

The first  thing about the Famous and Dead in certain kinds of biography is the known facts about them are  all the facts. Or at least all the salient ones. The rest can easily be filled in with inference or repetition.  Like, the 20 or so fragmentary facts we have about Shakespeare’s life are more than enough for certain kinds of biographer to just guess the rest and be probably right. I mean when you’ve read his  will, a list of his debtors and his  tax returns, what else do you need to be able to figure  who he fell in love with and what he really thought of James 1?

It’s all made easier too by the fact that the Famous and Dead were apparently  born, lived and died with a single set of opinions, traits and feelings. If a man was described as  ‘forgetful’ by someone who knew him aged ninety-seven, then he was obviously  ‘forgetful’ from birth, and  so certain kinds of biographers are quite justified in  considering how being ‘forgetful’ at school would have caused problems, and what those  problems might have done to his psyche, and how that damaged psyche might have given him a complex and how that complex might have made him depressed, and then they can  call it a  solid fact  that this person was forgetful and chronically depressed about it.

All this is of course definitely true once it has been said, because another fortunate thing is that  biographers of a certain kind always know more about the Famous and Dead than they did themselves.

I mean, suppose our aforementioned ‘forgetful and depressed’ man spent his life visiting aquariums, and writing about how fish were just wonderful. You or I might just assume he rather liked fish, unless there were some strong evidence in his own behaviour to suggest otherwise. But certain kinds of biographers know better than this.  They don’t even need evidence, since intuition is more than enough. They can simply say that ‘despite all outward appearance’  (great phrase frequently used),   he actually hated fish quite a lot and preferred newts. And that is enough to make it true.

The only thing that is required as an axiom to be taken literally about the Famous and Dead are their jokes, because , as we all know,  in the olden days they  had no sense of humour or irony, and never made a joke about anything.  If our man once said “I’d find a dead horse more interesting than Simpkins and his slideshow,” then that is what he meant – literally.  This forgetful, depressed, fish-phobic, newt-lover liked dead horses for company.

And there’s a lot more books in that.

Lewis Carroll has had more than his share of this treatment from his biographers of course.  They mostly either had no facts available so just made stuff up (Reed, Taylor), or ignored the facts and…well, just made stuff up  (Green, Hudson). Even the best of them, who strove to get some real understanding of their subject (Cohen, Clark in places, Lennon, to the extent she could at the time),  would too easily fall back on just ’knowing’  what his/her hero really meant, even if that is entirely  contrary to anything he actually said. One biographer, for example ‘knew’ that   ‘despite all outward appearance’  Mrs Liddell ‘hated’  Charles Dodgson.  He didn’t say how he knew. He didn’t need to. He was a biographer. He just knew.

The situation is, hopefully, changing a little now, but it’s a legacy hard to escape.  It hangs about, and  even very new biographies and source texts can  stray into the ‘well  I just ignored that fact because I was sure Carroll didn’t really mean it’ kind of  mindset. For example, ‘Esoteric Buddhism’ or Theosophy as it’s now known, formed – as Carroll says in his own foreword – the basis of his last novel Sylvie and Bruno.  As such it was clearly highly important to him personally, and a vital expression of his own spiritual exploration. It also set him within a very important philosophical and spirtual context within his own time. But one recent biographer decided he/she knew better. And that when Carroll said ‘Esoteric Buddhsim’ he really meant ‘Japanese Buddhism’. And why? Because – apparently – the author read up on Theosophy and decided it was not the sort of thing Lewis Carroll would have liked!

So, there y’are Mr D. Now you know what you really thought.

Lipchenko's Wonderland

April 3rd, 2010

It gets a little solitary and windswept out here on Myth Point, tending our lonely beacon with only gulls and other Carroll outcasts for company, so we’re taking a welcome break to talk of other things.  Namely the  amazing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (ISBN 978-0-88776932-0) illustrations of Oleg Lipchenko, that have just won the 2009 Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award.  We saw them and were blown away.  We think they have to be about the most original and inventive and beautiful Alice images since Rackham (much, much better than the ponderous, over-rated Tenniel).

The picture on the right is one of his, and here are thumbnails of 2 more (click to see full size images)…

You can see more of them on Mr Lipchenko’s website, and you absolutely must see his PDF  Drawing Treacle Well, that tells the story of how his ideas evolved, illustrated with early sketches and background commentary.

And see his Duchess.  He’s actually noted Carroll’s description. The ‘uncomfortably sharp chin,’  and created a creature poised on that weird cusp between beauty and ugliness. In his own words:

I wish to point out that Sir John Tenniel’s Duchess is undoubtedly ugly, but her ugliness is straightforward. It is an ugliness of old age, an old, wrinkly, male-shaped face. I think that this way is too cliché. From my observations, the human face’s attractiveness is quite a tricky subject. It is very often that beauty and ugliness differ due to the existence of a small feature(s Generally, when drawing my version of the Duchess, I didn’t invent anything. My Duchess is taken from real life; such a face, nose, etc… That kind of person everybody has met

She is awfully real in her way, kind of like a caricature of  Wallis Simpson,  (who was, of course, a Duchess herself, as well as, apparently, a Nazi-sympathiser, which just, I suppose, goes to show, well, something).  Mr L also makes an interesting comparison between the Duchess and the Red Queen  (NB –  Tim Burton, that’s not the same as the Queen of Hearts), suggesting the first as a sort of prototype of the second.

They have a lot in common; evidentially the same prototype was used for both the characters…They are both addicted to using hyperboles..Both of them also like to teach Alice, and seek out the moral in every situation, conversation or anything at all.


Mr L tells us in his PDF that he was thinking of drawing a map of Wonderland for the endpapers, and when we read this we thought ‘yes, why hasn’t anyone done this before!?’, so when he went on to say it was pretty much impossible, given the lack of topographical detail, our heart sank a little. But he does add this hopeful teaser…

The next story of Alice – Looking Glass is more certain topographically, So maybe I’ll draw the map for it.

Contrariwise says –  please please do!   Looking-Glass needs Lipchenko pictures! And a map would make it perfect.

Kudos to Oleg Lipchenko, and thanks to him for letting us use his pictures here.

Rejecting Apology

March 25th, 2010

The Lewis Carroll Society of North America’s newest blog entry is all about Contrariwise!

This blog doesn’t regularly deal with certain questions (italics mine, as was the rest of that sentence.) And the new LewisCarroll.org’s FAQs don’t go there. Contrariwise, Mark Burstein usually starts his question-and-answer sessions with: “The answers to the first two questions are ‘No, he wasn’t’ and ‘No, he didn’t.’”

The LCSNA doesn’t shy away from these bothersome issues even if they’re occasionally bothered by them. However, there are reputable places on the internet specializing in debunking Carroll myths. For instance CarrollMyth.com, which offers various levels of depth depending on how long your myths want to spend being debunked. That user-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing website is run by Karoline Leach, author of In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: The Myth and Reality of Lewis Carroll (Peter Owen Ltd., 1999, $29.95). There’s also a new blog: carrollmyth.wordpress.com.

Well, that’s praise indeed, and we send our sincere thanks to the LCSNA bloggers for so generously giving us the space. We have also linked to you.

Tangentially though, in conjunction with something a commenter here said the other day, the reference to ‘certain questions’ has got Contrariwise thinking.

Suppose you give a false alibi to a man in order to get him acquitted of a crime you know he probably commited – if it later turns out he didn’t do it after all, does that make what you did right?

I don’t think it does, does it? And that’s the weird problem at the heart of Carrollianism right now, that I think needs to be looked at.

People have been denying Carroll was a pedophile, either in thought or action, for as long as  other people have been saying he was. They were the Apologists (Hudson, Green et al) , as opposed to the Freudians (Florence Becker Lennon, Taylor Potter etc). They firmly asserted Carroll’s innocence whenever and whereve they could, but does this mean they were necessarily right to do so?

Thing is, if we’re honest we have to admit that, prior to the release of Carroll’s MS diaries in 1969, the only rational, objective thing to think about him, based on the fragmentary evidence available,  was that he was a desperately disturbed incipient sexual deviant. Yes, we now know  it was a simplistic, even entirely false image, but the point is no one knew it then.  In fact Green, Hudson, Reed and others had all written books that described  – even actively invented – a man who was a  blatant deviant in all  but name. So when they and all the other Apologists denied Carroll’s pedophilia, they were effectively saying  “yes this man avoided adult life and adult women, yes he lost interest in girls after the age of puberty, yes,  he took dodgy nude pics of children  that would have shocked his society, and  umm…yeees, he may have sort of fallen a bit in love with at least one 11-year old child, and been banished from her presence  by her family, but, oh, come on, he was nice, he wrote a lovely story, so, y’know, let’s just ignore all that stuff which probably wasn’t as bad as it seems.’

That isn’t defence, it’s  evasion. Ok, it wasn’t their fault that, due to the unavailability of so much major evidence,  this was the best they could do, they were still offering a queasy sort of alibi for a man they were forced to assume was  probably guilty, and just because we now know he probably was not guilty at all, doesn’t change the fact that this is what they  were doing.

It’s not that surprising that so many people  were totally unconvinced, is it? They saw it for what it was – a  well-meaning pretence.

The LCSNA blog that features us is headed “Special Report: Was Lewis Carroll a gay Mormon and were the Alice books written by J.D. Salinger?”, referencing some of the many stupid things that have been said about Carroll over the years. It’s a joke, but in its way it makes exactly the point Contrariwise is trying to make.  Because those things aren’t ‘myths’ are they?  They’re just loony ideas no one has ever taken seriously.  The point about the myths we are concerned with (his child-obsession, his avoidance of adult society, his passion for Alice Liddell),  is that  they were promulgated by serious Carroll scholars and believed  by  everyone until very recently. The notion of the man as a pedophile arose out of these myths as an inevitable, and  very reasonable  conclusion. It couldn’t, and can’t be just laughed off as ridiculous,  and taking that line is just Apology again. No one will take you seriously if you sell the image that has been sold  for so long and simply ask people to take your word that  – honestly  –  he wasn’t what you are obviously painting him to have been.

If we really want to clear his reputation, or at least get closer to the truth about him, then we first have to accept this uncomfortable truth, that it was  Carroll scholarship itself that  created the myth, and Carroll scholarship that has to acknowledge what it unintentionally did before any real progress can be made. We think it’s important  for Carrollianism to differentiate between those past  and inappropriate  Apologists and today’s attempt at rehabilitation. Because they are fundamentally different.  Hudson, Green et al were not debunking myth when they declared  Carroll ‘innocent’, they were just offering an emotional plea for forgiveness or understanding, or at any rate silence, or alternatively trying to use ridicule to obscure the uncomfortable reality of their position.  Their stance was at best questionable.  They offered no data  because they had none. But now we do. It’s evidence that is being adduced to clear the man’s reputation, not dubious special pleading, and we think it’s in the interest of Carrollianism and Lewis Carroll himself to make that much clear.

So, we suggest, the major Carroll-sites should start a ‘Myth’ section – not for the age-old knee-jerk rejection of the all-too-plausible but nasty, but for a serious rebuttal and reassessment based on the new data unearthed by recent writers. One that makes it clear there’s no whitewash or evasion, but a simple statement of  facts that can lead people to their own conclusions. We suggest  dealing anew with those ‘certain questions’, because now you actually have the solid evidence to answer them as truthfully as will ever be possible.

Above all,  we think Carrollianism needs to never again find  itself saying  anything that translates as “gosh can’t a guy use little girls as substitutes for women without being a pervert?”

Because, no. He can’t. Not even if he is nice. Not even if he is  Lewis Carroll and wrote a wonderful story.

We have to realise that would-be ‘child-lovers’ look to the image of Lewis Carroll for affirmation  and when anyone who writes about Carroll seems to be in any way condoning, eliding, excusing his supposed  romantic ‘child-love’ they see us offering  just exactly that affirmation. None of us want to be  Apologising for pedophilia, but unless we firmly face up to what we are dealing with, that is what we  can end up doing.

No One Expects…

March 17th, 2010

Just found this – a looooong ‘review’ of  In the Shadow of the Dreamchild on Amazon.com, by a guy who really really wants people to think Lewis Carroll was a pedo, and (following a long and distinguished tradition) thinks nothing of freely making stuff up or weaselling facts to achieve his aim. He basically recites a lot of generalised stuff about pedophilia, makes up a lot of ways in which it applies to Carroll, and ends up  with a nice little suggestion of child abuse:

What could be Leach’s motive for writing this book? Could she be seeking revenge against a predator in her own past? Probably.


When challenged he claims Carroll hated boys and abandoned his child-friends when they grew up.  So, he’s obviously done his research. Some of the follow-up comments are interesting. I like TCIrishLass’s:

So, are we to assume that most men who are shy, have lots of nieces and nephews, love to be around children, and associate quite a bit (dating, friendship) with adult women are pedophiles?

Jenny Woolf   hopefully advises the guy to read her book, as if that might set him right, and KLeifsen adds this footnote about In the Shadow of the Dreamchild:

I think it’s stupid that this book exists… A lot of this sounds like speculation and heresy.


Where’s the  Spanish Inquisition when you really need it?

Wilful Myth-Blindness II: "What on earth is Robert McCrum On about?"

March 15th, 2010

Well, didn’t think we’d be doing two of these in a week, but how can we pass this one up.

The respected journo Robert McCrum reviews Jenny Woolf’s book The Mystery of Lewis Carroll in the Guardian, and concludes…what exactly? That Carroll has been misunderstood and somewhat abused, as Ms Woolf suggests? That a re-assessment is overdue, as Ms Woolf suggests? That, at last, we’re getting a clearer picture of a complex man?

Nope. He concludes Dodgson was either (sigh, not again) in love with little Alice Liddell , or – this is the best bit – with her ‘ten-year old brother’!?

Here it is in his own words:

More than either of these, it is a poignant love story: the repressed yearning of a solitary man for a resolution to his inner frustrations. Was he in love with Alice’s 10-year-old brother or, with Alice Liddell herself? No one will ever know the truth of that mystery .


Well, ‘solitary man’, ‘repressed yearnings’, this is all the standard vocab of anyone writing about Carroll for the past sixty years, but not even the most myth-bound commentator has ever suggested Carroll was gay (well, apart from Richard Wallace, but he also thought Carroll was Jack the Ripper, so, you know, enough said), and Jenny Woolf’s book does not (I know for a fact), contain any insane riffs about possible pederasty involving young male Liddells.

So, the truth of that particular ‘mystery’, Mr McC, is that you just made it up.

The introduction of predatory homosexuality aside, McCrum’s review is pretty much a standard summary of the mythic image, which would hardly be remarkable at all if it didn’t occur in a review of a book that should have made him realise all that stuff has been largely discredited. So, has he read Ms Woolf’s admirable myth-challenging book and somehow come away unaware he’s done so?  Or did he just flip through and then regurgitate all the tired old nonsense about latent pedo-ism and ‘ooh-aah we know what was really going on’ nose-tapping, he assumed he’d find in there?

Good question.

Maybe it’s just the awesome power of the Myth. But maybe also Dodgson-as-pedo is an easy way for lazy commentators to feel as if they’re being deep, without the effort of actually being so. Maybe you buy quick journo-cool-points that way, I don’t know, it’s not my area. But, whatever the reason, this is pretty poor isn’t it? Ms Woolf devoted a lot of time and honesty to her book, and both she and Dodgson deserve a lot better than this foolish, cliche nonsense masquerading as Deep Insight, don’t you all think?

Well, anyhow, let’s strike up the music and …..

Robert McCrum, respected journalist, please step up and receive your La-La I’m Not Listening Wilful Myth-Blindness Award. Stand here beside Melanie B, writer of fiction.

Don’t you feel just proud?

Wilful Myth-Blindness 1: "Alice I Never Was"

March 13th, 2010

We’re going to be doing an occasional (probably very occasional) series called “Wilful Myth-Blindness”, where we look at examples of writing that determinedly re-states the old Carroll Myths, or indeed any other tired old Myths, as if the evidence to the contrary just wasn’t there.

To kick this off, here’s Melanie Benjamin’s  2010 historical novel Alice I Have Been, a fictional account of Alice Liddell’s life, and most importantly, her relationship with  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. Now don’t  get me wrong, I’m sure that – as fiction – this is a very good book. I’m sure it’s engaging and enjoyable and a credit to its author’s talent. We aren’t debating any of that.  For us the question really is – why is a book about the ‘shy Oxford Don’ and his ‘dangerous’ love for his ‘child-muse’ Alice Liddell being written at all ten years after a lot of evidence was unearthed that showed most of this was baloney?

Here’s  Ms B on that famous ‘missing page’ in Dodgson’s diary that was long supposed to have covered some indiscretion between him and the child Alice…:

“For 150 years, historians have been trying to figure out what happened. Alice and her family never ever spoke of this. There were rumors around Oxford, but what I take away from this, 150 years later: we still so very much want to know what happened.”

Come on, Melanie, there’s information all over the web  (see  here and here for  a start) about ‘what happened’, and how we can now, given recent discoveries,  be fairly certain it had nothing to do with Alice Liddell, or any pedo indiscretion. Yet that is exactly the tired, old, discredited and discreditable scenario you tout in your book. So, what’s that all about? Ok, you’re writing fiction, but it ‘s fiction based on real people’s real lives, doesn’t that give you some kind of responsibility to be as accurate as you can?  To not obliquely libel the dead and defenseless ?  To basically make sure you do your research and get your facts straight? And if you don’t want to go to that trouble, then invent your own characters, because then you can make them do anything you want and no one will have a problem.

Though, having said that, personally I’m not sure I’d ever be comfortable with a book about seven year old girls getting  illicit “shivers” when old men smell their hair,  because I would be unsure of the message I was sending.

Anyhow, Melanie, congrats you’re the winner of the very first Contrariwise  La-La I’m Not Listening Wilful Myth-Blindness Award.

But I have a feeling you won’t be the last.  😉

The Pope to Alice

March 8th, 2010

No, not a new and surprising letter unearthed in the archives, just another glorious chapter in the history of Google Translator.

In the Shadow of the Dreamchild is being published in Italy, and someone sent Contrariwise an article about it that had appeared in “Lankelot“. The article, originally in Italian, had  been done over by GT,  which had, in  its own  fine style,  turned it into this…

A year ago, studying “Fool For Girls” (Stampa Alternativa, 2001), I started looking for news about Lewis Carroll, the Anglo-Saxon site. The Carroll Myth. I discovered something incredible: in half the world, but not in Italy, had come out a biography that had swept all the previous studies on the Pope to “Alice”, causing the destruction of the old “Carroll Myth”. It was this “In the Shadow of the Dreamchild. The Myth and Reality of Lewis Carroll “(Peter Owen Books, 1999, 2008, revised and enlarged). Castelvecchi I worked for, then as a scout. I have studied, cataloged and immediately reported the book. Now here it is. I no longer work for them, and not since yesterday, but I am excited as if I was one of them. Because this is a fundamental book, beyond the happy coincidence of the film, Burton, and demanded an Italian translation…Read full article .

Thanks, Google, now we understand.

Here is the original Italian before Google had its way with it.

Book Review: "The Logic of Alice"

March 8th, 2010

The following is reprinted from the Daresbury Chronicle (ISSN 1757-3912), March 2010, edited by Mr. Keith Wright. Dr. Sherry L. Ackerman wrote the review:

Bernard Patten’s The Logic of Alice: Clear Thinking in Wonderland left me scratching my head. To be honest, I still haven’t decided whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not a book that I will forget about quickly—mostly because it left me really confused. Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t the erudition of Patten’s logic that left me in the dust. I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy and have taught logic at university for three decades. I can do syllogisms in my sleep. What confused me was—well, the illogical logic that Patten kept touting as “clear thinking”. Let me start at the beginning. I launched into the book with a certain enthusiasm. Logic is one of my things. So is Lewis Carroll. And, the praise statements on the back of the book were encouraging. There were a number of effuse statements from Carrollian luminaries. And there was even a glowing comment from a retired philosophy professor. So, I started reading and the head scratching began. No problem, I thought. Let me check the amazon site and get a broad overview of the book. I thought that this might put it all into perspective. So, I clicked on the site–but the information listed for the book was actually about another book—it, in fact, described a book by Brian Jenkins that was about terrorists and nuclear weaponry. This didn’t seem like “clear thinking” to me. More head scratching. Anyway, not one to be easily dissuaded, I built a good fire in my woodstove and sat down to read.

On page 22, Patten commits a fairly grievous logical error. He states: “On page ten, when Carroll asks whether the Proposition ‘The Cake you have given me is nice’ was Particular or Universal (believe it or not it is Universal as all the cake is referenced, not a particular part of it) a modern eleven-year-old couldn’t and wouldn’t see it mattered anyway. Was this a game or wasn’t it?” Patten erroneously identifies the proposition as Universal. It is a Particular proposition by virtue of the fact that it is singular. A particular proposition asserts something about some, but not all, members of a class. A singular proposition asserts something about one member of a class, as in “the cake”. A Universal proposition asserts something about all members of a class. “The cake” asserts something about one (singular) particular cake—the one that “you have given me”. Even if we were to interpret the major term in this premise as “the cake that you have given me”, instead of “the cake”, universality is still not assured. There is no assertion that “the cake that you have given me” speaks to “all cakes that you have given me”, or to “all cakes”. On page 35, Patten states that “If Alice is free, then the children reading AAW might also be free.” This statement comes perilously close to committing the informal fallacy of composition. A fallacy of composition arises when one reasons from the characteristics of an individual member of a class (in this case, Alice) to a conclusion regarding the characteristics of the entire class (in this case, the children reading AAW). Patten is technically off the hook because Alice and her readers do not, in the strictest sense, constitute the same class. It’s fuzzy, though, and isn’t a very compelling model for “clear thinking”. I’m not sure what to say about Patten’s treatment of the a priori on pages 80-81. Patten defines the a priori as: “a priori is based on the application of a general and previously accepted principle to the particular situation. Thus, its dependability is uneven.” Well, yes—but it’s more accurate to say that its dependability is independent of observation for herein lies the key.

Patten’s ensuing mode of illustration, about Darwin’s conclusion regarding blue-eyed, white cats is not accurate since a priori claims exist in the mind prior to and independent of experience. They are, further, not based on prior study or examination. The head scratching, thus, got really intense by page 93. Here Patten describes how Lincoln “gave up on his little blue pills because they were making him sicker”. He applauds Lincoln’s decision to stop taking the errant pills, claiming that, had he not, we might have “had a presidential suicide”. Here, Patten commits the informal fallacy of the slippery slope. A slippery slope argument states that a relatively small first step inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact, much like an object given a small push over the edge of a slope sliding all the way to the bottom. In other words, the fallacy leaves out all of the intermediary steps between, in this case, the pills making Lincoln sick and an accidental suicide from having taken them. But, that’s enough of the logical hair-splitting. You get the idea. The book, purportedly on “clear thinking”, is riddled with logical fallacies. Let me address some of my broader philosophical concerns. The segment, on pages 97-98, called “Death is Bad”, comparing the thinking of Socrates and Woody Allen, commits just the problem that Patten counsels away from —diversionary humor–on page 76. Allen’s humorous comments about death lead away from (ie, constitute a red herring) Socrates’ more earnest attempt to examine what amounts to a very significant philosophical problem.

Since though, I wanted to avoid jumping to conclusions from first impressions (something which Patten advises against on page 124), I pressed on. I was sailing along until I met with another philosophical roadblock at page 163. Here, Patten recounts the tale of the pigeon’s criteria for being a serpent. I think that he misses, philosophically, the main point here. While Patten examines this tale in terms of an undistributed middle term, the more obvious game is a bit of cat and mouse with nominalism. Nominalism is a philosophical view according to which general or abstract terms and predicates exist, while universals or abstract objects, which are sometimes thought to correspond to these terms, do not exist. Carroll’s own view is found in the text of his book, Symbolic Logic, when he states that “…I maintain that any writer of a book is fully authorized in attaching any meaning he likes to any word or phrase he intends to use. If I find an author saying, at the beginning of his book, ‘Let it be understood that by the word “black” I shall always mean “white,” and that by the word “white” I shall always mean “black,”’ I merely accept his ruling, however injudicious I may think it.”

So, nominalism—more than a contrary to fact argument–was the theme when the Pigeon, thinking that Alice was a serpent, said “You’re a serpent, and there’s no use denying it. I suppose you’ll be telling me next that you never tasted an egg!” Alice replied, “I have tasted eggs, certainly, but little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know.” To this bit of news, the Pigeon replied “…if they do…then they’re a kind of serpent.” Whereas the universals are defined in terms of resemblance, the eating of eggs; the particulars are required to resemble each other in being called by the same name, “serpents.” Carroll had already set a precedent for gaming with nominalism when, for example, Alice saw Humpty balanced on the top of the wall, and she exclaimed, “And how exactly like an egg he is!” To this, Humpty replied that it was “very provoking to be called an egg.” Alice then assured him that he only resembled the common group of particulars called “eggs” by stating that, “I said you looked like an egg, Sir.” When Humpty turned the tables on Alice by asking her to tell him her name, she innocently replied, “My name is Alice, but—“. Humpty retorted that it was a “stupid name enough!” and asked her what it meant. Alice asked Humpty, “Must a name mean something?” and Humpty assured her that “of course it must.” As if Carroll wanted to be certain that his point was not missed, he had Humpty continue to explain, “My name means the shape I am….With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.” Thus, Humpty, as a particular “egg” was defined by his resemblance to other “eggs” in being called by the same name. However, he could not determine how to reconcile, by resemblance, the particular “Alice” with the larger, universal group of “Alices.” I have to confess that I loved Patten’s analysis of Bushisms (although I have no idea how they ended up in a book purportedly on Alice in Wonderland). If one can’t find a logical fallacy in George W. Bush’s statements, s/he is asleep at the wheel. And, Patten cited some grand ones! I was a little surprised, though, that he didn’t showcase the most obvious—and historically grievous—logical error that Bush made–that being the conditional (hypothetical) syllogism that goes like this: If we find weapons of mass destruction, (then) we will go to war with Iraq We found no weapons of mass destruction Therefore (opps!) we are going to war with Iraq That little fallacy sent the US packing to the Middle East to initiate a multi-million dollar war (in which we are still, by the way, involved) for no apparent reason. The syllogism suffers from a denial of the antecedent (also called the inverse error), a fallacy rendering the reasoning invalid. It was probably Bush’s most significant—and obvious–logical error! In closing, I am reminded of the first time that I saw Jackson Pollock’s artwork. I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing. It left me really confused. I’m putting Patten’s work in the same category.

I have entertained the idea that perhaps Patten purposely made so many philosophical faux pas. Maybe he writes in an abstract expressionist genre. Or, maybe he is incredibly clever and has designed his own game of cat and mouse. And, I have to admit, there was something—although I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something—about the book that really turned me on. Head scratching is not all bad. Like I said earlier, it’s not a book that I will forget about quickly.

Sherry Ackmerman