“’I know what you’re thinking about,’ said Tweedledum: ‘but it isn’t so, nohow.’ ‘Contrawise,’ continued Tweedledee, ‘if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.’”
This is an excerpt from “Through the Looking Glass” better known as “Alice in Wonderland” written by the author Lewis Carroll. Now, at first glance this may seem to be some complicated wordplay that amounts to no more than a succession of obvious points interconnected in such a way that it confuses the reader. It requires one read after another in order to find some form of meaning behind it.
The nonsensical nature of this complex sentence to say something so simple may seem a frivolous trifle to read, which makes fantastic entertainment for children, but in the end readers may consider this verbosity to be tiresome for anything other than acoustic pleasure to lull children into a sense of aural aesthetic pleasure. It is for this reason that many readers would simply skip over the linguistic relevance of the sentence to convey a moral message on the condition of reading as well as the moral of “logic”.
While reading these two sentences, many readers would have given up after the second or third read, and dismissed them before diving head first into the next sentence in the hope that the new found sentence somehow qualifies and explains the relevance of the two confusing sentences...but it never does.
In Carroll’s writing, the very characters and their nature follow the form of their verbiage. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are identical twins who take pleasure in confusing sentences. They often finish each other’s sentences and take great pleasure in confusing their listeners with a myriad of mazes constructed from words. The characters are figures of confusion, much like their names imply, and thus it is fitting that their language follows this characteristics.
What Carroll has done, through the construction of these characters, was to force the reader to participate in a confusing maze of interchange and language. By dismissing the language and looking further into the story for an explanation, Carroll demonstrates to the reader how impatient we are with language. We seek for answers, not in the confusing question where it ought to be sought, instead we look towards other sources to answer our questions. Is this, as Tweedledee would put it, ‘logic’?
Here the simple moral of the story is that if we take our time with the language, and engage the root problem, we will find a solution and understanding there. When we seek for instant gratification by trying to complete the story without fully understanding it, we become more confused and no solution is found.
If you think that Carroll may have stumbled on this idea of logic by mistake, it is noteworthy to look into another of his books entitled The Game of Logic. His understanding and linguistic prowess is discussed in the words:
“The world contains many THINGS; and these Things possess many ATTRIBUTES. Whenever we wish to mention a Thing, we use an ADJECTIVE. People have asked the question “Can a Thing exist without any attributes belonging to it?” ...But, if they put it the other way, and ask “Can an Attribute exist without any Thing for it to belong to?” we may say at once “No: no more than a Baby could go a railway-journey with no one to take care of it!” you never saw “beautiful” floating about in the air, or littered about on the floor, without any Thing to BE beautiful, now did you?”
Confusing, yet linguistically accurate. This could be on any university Linguistics syllabus, yet it sounds like it belongs in “Alice in Wonderland.” What we seek for in fiction is not so much reality but an insight into truths. Thus, fiction is a teaching tool for adults too.
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