29 May 2011


     Alice considered a little.  "I like birthday presents best," she said at last.
    "You don't know what you're talking about," cried Humpty Dumpty... "there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents--"
     "Certainly," said Alice.
     "And only one for birthday presents, you know.  There's glory for you!"
     "I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.
     Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.  "Of course you don't-- till I tell you.  I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"
     "But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected.
     "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean-- neither more nor less."
     "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
     "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-- that's all."
     Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.  "They've a temper, some of them-- particularly verbs: they're the proudest-- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs-- however, I can manage the whole lot of them!  Impenetrability!  That's what I say."
     "Would you tell me, please," said Alice, "what that means?"
     "Now you talk like a reasonable child," said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased.  "I meant by 'impenetrability' that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life."
     "That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

"A word... means just what I choose it to mean-- neither more nor less."  Could there be a clearer credo for a would-be solipsist, all of whose efforts go towards "virtualizing" the world rather than taking account of it?  Humpty Dumpty's language is so malleable that, so long as actuality makes no claim-- so long, that is, as he doesn't fall off his wall-- internal contradictions can be glossed over or blustered away.

Of course verbs (actions) are harder to argue away than adjectives (descriptions), and concrete nouns seem to be harder still: Humpty flies into a passion when Alice speaks of his 'cravat' as a 'belt,' implying that he's an egg.  He insists on staying on his wall because his pride maintains an imaginary schema of cause and effect which doesn't include the actual likelihood or consequences of falling.  Unlike someone psychotic, he doesn't quite believe he's invulnerable, but like any good narcissist, he refuses to register what he knows, that his seeming "impenetrability" is a brittle assemblage of fragments, which remains unbroken only at the cost of his not moving.  When Alice asks, "Don't you think you'd be safer down on the ground?" his anxiety-- which should impel him towards self-preservative action-- is instantly replaced with grandiosity: 

     "Of course I don't think so!  Why if ever I did fall off-- which there's no chance of-- but if I did--"  Here he pursed up his lips, and looked so solemn and grand that Alice could hardly help laughing. "If I did fall... the King has promised me-- with his very own mouth-- to-- to--"
     "To send all his horses and all his men," Alice interrupted, rather unwisely.

Never interrupt a narcissistic in the act of burnishing his outer shell.  He might fall to pieces.  Luckily for Alice, she's able to mollify Humpty Dumpty's pride long enough for him to explain the first verse of "Jabberwocky" before his fall.

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