Friday 25 September 2009

Imagination 3: Down The Rabbit Hole

Curiouser & curioser.

Or It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards. Lewis Carroll

What a great novel is Alice - a world where a girl tumbles through time and space by means of a rabbit's burrow or that very mysterious and terrifying thing - a mirror; where a cat's smile becomes its own whole self; where being suddenly small or suddenly large is thrust upon you without your willing it; where a queen can be a devil and irrational executions are the norm; where bad and good and strange and comical dreams tumble over each other and assault the senses.

Lewis Carroll, a mathematician, is an example of one of those scientists to explore the creative vision, whom I mentioned in my last post (Below). For an expert in that most rational discipline of mathematics to create Alice's successive strange worlds is a wonderful illustration of the notion discussed there.

Interestingly, few people recall Carroll's mathematical papers these days whereas Alice is thoroughly embedded in our national, if not our international, subconscious.

When I recently was reminded of Carroll's notion that 'it's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards', my bones shivered with agreement because I often think that I remember the future.
There is a crazy logic to this, if you take on board the notion - as I have - that time is not linear. Rather it is like a spinning top or a whirling dervish, where one gets glimpses of things past and things future by the accident of the spin. If you catch glimpses of places and people in the past or the future, they - by definition - can catch a glimpse of you. It may follow that you can glimpse yourself in another time, another place: in the past or in the future. Hence 'remembering' your future. The why and how of all this are inaccessible to conventional logic. It is a matter if intuition and insight.

So far, so unscientific. Or, as some might say: so far, so crazy.

But is seems to me that the only way we can express this concept is to weave it into fictional stories that are seen as surreal, magical, or perhaps coded psychological metaphor. Look at Lewis Carroll's Alice novels. Look at Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (Carroll? Carol? There we go!) Look at Henry James' Turn of The Screw...

Curiouser and curiouser...

A propos, my next post will be a passage from the novel I am currently writing (At The Maison d'Estella) where I am trying to loop together some of the mad stuff above into my own narrative of strange events in the life of Starr, my central character.

Alice Afternote. Curiously, just now on Australian Al's interesting blog there is this wonderful photograph of a river forcing its way through a man-made tunnel (part if a lovely gold rush story...) In the photograph you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. This made my mind leap straight to Alice as she made her way down the rabbit hole.
Only connect!


  1. Very provocative post! I've been thinking about "Alice" a lot lately...I did a post about being "Lost in the Blogosphere," and likened it to Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

  2. Hi Wendy - What a gift imagination is! Sadly I feel it is often undervalued in our society, especiallly our schools, and we forget what failure of the imagination can do.

    Listening to In Our Time, on Radio 4 (a wonderful series on Thursdays at 9.30 am, repeated in the evening) this week, I heard Melyvn Bragg and guests talking about Newton's fluxion or Infinte Series as a work of the imagination and I was reminded, as I am by your recent posts, of how great mathematicians and scientists also depend on the gifts of intuition and imagination. I was also reminded of the similarities between what can seem like very disparate disciplines. This transported me back to the the time I lived with my brother Mark in the late seventies when he was embarking on his doctorate in mathematics at the University of London. I have since thought that it was like living with a writer but one whose language I didn't quite share. Every available scrap of paper, cigarette packet, cornflake box was covered in mathematical notation, there were occasional words but mostly strange symbols which I didn't understand. He was always working and always thinking. We talked long into the night in those days (we were young!) and he spoke to me about imagination and about that Eureka moment that comes out of nowhere, when the brain has been busily working unknown to us, and which I understand much better now that I am a writer.

    Mark spoke too of the way that the best mathematical proofs were always elegant. So perhaps not only do our beliefs in imagination and intuition coincide but as creative thinkers we find ourselves rightly compelled to strive for 'elegance' and seek the best possible form for our work.

    Avril x

  3. Sorry - I didn't realise I written so much!

    A x

  4. Dear Laurel
    Great that you dropped by. I'll hunt down your Alice post and read with pleasure.

    Dear Avril
    Thanks for giving my your take on these ideas. I too can see so many parallels here. Love this idea of the elegance of a mathematical proof. It's a valid comparison to the fine writing when it renders elegant solutions to literary conundrums.
    Never too long. Like handing on the baton of an idea and watching someone run with it... Great.

  5. Dear Wendy,
    Thanks for the plug!
    I am pleased you are enjoying Pausanias, for pleasure if nothing else.
    As to mathematics, physics and imagination I am sure I remember an Einstein quote about imagination being more important than knowledge.

    The imaginative richness of Carroll's Alice books is always an inspiration. As to my writing it is not at all surreal, but the experience of writing can seem that way.

    Sometimes my writing is very intellectual, solving problems one step at a time. More often though it feels as if I am opening a tap and my characters pour out their own stories.



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