Title page for ETD etd-07062007-110742

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Farrell, Jennifer Kelso
Author's Email Address jkelsofarrell@gmail.com
URN etd-07062007-110742
Title Synaptic Boojums: Lewis Carroll, Linguistic Nonsense, and Cyberpunk
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Carl Freedman Committee Chair
Elisabeth Oliver Committee Member
Elsie Michie Committee Member
Robin Roberts Committee Member
James Stoner Dean's Representative
  • alice in wonderland
  • nonsense
  • lewis carroll
  • science fiction
  • cyberpunk
  • jabberwocky
Date of Defense 2007-06-15
Availability unrestricted
Tracing a line from Lewis Carroll to 20th-century science fiction and cyberpunk, this project establishes an alternate genealogy based on the use of linguistic nonsense. Science fiction, rather than being merely a genre defined by specific narrative devices or character traits, is instead a language in and of itself. And like any language, it must be learned in order to be understood.

Carroll used nonsense as a means of subverting conventional 19th-century opinions of language and, and by extension, society. Carroll was so successful at this that in 1937 American psychiatrist Paul Schilder discussed the dangers to a child's mind inherent in Carroll's work. For Schilder, Carroll's writing, through the violence he commits on language, mirrors a physical violence found in the actions of the characters in Carroll's works. The linguistic violence that Schilder points out is subtle in Carroll's works, but is made more overt in science fiction. But before jumping into science fiction, one must acknowledge James Joyce's contribution to the genre. Joyce borrows heavily from Carroll in Finnegan's Wake while he adds to the English language a multiplicity of words, phrases, and voices from outside the English language, creating a complex linguistic matrix. It is Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange that merges Carroll's nonsense with Schilder's feared violence. As cyberpunk burst onto the scene in the 1980's, with William Gibson's Neuromancer, nonsense took on new levels as technology-driven language blended with multi-cultural phrases in the fluid environment of cyberspace. The fluid environment of cyberspace, and its language, is explored through the works of Pat Cadigan and through Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.

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