Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dan Gerous and E. Mergency seek the Mad Ness Monster

I grew up with Dan Gerous, that well known French Canadian outlaw and his friend E. Mergency. There was also Fatty Gew and Cal Iber. The Mahogany Gas Pipes I never understood (Until I read Last Night’s Fun), and the Stew Barbed Wire and Rhubarb was confusing.

A love of verbal play:

If you mean to insinuate that I will tolerate such diabolical insolence from a such a miserable specimen of anatomy as yourself, you are wrongly governed by a misapprehension of false ideas;

and a delight in nonsense:

One Fine day in the middle of the night
Two dead men got up to fight
Three blind men to seek their way
Four dumb men to shout hoorary!
A legless Donkey walking by
Kicked the blind man in the eye
Knocked him through a nine inch wall
Into a dry pond and drowned them all.

(although to be honest, the last four lines of the above have always seemed sinister).

It’s tempting to ascribe the word play to the Anglo-Irish tradition, point an accusing finger at Joyce, and god knows they were all great talkers when they got going, fine story tellers, masters of the digression, but you can also trace the pleasure in verbal nonsense through English culture too; think Shakespeare, Lewis Carol, the Two Ronnies:

Lady Olivia swept down the grand staircase in her ball gown and then she dusted the china.

and those wonderful, awful music hall puns:

I say I say I say. My Wife’s gone on holiday to the West Indies
No, she went of her own accord.

Or the Goons:

How do I get out of here. The door is locked.
Turn the nob on your side
I haven’t got a nob on my side!

But I think that it’s partly the migrant’s revenge. Unable to escape the normalizing effects of English, with all its class and racial assumptions built into syntax and diction and accent, you could at least shrug it loose occasionally by turning it back on itself and underlining its own absurdities.
Nonsense in children is play; nonsense in adults is subversion or madness. But it’s a Dan Gerous game. If you can imagine the legless donkey walking by, you're not far from Mad Ness(That little known scotish loch):
“If I should return during my absence keep me here until I come back”. (Quoted in David Cooper: ”The Language of Madness”.)

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