Babies Cannot Manage Crocodiles

I've mentioned before on this blog that I subscribe to this daily newsletter called Delancey Place, which sends out sometimes fascinating, sometimes dull-as-nails nonfiction excerpts. When they're particularly interesting, I share them with all of you. And so today I'm offering a bit about Steve Martin, Lewis Carroll and illogical babies. It made me laugh, and anything that makes anyone laugh is usually worth something.

“In today's excerpt--a young Steve Martin, still struggling for even modest success and confronted by the striking originality of contemporary comedians Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Lenny Bruce, and Tom Lehrer, realizes that he will have to try to write original material to succeed:

‘In logic class, I opened my textbook--the last place I was expecting to find comic inspiration--and was startled to find that Lewis Carroll, the supremely witty author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was also a logician. He wrote logic textbooks and included argument forms based on the syllogism, normally presented in logic books this way:

‘All men are mortal.

Socrates is a man.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

‘But Carroll's were more convoluted, and they struck me as funny in a new way:

‘1) Babies are illogical.

2) Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.

3) Illogical persons are despised.

Therefore, babies cannot manage crocodiles

‘And:

1) No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste

2) No modern poetry is free from affectation.

3) All your poems are on the subject of soap bubbles.

4) No affected poetry is popular among people of taste.

5) Only a modern poem would be on the subject of soap bubbles. Therefore, all your poems are uninteresting

‘These word games bothered and intrigued me. Appearing to be silly nonsense, on examination they were absolutely logical--yet they were still funny. The comedy doors opened wide, and Lewis Carroll's clever fancies from the nineteenth century expanded my notion of what comedy could be. I began closing my show by announcing, 'I'm not going home tonight; I'm going to Bananaland, a place where only two things are true, only two things: One, all chairs are green; and two, no chairs are green.' Not at Lewis Carroll's level, but the line worked for my contemporaries, and I loved implying that the one thing I believed in was contradiction."

Steve Martin, Born Standing Up, Scribner, Copyright 2007 by 40 Share Productions, Inc., pp. 74-75.