Friday, 14 June 2013

The Alice in Wonderland Tarot!


I just have to say something about this! There are a few Alice in Wonderland decks out there, of sorts, not always terribly Alice-in-Wonderlandish, it has to be said - until this landed on my Facebook. I've always loved Alice in Wonderland and if ever I was going to be tempted to buy an Alice in Wonderland deck it has to be this one. 

Have a look at this: it's artwork such as you may never have seen before. Go to the Alice Facebook page for a peep at the cards. They will be published in a limited run later this year and you can sign up for the newsletter. Click on the links below,
My Alice in Wonderland book

Alice Tarot photos

Believe it or not, there's a philosopher who made a great deal of Lewis Carroll's Alice. His name is Gille Deleuze (1925-1995) and the book is The Logic of Sense (Columbia University Press, 1990). Deleuze argues, amongst much else, that Alice in Wonderland takes apart our distinction between surface and depth. Everything happens at the surface and everything is constantly in the process of becoming other - think of that baby which, when Alice looks again, has become a piglet. Or was it always a piglet? (Incidentally it was no accident that Carroll picked a male baby to be/become a pig: he disliked male pretensions of depth).

The card figures have no depth. 

Jam Tomorrow!
Humpty's World of Meaning
Everything is pure becoming, the present is continuously eluded - it's always jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam today (which reminds one of politicians). There is a reversal of cause and effect, of active and passive. Do cats eat bats is as good as do bats eat cats; punishments happen before the offence has been committed, things are remembered before they happen, the Sheep asks Alice if she can row and when Alice replies that she has no oars the Sheep offers her two knitting needles (that particular conversation is the tableau for the Two of Swords in the Alice Tarot). This reversible continuity and lateral passing of one side to the other replaces all depth. Think of a Mobius strip where you are always on the surface passing from one side to the other along the borders. Such is the structure of Alice in Wonderland.  

All of these paradoxes and reversals and events that are never the causes of one another, says Deleuze, contest Alice's personal identity, 'For personal uncertainty is not a doubt foreign to what is happening, but rather an objective structure of the event itself' (ibid, p.3). Everything that happens in Alice in Wonderland, and Alice Through the Looking Glass is an interrogation of who Alice thinks she is and how she thinks the world works. Alice loses her personal identity, her "I", which was secured only by the permanence of certain meanings or stable "signifieds", ' Alice painfully experiences, in conditions where God, the world, and the self become the blurred characters of the dream of someone who is poorly determined.' (ibid, p.18).

We think we express ourselves in words, but words almost constantly go awry. Alice is forever blundering with the wrong words. Even speaking and eating are mixed up, and Humpty Dumpty sits on the frontier, on his wall, between words, edges, limits, borders and bodies. According to Humpty, some words even have a temper! Especially verbs. They are "proud". You can do anything with adjectives but not verbs. Apart from Humpty, who proclaims that he can manage the whole lot of them.The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan explains how, when we express ourselves, we constantly slip behind what we have said. We vanish, and we don't recognize ourselves in what the other person gives back to us from what we said. It's never quite enough, it's never quite what we meant, we can't stabilize the meaning. We never quite capture ourselves.Even to ourselves.There is always a difference between the speaking act and the spoken fact and the two don't coincide or match up. 

There are many elements of Alice in Wonderland in the Tarot (or, in Alice fashion, vice versa). The cards are a narrative or tell a story, both in themselves through the Major Aracana, and in relation to ourselves during a reading. The cards set scenes, many are theatrical or staged. Would you go to the trouble of acquiring a throne and putting it in a corn field like the Empress in the Rider-Waite? Would you dress like any of these characters? Above all, as with the Court cards coming to life in Alice, the cards are a living play of sense and meaning but have no depth. Everything is on the surface. We read depth into the images - which are on the surface. What we get out of them is what surfaces to us. We can only access a surface. Similarly with the "unconscious" - we have images, thoughts, feelings, but we can't get to these as they are in themselves. They have to pass through the sense we then make of them. Or not! Our "depth" only appears on the surface, however deep down the rabbit hole we go. This is a typical post-structuralist move: the deconstruction or taking apart of the logic of binary oppositions, polarities or distinctions.

Do not be under the impression that Deleuze is an easy read full of fun stuff about Alice (he has written many books; check him out on Wikipedia). Deleuze is difficult and opaque. He is influenced by the Stoics, Nietzsche, phenomenology and existentialism, the more disturbing "nonsense" or "non-sense" of Antonin Artaud (where Humpty Dumpty has well and truly fallen off the wall) and post-structuralist theories of language. Do not nip to the bookshop thinking this is going to be a fun read. On top of that the book is full of terms to which he assigns a quite specific and complex meaning and it's easy to get lost as he invokes these terms in different and shifting contexts. Always a problem in Continental philosophy! However, it's because available concepts don't do the work these philosophers need them to do, so there is a lot of inventing of new terms and concepts. Or old concepts are re-worked to signify something new or different. If you are feeling brave, or have a big philosophical interest in Alice in Wonderland and what Lewis Carroll is up to, then you might want to give it a try. I would suggest you don't try to make too much sense of it, ironically and despite the title. Or perhaps because of it. Can anyone make sense of the Logic of Sense? Yes and no. But it does bring to the surface a lot of interesting aspects of Alice. What may not appeal to you is his concentration on language if you are unfamiliar with works on linguistic logic and propositions in philosophy. Be warned. It could be a book better off eaten instead of the Mouse at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Originals by John Tenniel



© Donna at Tarotdon Tarot

What connections can you see between Alice in Wonderland and the Tarot? I would be fascinated to hear!

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