I want, perhaps one last time, to write as I once did. To not punish myself, and punish you, with my words. Last week, I began a review in dialogue in which I meet adult Alice, old Alice, close to death, in a darkweb chatroom, knowing that it was so odd and unsettling that I would never publish it even if I finished it. I cannot continue to present you with flowers that smell like dirty feet. Yet it troubles me to put together sentences and make them stick. In Tokyo, I collapsed, and ever since I have been experiencing a ‘dropping’ sensation in my head. Momentarily, I feel as though I am falling, and, as in a real fall, I anticipate the end point as a sudden, devastating impact. I anticipate the impact, but do not experience it. It troubles me to attempt to think coherently, to pull together the loose threads of my mind. But I want, perhaps one last time, to force myself to do it, and produce the kind of review I once produced with ease.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
I will write about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, because that is why you’re here. I will write about Alice as though I know her, as though she is the solid surface upon which I have fallen. I will call her Alice, although she denies the name and wishes that I would call her something else. She is easily bored, and possibly a little stupid. Certainly, she is impetuous and sometimes thoughtless. She follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole, remember. She drinks from strange bottles and eats strange things, without a great deal of consideration, without being sure that it is safe to do so. When talking to a mouse she cannot help but mention her cat, even though she understands that it frightens the poor creature. She often puts her foot in it, not out of malice, but rather out of carelessness. In person, she would be infuriating, to me at least, but in fiction she is charming, because she has a dreamy disposition and is not without obvious faults.
Alice follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole and enters a world that is disconcerting to her. Within that world she is transformed; she becomes ungrounded, peculiar. She is the outsider there. The inhabitants, whom she thinks speak in riddles, question the turn and quality of her mind. Alice’s experiences in Wonderland are often compared to a dream, and they are dream-like in ways. She says so herself, in fact. As in the dream realm, the population and landscape of Wonderland isn’t unfamiliar, not completely so. Alice recognises the mouse and the bird, the door and the fire. It is more accurate to say that the familiar is distorted. The mouse speaks, for example. The dream realm isn’t another, or alien, world, it is a wax model of your world that has been placed too close to the fire. Yet there are signs, clear signs, frequent suggestions, that Wonderland isn’t part of the dream realm at all, but that Alice is more likely mad. Indeed, it is this way of interpreting the story that resonated with me, that moved me even.
The inhabitants, as far as Alice is concerned, speak in riddles, remember; their behaviour, moreover, strikes her as strange, unrelatable. This confuses and angers her and, in fact, makes her doubt herself. I feel that way all of the time, have done my whole life. Other people, the oppressive other, seem perfectly content and comfortable; they engage with each other successfully; and yet I cannot understand them. ‘We’re all mad here,’ the Cheshire Cat says, but isn’t it Alice who is mad, as she is the outlier? My concentration levels are poor these days, and I am unable to read carefully, but it seems to me that Carroll presents Alice, not as a young girl having weird yet harmless adventures, but as one who is unstable, as one who is, specifically, suffering from a crisis of identity. She is, to my mind, experiencing a fracturing of the self. Consider how we are told that she, in the ordinary world, pretends to be two people; she plays against herself, she admonishes herself. In Wonderland, the caterpillar asks her ‘who are you?’, to which she replies ‘I hardly know myself, sir.’