Lewis Carrol’s Unfortunate Debut.
Hear us out.
Lewis Carroll is the pen name of Reverend Charles Dodgson, a mathematics professor at Oxford, whose physical deformities, partial deafness, and irrepressible stammer caused awkward interactions around other adults. His students and flock found him strange, so it was only around children that his brilliant imagination revealed itself. Unburdened by his unusual exterior, children were less judgmental and brought out his linguistic humor and satire of the “adult world” they were both apprehensive of.
*Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland *tanked when it was first published in 1865. It took him a decade to put together and was largely touted as sheer nonsense, **the ramblings of an insane inner mind. **It took several years before Carrol’s mastery of sophisticated logic, social satire, and astounding fantasy would be celebrated by adults and children alike.
“Too extravagantly absurd to produce more diversion than disappointment and irritation.” ~Some critic we can’t remember said this in 1865
Unbeknownst to the critic at the time, the feelings of irritation and disappointment prove Carrol’s satire relevant and well-crafted. The critic is absolutely right.
In fact, he’s mad (read: insane) for being so correct.
Here’s a little run-down of the first three chapters:
- Alice sits on a river bank and sees a White Rabbit running by her. He pulls out his pocket watch, exclaims he’s late and pops down a rabbit hole. Alice follows him. Throughout the story, he continues to enter scenes exclaiming he’s late, Alice always follows him. We never know what he’s late for, we never quite get there.
- Down the rabbit hole, Alice sees a beautiful garden through a door’s keyhole. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Alice cries over it and falls into a pool of her own tears. There, she meets other animals caught in the salty sea. Making it to shore, Alice and the other animals are wet, prompting the Dodo to suggest a Caucus race to dry off.
- The animals run in circles until the Dodo declares half an hour later that the race is over. The Dodo says that all of them have won the Caucus race and everyone receives a mint as a prize. Alice solemnly accepts the prize but cannot help feeling that the gesture is absurd.
It a bit maddening, isn’t it?
Alice, (and most adults,) have a fixed perspective of their environments. Her worldview is comprised of clear, logical, and consistent rules and features. Unfortunately, Wonderland rarely fits these structures. The White Rabbit toys with the adult’s understanding of cause and effect; “surely he must arrive somewhere.”
In fact, there’s no such guarantee.
Many people chase White Rabbits, pointing to their watches exclaiming “we’re late! So late!” but they never arrive (to wherever it is. We don’t even know.) The White Rabbit represents frustrated desire; satirizing how we imagine pay-off in our lives even if there’s no guarantee that there might be a causal relationship at play. (ex. degree = good job. Bill Gates dropped out of college.)
Much like the White Rabbit, we’re unsure what the payoff is with the garden as well. A spitting image of “the grass is always greener on the other side,” Alice cries an ocean of tears because she can’t get there. An ocean you guys, and she doesn’t even know a thing about that garden. As ridiculous as it sounds, what living, breathing human is not guilty of unfounded desire? We’re supposed to want things we don’t even understand.
The Caucus Race continues this thread, poking fun at the absurdity of government and the rat race simultaneously. The animals run randomly in circles, progress nowhere, and arbitrarily adjourn without any clear conclusion. They’d end up dry anyways doing something else too, but here’s your mint. Alice is right, the gesture is absurd.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Alice attempts to fit her diverse experiences into her understanding of how the world should work: logical, rational, law-bound. Conflict emerges in the story when her fixed perspective comes into contact with the mad illogical world of Wonderland (read: reality.)
As a satire of the real world, by seeing the perennially-late White Rabbit, the beautiful garden, or the Caucus Race as ridiculous, readers should also see their real-life parallels as ridiculous as well. This “adult” rational framework is, in other words, “too extravagantly absurd to produce more diversion than disappointment and irritation.” (What does that taste like, Mr. Critic? Your own medicine?)
Many of the structures from the Victorian era still pervade the modern. We live in a society of disembodied intellect.
Our world is governed by archaic industrial structures and we negotiate with empty promises on a daily basis. What Carrol gives us is an important lesson:* life resists rigid interpretations.*
As the Cheshire Cat later explains, Alice must be “mad” to understand the nature of things. Herein lies the paradox of Wonderland: accept the logic of nonsense or go mad with contradiction.
Dance with me in that thought for a while.
Alison Wonderland vs. The Mäd Hatter
Be your best kind of insane.
When given the choice, are you a Mäd Hatter, accepting the logic of nonsense, or Alison Wonderland, who goes mad with contradiction? History gives us countless examples of Hatters out in the world: everything profound humanity has ever accomplished was first met with, “You’re crazy.” Lewis Carrol received similar reviews at first. In fact, anything outside the mundane, expected, or rational, typically falls under the category of insanity.
“Why would you go to the moon? Why would you cross the ocean, you’re gonna fall off the edge of the earth! Why would you quit your job/university to start a business in your garage?” ~ Alison Wonderlands, all the time.
I mean, that’s crazy, right? So crazy, it actually worked.
Simon Sinek credits the limbic brain with this “illogical or irrational” decision-making. The same part of the brain that speaks to the WHY:
“It is not logic or facts but our hopes and dreams, our hearts and guts, that drive us to try new things. If we were all rational, there would be no small businesses, there would be no exploration, there would be very little innovation and there would be no great leaders to inspire all those things. It is the undying belief in something bigger and better that drives that kind of behaviour.” (Start With Why, pg. 68)
Only in Wonderland would the Wright brothers triumph over Samuel Langley, or two spare-parts salesman could change the face of technology. Martin Luther King Jr. had a crazy dream and* the whole world heard about it. *They must have been mad to even try it. You need to be mad to change the world.
Given that, why would anybody want to be sane?
We Must Be Mad.
Everyone else is.
We don’t believe in the extravagant absurdity of the status quo. We believe you need to be a bit mad to change the game. We’re all about high impact, high quality work. But traditional approaches don’t let us pursue our ideas to the best of our abilities.
So we built a place where we could think differently.
We do this by rejecting the norms in everything we do; our design-centered approach that embraces the logic of nonsense in our work, our policies, and our lifestyles. In fact, in a market with low trust, where 70% of the currency is in cash, where banking services are limited, and where infrastructure and logistics are poor, we made an e-commerce app. Crazy, right?
Within the first 6 weeks, it was the 7th most downloaded up and processing over $2M USD weekly. Absolutely Mäd.
We make digital applications, websites, and a bunch of other cool stuff. Step into our rabbit hole and have a look for yourself.