Barton, Anna, and James Williams, eds. The Edinburgh Companion to Nonsense. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2022.
Introduction: Companionable Nonsense – Anna Barton and James Williams
Part I: Notes towards a History of English Nonsense
1. Buba, Blictrix, Bufbaf: Medieval Theory and Practice of Nonsense – Jordan Kirk
2. ‘The Best Fooling’:
Every Man Out of His Humour, Twelfth Night, and Early Modern English Nonsense Games – Rebecca Fall
3. Nonsense in the Age of Reason – Freya Johnston
4. ‘The Light of Sense | Goes Out’:
Romantic Poetry and Victorian Nonsense Poetry – Peter Swaab
5. Victorian Nonsense and Its Kinships – Martin Dubois
6. Shady Pleasures: Modernist Nonsense – Noreen Masud
7. Mid-Century Nonsense and Destructive Mockery – Adam Piette
Part II: Global Nonsenses
8. In Search of Ancient Greek Nonsense – Sara Chiarini
9. Traditional Moorings, Modern Practices: Indian Literary Nonsense – Sumanyu Satpathy
10. Signs and Wonders: Two Approaches to Nonsense in Russia – Jamie Rann
11. ‘What’s the French for fiddle-de-dee?’: Nonsense in French – Alexandra Lukes
12. Italian Nonsense: Tradition, Translation, Translocation, Transcodification (and a Trinity) – Alessandro Giammei
Part III: Contexts and Connections
13. English ‘hibber-gibber’ and the ‘jargon of France’: Rabelaisian Nonsense in Translation – Hugh Roberts
14. Musical Foundations of Nonsense – Michael Heyman
15. Doubtful Girls and Silly Women: Nonsense and Gender – Anna Barton
16. Queer Nonsense: Query? – Hugh Haughton
17. Humans, and Other Nonsense Animals – Cassie Westwood
18. Nonsense Among the Philosophers – Michael Potter
19. ‘Word beyond Speech’: Nonsense and the Sacred – James Williams
The Edinburgh Companion to Nonsense presents several interesting and informative articles on the subject, the great majority of which, including the one on the Victorian period, largely avoid the two recognised masters of the genre: a welcome decision as the literature on them is by now quite abundant. The essays, as you can see from the table of contents above, are divided into three main sections, the first of which provides a sketch of the history of nonsense in English, the second takes a look at some of the traditions in other countries (in many of which the authors candidly admit that there is nothing comparable to English nonsense), and the last contains less easily classifiable material concerning particular critical approaches to nonsense or its relationship to other disciplines.
While all the essays present stimulating discussions of the nonsensical practices of a number of authors or of particular periods, what is missing is any attempt at a definition of nonsense: none, not even the introduction, confront the issue of what nonsense is, which is perhaps not strange given how differently each author confronts the peculiar traditions of distant times and places. This is a conscious choice of the editors, who write: “we have made no attempt as editors to police the views or positions of our individual contributors.”
They also write that they “are receptive to the thought that there might be modes of nonsense that move outside of language (the proper domain of ‘sense’) altogether, that other art forms might generate their own form of ‘nonsense'” but, apart from Hayman’s essay on music and nonsense, there is very little about nonsense in different media, in particular the visual mode, which is certainly relevant to Lear and Carroll, as well as to many other kinds of nonsense.
The book is certainly an important addition to the criticism of a number of literary nonsense practices and to several authors who have used nonsensical techniques in their works, though a less eclectic variety of subjects might have made it of greater interest to non academic readers.