Spitting frogs

In 1939, a group of surrealists produced a collaborative novel, including several stories by the English artist Leonora Carrington. One of these, ‘The Skeleton’s Holiday’, becomes particularly nonsensical:

It happened that one day the skeleton drew some hazelnuts that walked about on little legs across mountains, that spit frogs out of mouth, eye, ear, nose and other openings and holes…

This reminded me of some early seventeenth-century French nonsense by the comedian known as Bruscambille, which discusses frogs dressed in the Turkish fashion, fighting a naval battle on the wing of a windmill, in the land of the fairies where, among other things, cats guzzle a confection of turds and frogs spit roasted and stuffed goslings (etc.)

Academically, such anachronism is a crime: nonsense writers from the distant past could not have been surreal so long before the surrealist movement was formed in the 1920s. But nonsense is much older than surrealism so Carrington, knowingly or not, is drawing on images and techniques that reach back well before Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Nonsense predicts surrealism.

Bruscambille’s imagery, especially the cats and frogs, has inspired Dominic Hills’s latest print, given a further twist as the poor frog, rather than spitting roasted goslings, becomes spit-roasted, a lapsus lectionis, or slip of reading, of which Freud and the surrealists would themselves have approved:

Grenouilles qui crachent
© Dominic Hills

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