Obscenity and nonsense

In a nonsense speech from the early seventeenth century, the comedian known as Bruscambille reports how pigs dressed in the Turkish fashion launch a naval battle on the sail of a windmill in the lands of Papeligosse, where dogs shit tar, cats guzzle a confection of turds, pregnant women piss a maidenhead as big as an arm and frogs spit out fully cooked and stuffed geese.

The frogs have already made an appearance in one of Dominic Hills’s prints, and this same nonsensical passage has inspired two others, both based on the obscene impossibility of pregnant women pissing a maidenhead as big as an arm [les femmes enceintes pissent un pucelage gros comme le bras] (incidentally, the word ‘bras’ [arm] has disappeared behind one of the frogs who has flown into the frame).

Femme Enceinte (1)
© Dominic Hills

Femme Enceinte (2)
© Dominic Hills

Nonsense writers are fond of impossibilities like this. Bruscambille’s imagery is as strikingly grotesque as what it describes is unlikely. Nonsense may be gibberish that suggests an abstract meaning which can never be reached. In this passage, the opposite applies: the scatalogical imagery conjures up pictures that have an imaginative potency, the impossible made tangible. Hence obscenity and nonsense are often yoked together, making the unreal real, which in turn gives a hint as to why such writing is suggestive to a contemporary visual artist.