Complete Nonsense

Michael Wood writes:

Complete Nonsense , like Peake’s Progress, reproduces a series of funny drawings actually called Figures of Speech. They’re very inventive, and the phrase the pictures illustrate isn’t always easy to get even when you’ve looked it up more than once. A man plays the flute, his feet tapping against the music: this is ‘Toeing the line’. Another stares sorrowfully at what seems to be a puppet at the end of his arm: ‘His right-hand man’. A humanoid sea creature surfaces cheerfully from the water, his arms wrapped around himself: ‘Coming up to scratch’. The drawings show not only how strange these idioms can look when literalised but how easy it is to animate seemingly random pieces of language and keep them animated. The ordinary, practical meanings of the phrases seem inert and pointless, and nonsense steals the scene, eclipsing for a moment the sanities and insanities of home.

(LRB 26 January 2012)