Tomorrow I’ll be featuring some package design of an interesting, but now defunct brand of pet food. Meanwhile, since we’ve been lately pouring over “Droste effect” packages, I wondered: “Is there some Droste effect pet food that I could serve up today as a segue into tomorrow’s subject?”
There is one, pretty well-known fictional example: “Bonzo Dog Food” from Russell Hoban’s 1969 children’s book, The Mouse and His Child.
While there are some “Bonzo” dog food brands that have existed in the real world, for Hoban, “Bonzo” appears to be a generic brand name, similar to ACME. (In his 1974 adult novel, Kleinzeit, Hoban’s protagonist is fired from his job as a copywriter after writing a television commercial with a smiling tramp pitching “Bonzo Toothpaste.”)
In The Mouse and His Child, empty cans of Bonzo Dog Food abound…
…an empty tin can that stood near the mouse and his child. BONZO DOG FOOD, said the white letters on the orange label, and below the name was a picture of a little black-and-white spotted dog, walking on his hind legs and wearing a chef’s cap and an apron. The dog carried a tray on which there was another can of BONZO DOG FOOD, on the label of which another little black-and-white spotted dog, exactly the same but much smaller, was walking on his hind legs and carrying a tray on which there was another can of BONZO DOG FOOD, on the label of which another little black-and-white spotted dog, exactly the same but much smaller, was walking on his hind legs and carrying a tray on which there was another can of BONZO DOG FOOD, and so on until the dogs became too small for the eye to follow.
Regarding the abundance of discarded dog food cans, Yvonne Studer writes,
…the dog motif connects all parts of the story: Bonzo, the tramp’s little black-and-white spotted dog resembles the dog on the label of BONZO dog-food cans that are standing and lying around everywhere in the book… The network of references is almost too tightly woven. A motif that is so much foregrounded invites interpretation. Yet, what does this “too-muchness of dogs” stand for? Is it loyalty, as the tramp’s dog suggests? But then the allegory has been anchored in a very threadbare “character”. Or did Hoban think of the idiom “it’s a case of dog eat dog” when he decided to represent infinity by means of a BONZO dog-food label?
Ideas, Obsessions, Intertexts: A Nonlinear Approach to Russell Hoban’s Fiction
While Hoban’s “Droste effect” dog-food cans may have started out as a metaphor for infinity, they’ve been metaphorically recycled by other writers to represent everything from AIDS research to quantum physics.
(Metaphor-as-metaphor and a video, after the fold…)
The very act of reflexivity sets up new situations to be reflexively scrutinised in turn in… a ‘spiralling reflexivity’ (fuelled, we would suggest, by the political and economic pressures which produce a spiralling of academic publications). Ultimately, however, the usefulness of such infinite scrutiny is questionable: …reflexive commentary can be pursued with ‘near banal archness’. It is rather like ‘the last visible dog’ on the tin can stumbled upon by the Mouse and his Child of Russell Hoban’s story
Rosaline S. Barbour & Guro Huby, Meddling with Mythology: AIDS and the Social Construction of Knowledge
In Russell Hoban’s allegory The Mouse and His Child, there is an amusing (
Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics
One of the most interesting topics that may be illustrated by numerous literary quotations is that of self-reference, or recursion, as it is called in programming… Since recursion is often presented as a difficult concept, examples illustrating its simplicity are most helpful…
The label on the can of BONZO Dog Food which occurs repeatedly in Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child is self-referential…
Keith Smillie, Language, Literature and the Computer