Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cordelia - with Cats Now!

Imagine, if you will, that cultural history is neither progress nor regress but a sort of food court, in which the stories of our lives are played out and then resampled like so many Tiffany singles. Cats do this all the time. With front paw extended and head bowed for example our tubby Maine coon appears to be a natural courtier; but look closer and you'll see that he has really only refined the Friar Tuckishness of his even fatter older brother. Similarly Yuri, the youngest, takes the natural jitter of the skinny black cat about as far into art nouveau as one can go without lapsing into parody (which happens anyway, cats being hilarious). So watching all three together, we make a momentous and inarguable discovery: as cats age, they move back in time through the history of English literature.

Which brings us, naturally, to Cordelia. As seen "by herself" she's a riddle: a wormhole whose silence threatens to knock her play out of its tenuous psychological realism and into the allegorical strangeness of a Saturday morning cartoon. But then what if we don't see her by herself? What if, instead, we put her next to Jonah, and see the ways that the two of them get along, or rather don't, since for all their love and resemblance siblings are put on this earth for one reason and one reason only: to fight? 

Also stick up for one another, which is what I think Cordelia must be doing with her silence. Think about it: for however many hundreds of years, the Biblical prophets called out to a gradually-less-communicative God. Where had he gone? And why, when he reappeared, did he answer their very understandable questions with weird tasks and enigmas, instead of just coming out and addressing the problem? Get eaten by a whale! Spend a year in the desert! So that by the time we get to the Prophets (or parodies of prophets, which is what the book of Jonah really is), God has become something like a cross between a game show host and what I can only assume is the dashingly-dominant male character in 50 Shades of Gray. 

Sadism like this grinds us - and by "us" I mean all of us, "the prophets," or, if I can be slightly less self-aggrandizing, "those who would speak" - into a mixture of mealy obedience and gravelly Rebellion - which works for a while, I guess, except that really, don't you ever want to teach God a lesson?  Cordelia does, which is at least one of the reasons why she stops speaking - not because she doesn't love her father, but because she wants to teach him, and by teaching him turn the tables, and by turning the tables, presumably, turn the story, turn the world itself away from Simone Weil's famous wrathscape into a place so empty and meaningless that compassion has no choice but to seep in, as if following a sort of emotional/spiritual Second Law of Thermodynamics (and then writing this, I see that the understory here is basically Antigone's: when kings become unbearable, you appeal to the gods. When the gods are unbearable, bear them. See A Simple Heart, Breaking the Waves, maybe The Royal Tannenbaums).

Does it work? Absolutely not. She doesn't fix anything. Actually, she breaks the world. I mean that: shake a good paperback Lear and you can actually hear the pieces of world rattling around inside it like used matches that some asshole has decided to put back in an empty box. Because God always wins. And when we know that, I mean really know that,  our only recourse is to loose so big that His victory becomes embarrassing. Which is kind of the point, since in doing this, what such a stunt secretly hopes is that God can be embarrassed, and therefore change his mind (a hope that, depending on your own point of view may be heroic, or beautiful, or absurd). 

No comments:

Post a Comment