Cerebus Part VIII — Issue #20
(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part V
I-and-a-half, Part VII)

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I can only imagine what a shock this one must’ve been to readers looking for a nice linear development of the “siege on Palnu” storyline… Is “Mind Game” a “cop-out“? Did Sim force his protagonist onto another level of diegesis in some lame attempt to elude the comsequences of his own narrative?

Of course not.

That’s not how storytelling works.

It is a fact of the human condition that we are beholden to the “Lords of Life”–but it is the artist’s privilege to choose which lords s/he will bow down to, at any given moment… Subservience to any particular set of imperatives isn’t art–it’s automatism. In our quotidian experience, the choices are less clear, and for various reasons (most of them having to do with our biological materiality), we are very often powerless to resist the encroachments of “master narratives” that we do not own–but art is not life, and a critic who forgets this places him/herself at a serious disadvantage. This is not an argument in favour of “escapism”, either (i.e. “real art” “captures” lived experience; “pop art” gives us a break from same); no–I am saying that all art runs parallel to life, and comments upon it. Escapism resides in the mind of the reader/viewer/listener–not the work itself.

What does this have to do with Cerebus #20? Well, everything, as far as I’m concerned!

The stage is set for an enormous confrontation between the T’Gitan horde and Lord Julius’ mercenary force (led by a general that intends to use that very same army to engineer a coup, once he has repulsed the invaders). The book invites us to crave an acceleration of this complex intercutting between the battlefield and the backrooms, all leading to a “senses-shattering” climax of some sort or another. But in lieu of this, Sim pulls back and says: “you know, there are some things going on inside Cerebus’ head that are much more important than these shenanigans”… Everybody line up! Field trip! Back to that weird grayscale continuum from issue #8!

The difference this time is that Cerebus (thanks to the intensifying effects of the particular drugs he’s been fed) is now able to enter into the gray, rather than simply leaning upon it, in an existential extremity, as before… and guess what? There’s a party going on in there!

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While his abductors–the Cirinists–threaten and cajole him from without, Cerebus touches base with Suenteus Po–impossibly geriatric bonvivant extraordinaire! Po belongs to the Illusionist cult, and we learn that he and his pals are engaged in an enduring struggle with the disciples of Terim (who aim to establish “The New Matriarchy”)… I’m sure I don’t have to emphasize the loaded gender connotations of this fateful binary. But the thing is–both of these groups take their bearings, to a very large extent, from their relationship to Patriarchy proper. Po’s gang are a bunch of hypostatized fratboys on spring break. Their opponents wish to outlaw this vicious behaviour,  instead of frowning indulgently upon it, as the Father does…but they aren’t threatening to abolish hierarchy–they simply want to set themselves up as the new management. The stakes of the battle are clear–and hilariously banal… As Po asserts–if the Cirinists win, “it’s milk and cookies for all of us!”

This isn’t really “men vs. women”–it’s antinomianism vs. the law itself. And Cerebus, at this point, is blithely indifferent to it all. There’s nothing to choose from between “form” and “void”–they’re just elements of the plot. The idea is to keep the ingredients swirling in the pot. Well…that plus waking up and getting the hell on with your life! But that’s the thing–whenever life threatens to make sense, you’ve gotta  kill the engine, rip the hood open, and fuck something up… That’s what drugs, sleep and poesy are for!

I know that many of you are privileged to know a great more than I do about the ways in which this whole thing plays itself out. Will Cerebus become a pawn in the meta-struggles that structure “reality” in Estarcion? Or will he succeed in metaphorizing them so completely that he achieves the Pyrrhic victory of solipsism? One thing is for sure–Cerebus (the narrative) will last as long as the answer to these questions remains in doubt, and not one moment longer! (certainty=death)

And no storyteller ever gave us a more complex prophecy of his own fate than the riddle posed by this issue’s interlocking-page structure. (thanks to Cerebus Fangirl for that link!–you are wonderful Margaret!)

Good Afternoon Friends!

p.s. don’t forget to check out Seth’s initial ruminations upon Rushdie and the Dreaming, and the latest round of Mulholland Dr. comment-thread fun!

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