Cerebus Part XI–issues #26 to 28

Cerebus Part XI–issues #26 to 28:

“What’s so special about lots of black with strange grey scenery”?

(continued from this post)

In High Society (Cerebus #26-50), Dave Sim took his exploration of the arbitrariness of subjectivity to a new level. Why is Cerebus so important? It’s the first question on everyone’s mind–when they aren’t busy demonstrating that he just is. He’s the idol o’ millions (of obscure cultists), his movements (both on the corporeal plane and in the astral regions beyond it) are scrutinized by a variety of secret societies, and, once he reaches Iest, at the beginning of this storyline, he becomes the bullseye in a game of special interest darts. Issue #26 depicts our hero settling into the role of influence peddler (aka “Famous the Aardvark”).

Who among us would say no to an offer of 700 crowns in exchange for entertaining the notion that gold plated streetlamps might be a good investment? The pleasantness of the thing is only increased when Cerebus learns that the person he’s supposed to influence is Lord Julius (this would be roughly analogous to me accepting bribes from people who want to see a change at The Comics Journal)… ah, the joy of being an ex-Kitchen Staff Supervisor! All of this furnishes the author with a wonderful opportunity to poke fun at sleazy business practices (are there any other kinds of business practices?), and, when it comes to naming names, Sim delivers the Dickensian goods (i.e. Hadden, Hadden, and Dipp; Scorz, Scorz and Sons, and, best of all :Greely, Bleaker, and Spleen!) But all of this works on a more sophisticated (narratological) level as well–it reminds us that, while Cerebus will always occupy centerstage in Cerebus, he is very far from being  a major player.  Unlike the protagonist of a traditional bildungsroman , Cerebus is only the symbol (or sign) of will and decision-making power, never its referrent. We learn in issue #28 (“Mind Game II”–a magnificent issue which served notice of Sim’s intent to recombine images and text in new ways) that the grey stuff in the “eighth sphere” is “mental clutter”–and I think this constitutes a fine two-word definition of personhood/subjectivity itself…

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To be is to be a mess, so to speak… a peephole (in Cerebus’ case–a “ruthless peephole”…entirely appropriate, don’t you think, given the fake kidnapping story in issue #27?) onto a world that none of us has any jurisdiction over… Whenever we are placed in a position to make a choice, or exercise even a modicum of power over our lives, it’s always an accident, and it’s probably an illusion… To use Suenteus Po’s terms, without replicating his meaning, it’s the clutter that’s important, not the housekeeping. Cerebus is never healthier than when admitting that he can “live with” the distortion effect produced by his own subjectivity. It’s the decision to gain “perspective” on his life, by making “short- and long-term plans” (the seed of which is planted in issue #28) that sentences him to an extended sojourn in the pitch-black void…and one of my pet theories (and a guiding assumption of this criticial project) is that Dave Sim has taken the fall with him.

good afternoon friends!


One comment

  1. I thought at the time, and suspect Sim did too, and while I don’t know if he still does, I do…man that was long…

    The thing about the position Cerebus is in for this part of the story is that it’s a fairly crucial one for the real workings of a bureaucracy. It’s part of the system of locks and lifts that makes up the canal grid through which the goodies flow. But it’s important in a way that makes no room for personality. Cerebus having a personality is an active liability for doing that job, not that he understands that.

    — Bruce Baugh

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