Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monstrous Races...Philosophical Musings...So Much Fun...

On Monday, Garfield was hallucinatory.

On Tuesday, Garfield was utterly bizarre.

Now it is Wednesday. Wednesday's Garfield rocks my world...albeit only in a medieval context, of course.

Four of Garfield's characters--Jon, Garfield, Odie, and Pooky*--have spent the past three days arbitrarily swapping heads. I'm assuming that on or just after Hallowe'en, Jon is going to Wake Up and Find It Was All a Dream. For the moment, however, we're getting cat-headed men, man-headed cats, cat-headed dogs, dog-headed teddy bears, and teddy-bear-headed dogs (with big doggy tongues). When Jon's head is on Garfield's body, he communicates in thought bubbles rather than speech bubbles, while when Garfield's head is on Jon's body, the opposite rule applies. You have no idea how disturbing newspaper comics can get until you take a look at this week's Garfield.**

One might posit that Jim Davis is running out of ideas*** and is thus simply drawing**** random garbage as he hums madly to himself to drown out the voices. However, one might also see today's strip as a thoughtful exploration of monstrosity via medieval dream-vision imagery. I am inclined to choose option #2.

What is humanity? St. Augustine muses on this very question and can only come up with a wishy-washy answer.***** The problem of the categorisation of the monstrous races is one that haunts the Middle Ages. If dog-headed people who bark instead of talking nonetheless demonstrate signs of human intelligence, are they not human? Yet...if we categorise them as human, do we have to view them as equal to us? If we accuse a monster of cannibalism, are we not admitting his humanity, since cannibals, by definition, consume the flesh of creatures just like them? If we maintain the monster is an animal, how can we call him a cannibal?

The debate is complex and nuanced, and today's Garfield captures it perfectly. The hybrid characters seem unsure which of them is the dreamer and which the dream; they thus symbolise, in the world of the dream vision, the subject's anxiety about his identity and even reality. The hybridity of the characters points to the monster debate, characterised by the inconclusive, uneasy conflict between human and subhuman, Self and Other, inside and outside. The dreamer--Jon, perhaps?--is lost in a sea of uncertainty, unable to reconcile his view of himself as a perpetual outsider (a monster?) with his own humanity. He has lost touch with his essence and therefore dreams himself as fragmented.

What he needs to do, of course, is get himself a spirit guide--possibly a vain, sarcastic eagle with personality issues--and set off on a journey through a paradisal landscape full of madly singing birds. He will eventually run into a highly symbolic situation that he will completely misunderstand, then muddle about until he has a revelation and tries to yank someone's head off someone's shoulders and replace it with his own. Then he'll wake up. He'll be relieved it was all a dream until he finds an eagle's feather under his pillow.

Sadly, this is Garfield we're talking about here. There will be no spirit guide. The nonsense will continue until the end of the week, then lapse again into stupidity. Jim Davis is simply not aware of the philosophical implications of his own comic. Someone really ought to keep him informed.

*Pooky is a teddy bear but also, in a sense, a character. Don't ask.
**Of course, there's also Monday's Heart of the City, which features a little boy and girl dressed up as a pimp and a ho.
***Or that Jim Davis ran out of ideas decades ago, but that's a whole other rant.
****Or, really, cut-and-pasting. Damn it, Jim. (Okay...to be fair, panels 1 and 2 have some tiny, tiny differences. At best, however, there was tracing involved. Do these "people" never change their poses?)
*****Not hugely unusual for him, but still.


Tony said...

Oh man, a vain sarcastic eagle spirit guide is SO what Garfield needs. That would be all kinds of awesome.

Mimi said...

He very much ran out of ideas years ago.

Michael said...

St. Augustine wasn't all bad. His The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) gave an excellent argument against creationism. When discussing biblical literalism with fundamentalists, it's often helpful to point out that Augustine considered the subject 1600 years ago and rejected it.

Angry Kem said...

Michael: Oh, I quite like Augustine at times, but there's no doubt that his segment on the monstrous races is an excellent example of How to Hedge One's Bets. He isn't always so vague, but he's not afraid to cast his eyes to the sky, whistle, and say, "Noooooothiiiiiinnnnnng..."

Therese said...

i got here by accident.. i was looking for garfield comics to put on a t-shirt as a gift for our previous adviser.. and way to go.. this "middle-english" could've been interesting.. one problem.. i preferred colored comics on the t-shirt. Too bad. It's great though.. My previous adviser was a garfield fan.