A Cartoon Cat

Posted on August 3, 2009


A cartoon cat does not look much like a real cat.  A cartoon cloud barely resembles anything actually up in the sky.  A cartoon sea: a few bald lines.  A cartoon person: well, that quiff, that absurd nose, that style of dimpled chin, those outsized proportions, those bright colours, those flat textures: the picture does not look much like a real person.   Even in the way the person moves.  A cartoon eye …. and so on.  In such terms cartoons could be called myths.  We can look at this idea in any way you like: apply this idea to Manga comics, with their ubiquitous short-skirted school girls, for example.  They present an interesting example of this same case I think.  The images we see express an eroticism about scantily clad females, but the question is, is that, in the form that it takes, necessarily about girls who are too young?  Possibly, in many cases at least, the same rule applies as with cartoon clouds and so on: how things look bears only a passing resemblance to literal or even cultural reality.   It is just that these forms, girls, school, teensy skirts, eye-popping boobs, work as a kind of short hand for a protean quality – let’s call it the quality of life’s mystery (however vulgarised it might seem).  For example: eroticism combined with innocence.  The little gusts of lifting wind amongst the cherry trees.  They work just as Tom, the cartoon cat, works: the big eyes, the two-dimensional profile occasionally transmuting into a three quarters and back again.  Just as the behaviour of Tom answers to a need in his audience for rascally incorrigible behaviour – as it were provides us with our route into the mystery of being – so with the cartoon girls.  They ostensibly are there merely to satisfy the perpetual masculine fascination with glimpsing women’s bodies, for the glimpse, which is / yet is not deliberately contrived trolling.  (The perpetual question being: was that deliberate or innocent?) … But where the question is also present: why does this sort of thing take such a form … ?- my answer to this question being that it takes this kind of form (just as with Tom and Jerry) because for its audience this is their route back into life’s mystery.  In other words, I would say that the qualities the cartoon explores, visually – colour, line, image, dimension – simplified into or rendered as the visibly fictional, that these release us into something, something unbidden but yet somehow necessary to our existence.  I can still remember the relief I would feel as a child when a cartoon would come on the tv, or that I would experience with the arrival my weekly comic; it would pop through the letterbox.  Finally!  Here was a world that I could understand or that I could be in without qualm: a kind of perfect world.  I needed somewhere other than the mundane place in which I was in order to live.  The dynamic to be understood here is simple enough of course.   Put it this way: ordinarily the words of our language work as (let’s say) instances of clarity: that is, they work to resolve things into forms that have no mystery.  Words, ordinarily, function as ‘mystery solvers’: they tell us what something is, what exists, what doesn’t exist; what is true or false.  Thus there is a world in front of us about which we can exchange information.  The described world of ordinary language.  I am saying that the need that the cartoon (the cartoon among a great many other things) helps to satisfy is a need for a world besides this ‘mundane’ world of information exchange: a world where on the contrary explanation is suspended – because the essential content of that world is not information – where the relentless instances of mundane clarity that we face in the everyday world are no longer in force.   We are looking at the concept of ‘getting beyond the informational’.  It is inadequate to reductively call this merely a need for ‘escapism’ for example; because this merely reproduces the informational posture.  And that is the issue in question.  Whether its truth amounts to ‘The Truth’.  What we are discussing is the issue of how the present moment can be found to be sufficient: the question of how it is to be alive for us.   We are looking at a kind of region of silence in this way.  At how it is in this sense that we need myths: means for the identification of this silence: things that enable us to exist precisely because they do not exist.  Where we exist by this ‘not existing’ thing yet being.

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