The Cerebus Re-Read Challenge
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even better, Volumes 1 and 2 are free!
Latter Days: My Eyes Fell Out
The first time I read Cerebus, Latter Days was actually one of my favorite volumes. Crazy, I know.
I was meeting Sim on the way out while he was on the way in with the whole monotheism thing. His commentaries on the Book of Genesis acknowledged a lot of the same oddities that had come to bother me over the years. (I was raised in a Non-Denominational, Evangelical, cookie-cutter, Born-Again, mega-church household.) Even more impressive/compelling, was how internally consistent his explanation for, and interpretation of, the apparent inconsistencies was. Sure, the thread is strained here and there, but overall Sim does a fantastic job at crafting a believable story out of the two different creation myths, the varied usage of 'God' and 'Lord', the ever renewing covenants, all of the twins stealing each other's birthrights, everyone fucking their relatives, the odd sacrificial demands, etc. He almost had me sold!
At some point in his essays Sim also criticizes the modern church's over-appraisal of the Apostle Paul, a topic I had harangued my family about for years.
There was a decidedly Gnostic flavor (something I was partial to at the time) to Sim's explication but it was interpretatively deeper than any Gnosticism I have ever seen. This was a huge plus for me, at the time.
I have since altered my views dramatically. I was never able to shake the philosophical belief that whatever religion calls 'God' is too big to be viewed as an active agent with a personality. If I ascribe even the most non-anthropomorphic idea of agency or person-hood to the thing then the whole concept becomes reprehensible. If there is such an entity, a Creator, conscious of its actions and aware of its creation then it is a despicable, selfish, pathetic, piece of shit.
Nope, no lightning yet.
It comes down to this: Just because you made me, all of the reality around me, blessed me with what I have to admit has been a pretty good life relative to almost anyone else, a life full of accomplishments beyond what I ever dreamed, a life in which I have been able to largely do what I want to do, when, where, how, and with whom I wanted to do it, ultimately I was never consulted about if I wanted a life at all in the first place. Everything I just said is true of my life. I have had a pretty great one. The fact remains that the day-to-day, moment-to-moment aspects of being alive are pretty much a gigantic pain in the ass and a massive responsibility. Balanced against every awesome thing I have ever experienced the weights fall resoundingly on the side of the "meh," and that is before you add in all of the "this is terrible."
It is bad enough that my parents, as amazing as they have been since I arrive, took it upon themselves to engage in the ethically questionable decision to sign someone else up for an entire lifetime on Earth. If I have to extrapolate that ethical decision out to the scale of an all-powerful creator? Get the fuck outta here. What, were you lonely? Not my problem. Don't drag me into it. Was it an accident? Well, clean that shit up right quick, and don't tell me that the billions of years of the universe is "right quick" if you claim to be all powerful. It is a necessary part of your nature? Nope, as all-powerful you should have no necessary nature because that means you lack power over your own decisions. Again, if there is a cognizant creator, at BEST, I pity it that it was so lonely that it felt compelled to do this. At best.
Sim himself expresses a similar dissatisfaction with life in issue #282
Given this statement I find it entirely bizarre that he is at peace with submitting to the Will of a being he believes purposefully signed him up for this, for reasons that can only matter to that being.
The other option, what Sim sometimes refers to as "Alan Moore's, feh, Quaballah," is that at the topper-most top of existence is something entirely devoid of agency and personality. It is unaware and has no motivation.
Moore would hold something along the lines of: existence either takes place within this 'Biggest' or 'Biggest' is merely the sum total of Existence. In this view God is not external to Creation.
Sim insists that, as he is external to Cerebus, so is God external to Creation.
Sim's seems like a weak stance. Moore's point is that what we want to call 'God' better be the biggest thing out there. If there is something bigger, then we should really be talking about that. 'The biggest thing,' It is pretty what we mean when we say 'God'. If, as Sim would have it, creation took place outside of God, then there must be some larger thing that contains both God and its Creation. Anything big enough to contain something, plus the thing it made, is necessarily bigger. Score, Moore, in my opinion.
Sim and Moore both appear to have a top-down understanding of things; Existence was either created by or emanates from some higher power/state of reality. I have come to accept a bottom-up conception of existence in which complexity grows from the simplicity of the logical necessities of computational theory playing out in a massive quantum-probability computation. Existence is an interpreting-up of lower-level data relationships rather than a diluting down of some kind of higher, spiritual reality. If there are higher realms of reality they do not reach down to create the lower realms, they are merely more complex interpretations built up out of the base data.
This is the way that current scientific and philosophical views are turning as well, I believe. (for those curious about this kind of thing I highly recommend the philosophical works of Luciano Floridi. A good intro-for-dummies kind of book on the topic of the Philosophy of Information can be found here.)
The point of all of this is, this time around I have absolutely no stake in Sim's interpretations of the Bible. Honestly all of the theology and metaphysics that interested me when I was twenty-five appear to me now to be a young-man's worries. Ten years later my interests now lie in the here-and-now, in wisdom rather than knowledge. This has led to a reversal in my opinions about many of the volumes of Cerebus. During my first read it was always the metaphysical stuff, the Mind Games, Flight, the meta-narrative stuff, that I loved. This time it was the down to earth stuff, Jaka's Story, Melmoth, Guys, that resonated with me. Bravo to Sim for being able to run the gamut.
However, if you are not interested in experimental biblical-exegesis, well, Latter Days is a torturous book to read.
Add to this torture my commitment to reading the back-matter, which is largely composed of the frighteningly well-timed Islam, My Islam (Seriously, right before Sim gets under way with his massive biblical commentary 9/11 happens and gives him an excuse to supplement the biblical commentary with an essay on Islam as well. That is spooky-level multi-dimensional chess and further evidence of the reality warping synchronicities that surround Sim), and I was spending upwards of four hours with each issue. Again, had this been broken up by a monthly schedule this extra bang for my buck would have probably been appreciated. But, in mass? Whooof!!! Trying, to say the least.
I have nothing to say abut Islam, My Islam other than that I wish I had read it earlier because it is nice to have my context of the current world situation expanded. I think everyone, like, everyone in the entire Western World, should read it or something like it, just to gain a base level awareness of the Islamic World. So, thank you for that, Mr. Sim
Okay, a couple last little things that stood out:
Hey, that is a reference to my hometown, and current city of residence, in issue #274!
We got Chandra Levy and Gary Condit. We got Scott and Lacy Peterson. And that is just what makes it into the national news. Hoo-boy, could I tell you some crazy stories. 209, mutherfuckas! Wut!
Issue #280 has a nice piece that clarifies the often over-look distinction between it-should-be-legal, and you-should-do-it or it-is-not-a-poor-choice-to-make.
In issue #282 Sim finally publicly admits
Really? We hadn't noticed, Dave.
Some examples of pages from Danielewski's The Familiar, in case you are not familiar.
There are even thematic similarities between the works, a heavy interest in voids being one.
Make sure to give it a try. He is the only novelist I will read.
From the journal segments in issue #280, possibly relevant to Sim's self acknowledge change from being a sexual conquistador to a long-time religious celibate. Since we are getting all psychoanalytic and all. "In youth, a whore; in old age, a devotee."
And this, "Thanks to C. (referring to Cerebus) I am now able to withdraw from the outside world COMPLETELY so as to devote myself..." Similar to Cerebus affording Sim a life in which he has been able to remain largely withdraw from the outside world to stay devoted to his religious devotions, the explication of which begin in the very same issue.
This bit of journal is a hilarious piece of writing. I have had to plow through many academic texts that are not far from this.