The oddest thing about Jaka's Story is the relation of its frame-narrative both to the ongoing story and to the overall narrative. As I mentioned in the previous post, much of what we know about Jaka's life in the royal palace comes from Jaka's Story. In those later interviews, Sim himself suggests that we can trust the information communicated in this book—which is strange considering it is it delivered, secondhand, by Rick to Oscar Wilde, then embellished by the latter in an attempt to extort more money from his stingy publisher. Those of you who haven't read the book are no doubt confused, so let me back up. Here are the panels of the frame narrative from the first number of Jaka's Story (click to enlarge):
Sim interleaves these images of Jaka's childhood with the main narrative—which involves, among other things, the return of Cerebus in Jaka's life and the consequences of the abortion I discussed last week—but as a frame composed by a notorious embellisher, the truth-content of these imbricate panels shouldn't be taken at face value. This is not to say they brim with conscious lies; only that of all the narrators ever, Oscar Wilde stands astride the pile of those I would trust the least. Consider this: the information contained in these panels is related to Wilde by Jaka's insecure husband, Rick. That's one layer of interference—and a significant one, given that the entire book will, in the end, turn on the breach of his trust. But more on that later; for now, I want to talk about what the habitation of Wilde's voice freed Sim to accomplish.
Sim revels in ventriloquism—and well he should, as he is among the most talented literary ventriloquists I've come across. He's no Pynchon or Gaddis, mind you, but the man has talent. In addition to Wilde, Cerebus features believable impressions of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and the Rolling Stones, to name but a few. When he decides to inhabit the voice of Oscar Wilde, he frees himself from the constraints of the narrative voice he's established in Cerebus. (This goes without saying. And yet, here I am, saying it.) At this point, I should mention Wally's desire for me to account for the introduction, because it would seem to be important here. After all, in it Sim says that he
never considered Oscar a "homosexual character" per se (though homosexualist he is). First, last and always (to me) he is an Artist and the tragedy which befell Wilde, [he] can't view in any other context than "Society vs. the Artist." (8)
All well and good, and yet the relationship between Oscar and Jaka's husband, Rick, entails oodles of what we literary types call "homosociality." I know, I know, you don't come here for the queer theory; but the drawing rooms in which Oscar and Rick meet; their secret liaisons, which Jaka spies from a distance; the fact that the sole topic of conversation when they meet is Rick's wife, well, that's the very definition of homosociality. In this instance, the theory fits the text to a T.
What these two share is the substance of the frame-narrative. In fact, the frame-narrative moves parallel to the main until a very important moment, one in which the fiction of the frame slams into the reality of the main. More on that later, as it requires more panels and those of you without broadband are already cursing my name. (And worse ... not that those rags look anything like me.) What I want to juxtapose now are two facts: the first is that Sim adopts the voice of a "homosexualist" to tell the first half of Jaka's story; the second, as I discussed last week, that she represents a transitional moment in his (call it) philosophizing, one in which a woman loses her individuality in the face of an overwhelming desire for system.
At this point, I fear those of you who've read the book know exactly where I'm headed. I admit: I'm not being too adventurous here, but that's not because I don't want to be clever. (Because I do, most certainly, else why would I blog?) As with all the best work, I think quality comes from the rearrangement of half-thoughts into a hitherto unimagined intellectual mosaic. When you slap your head at the obviousness of what you've read—when you dog yourself for having missed it—that is when you know someone has a point.
(Here I could talk about Walter Benjamin and his theory of interpretation-as-constellation—the randomness of stars suddenly clicking into image, an Orion here, a few bears there—but this post is far too long as stands. Still, it feels like a placeholder, but that's more the medium than anything else. Were I certain that most of my readers were already familiar with Cerebus, I would've zipped through the enframing argument and launched into more original territory. For now, though, I hope you won't hate me if I leave it at "more tomorrow.")