Saturday, July 28, 2007

Religion in Cerebus - Mothers and Daughters - Part One

(I've decided to start over with the numbering instead of numbering this part Nine because this is going to be quite long and be transmitted in several parts, and I didn't feel like going up into the teens. Hopefully, I'll eventually tie it all together into a seamless whole and whatever parts or chapters it breaks into will be structural rather than chronologically convenient.)

In this work, Dave Sim brings it all together. We get an in-depth look at Cirinism and Kevillism, the two great matriarchal systems setting themselves in opposition to the Eastern and Western Tarimite patriarchies. We get Dave Sim's first lengthy analysis of gender differences. And, finally, we get the meeting between Cerebus and his Creator that Cerebus was expecting back at the end of Church & State, though what he gets is every bit as deviant from his expectations as that experience was.

This book is pretty much the last word on the subject of religion prior to Dave's Sim's conversion. Oh, there's a bit of stuff in Guys, but no new information, really -- the festival we see the remains of is discussed her. And of course as we all know, toward the end of Guys Dave began reading the Bible for the first time in preparation for mocking it in Rick's Story, and it almost immediately began to change him in some fundamental ways. I will do one more of these essays after finishing a reread of the last 100 issues, but I've just finished a third reread -- not as in third ever, but the third in the last few months -- of Mothers and Daughters, because the information and analysis here is so dense and so contradictory, so it's going to be another long wait, I'm afraid, before we get to it.

Wait, I hear someone say, did you say contradictory? Oh, yes indeed. Blatantly and unresolvably, so unmistakable that I find it hard to believe it could be anything but part of Dave's deliberate plan, to avoid having any "final answers," since it's obvious that before his conversion, at least, he didn't think any final answers were possible. On the other hand, there's a contradiction even before the first page proper of the very first book -- right there in the introduction -- that can't be anything but a mistake, an error on Dave's part that is both understandable and baffling, and makes one wonder whether the contradictions aren't merely the sloppiness of a man who has thrown himself into a demanding, nearly impossible task that has him juggling bits and pieces of ideas he's been dealing with inside his head and on scraps of paper for over a decade, so that he no longer can keep it all from tumbling down around his ears.

In the Introduction to Flight, the first volume of Mothers and Daughters, Dave talks about hearing the "voices" of Cirin and Astoria debate various ideas and topics over the years in his head for a dozen years and says, "That was the genesis of the facing text pages interspersed with the story-line that you will see throughout this and future volumes."

Except there aren't any facing text pages giving Cirin's and Astoria's points of view in Flight. Nor, as it turns out, in the final two volumes of this four-volume novel. Those pieces exist only in Women, the second volume. Now, on the one hand the mistake is understandable: Dave was working on Women at the time. The Introduction is date February 1, 1993, the month #167 came out, although Dave was probably working on #170 or so by then. Women, according to the Cerebus Wiki (, comprises issues #163-174. So Dave had been doing those facing pages for more than six months, and had been hearing those voices in his head, and occasionally writing down their arguments in his notes, for over a decade. You can see how he had come to feel like he'd been doing it for a lot longer than he had. And perhaps the final structure of Reads and Minds had not yet revealed itself to him, and he was at that point expecting to continue the debate through to the end.

And yet, it's also baffling -- did he not so much as glance over the pages collected here before writing the introduction? Did he really have no idea of that complex and intricate interweaving of illustrated text, comics, and non-illustrated text that he was going to use in Reads a mere four months from embarking on it?

It's a frankly bizarre mistake. And it makes one wonder about the appearance of a order and structure and plan in Cerebus -- how much of it is real, and how much the happy accident of the unconscious genius locked inside a sloppy mentality?

OK, that's too harsh. But consider a the more serious contradiction:

We discover in Minds the "true" secret origin of Cirinism, and it all revolves around the *real* Cirin and her friend, Serna. Serna is, of course, the aardvark we've known as Cirin through the entire series so far, and Cirin is the old woman Cerebus meets briefly in Women. Previously, we learned that Astoria herself had created Kevillism, at least according to Theresa's briefing to Weisshaupt -- which is backed up here by allowing us to see the young Astoria receiving for the first time the volume of philosophical sayings called the "Kevil."

And yet, we are told in Reads that Victor Reid is embarking on a project tracing the rise and fall of Cirinism and Kevillism over centuries. When Cirin is injured, her handlers are fearful of bringing Astoria into her presence, afraid that she might "declare herself the new Cirin" and establish a new rule under herself. Now, one might argue this is a reference to Cirin's own deposition of the real Cirin, but certainly at the time it happens (before we know that story) and I'd argue even in retrospect (because it seems unlikely that they all would even know about that, much less discuss it openly) it seems that they're making reference to "Cirin" as almost more a title than a name, like "Caesar," that there is always a Cirin at the head of the matriarchal movement, whatever her birth name might have been.

This is the largest and most obvious of the contradictions, and it seems irreconcilable. Cirinism and Kevillism are two forces that have contended with each other and with the forces of patriarchy for centuries or even millenia, or Cirinism and Kevillism are both relatively new things that have sprung up in recent memory -- certainly within the last few decades in the case of Cirinism (yes, the aardvark Cirin might be hundreds of years old, as we later discover their lifespan is not necessarily the same as humans', but the *real* Cirin is still alive and doesn't even seem to be of severely advanced age, maybe 50 or at the outside 60), and of course Kevillism couldn't possibly be more than ten or twenty years old if Theresa's story is true. How can they be both?

One could argue that the story in Minds must be true, because Dave tells it, and Dave wouldn't lie to Cerebus. But we see him deliberately mislead Cerebus by giving him partial truth, withholding important parts of the story (Jaka getting ready for her date, with Cerebus never discovering she was stood up). That's not the same as a deliberate lie, of course, and I tend to believe that the story is primarily true so far as it goes. But obviously, even if the names "Cirinism" and "Kevillism" didn't exist prior to this incarnation of the ideas as political realities in Estarcion, I think it's clear that we are meant to believe that the forces and ideas these names represent are more-or-less immmortal, pre-existing the historical political structures people find themselves living under, and of course, still existing 6,000 years later in our own time, at least according to Dave.

NEXT: the structure of Mothers and Daughters and how it influences a theological analysis of the work.