Saturday, February 18, 2012

Unified (Gar)Field Theory

(at, starting here, with a hat tip to Grant for sharing it)

The clear implication, at the end of the bizarre arc from October 23rd to the 28th, 1989, is that the entirety of the Garfield comic strip is, in some way, an elaborate hallucination, a paranoid delusion, or an extended meditation on a stage of grief. The comic itself is utterly explicit about this, and, strangely, doesn't even bother to shoot a snide sideways grin; there's no wink at the end, nothing but the tiny "End" insert to indicate that what has happened is at all out of the ordinary in the universe of the strip. And of course that it is there is important. But the final panel itself is strange; it takes the tone of a moral, that part of the fiction which tells you that the fiction is being exceeded, that there is a remainder here that you are supposed to recognize and use. The problem, though, is that what it actually says is totally fucking incoherent as a moral; it's, really, just a description of the preceding comic. Which means, I take it, that the arc itself is the didactic footnote to the fable of the comic.

Which, of course, means that Garfield itself is the story of a cat who does not exist, fantasizing about a life which is not real. And if Garfield is an absence, then he is an absence that dreams in a particular, dilapidated house.

Two days after the end of that arc, came this comic

Which is, of course, exactly your ordinary Garfield comic strip. It happens to be the Halloween edition, so there's a bit of a prepackaged theme to the joke. But, coming as it does just so soon after the arc, and especially the comic from the 27th, where we watch Garfield's delusions dematerialize and see the truth of his surroundings, there's something extra eery about this comic from the 30th of October, 1989. Because Garfield is no longer just a sort of apathetic, sardonic cat - he is in fact the absence of a cat, a nocat, subjected to time. Garfield becomes the structuring principle, the ability to imagine of that which is absent. And the truth of his absence, what makes it comprehensible, is, of course, the dissipation of his dream-world; and what signifies that dissipation is the dilapidated house.

The Garfield Minus Garfield webcomic actually gets Garfield, then, both totally right, and totally wrong. Garfield is, apparently, by its own admission, the comic depiction of loneliness and denial that Garfield Minus Garfield supposedly detourns it into. The way that Garfield Minus Garfield could be said to get Garfield exactly right, though, is that, as that arc showed us, Garfield himself is an absence - "But that means I haven't lived here for years." But it seems to assume that because he is an absence, he is erasable, whereas this seems to be the exact opposite of the truth. Because his absence is a structuring absence, not a simple lack of presence. Jon and Odie are, and perhaps always been, mere projections of this absence, figures formed to fill up space.

Garfield is a ghost. And a real ghost, not some bullshit about a lingering soul trying to finish up his business. Ghosts are space. They are, particularly, a becoming-consciousness of space. Ghosts are not embodied, or if they are, it is a function of narrative and not ghost-ness; ghosts are absences of space, absences within space, that structure the space. And so, apparently, is Garfield.