Charonining It Up

Episode Two Hundred Ninety Eight: Charonining It Up.
In which we thunk a boatman.

1 comment:

  1. This week I dove into videos about the deepest known cave on earth, the Veryovkina cave in Georgia, which is over 2,200 meters deep. The second frame is from an illustrated map of one of the several meandering passages.

    I've also been revisiting the 1987 BBC radio production of The Lord of the Rings, and so underground, crumbling stone architecture is in the back of my mind - as are ancient mythological death rites.

    I learned of the passing of a friend's mother, as well, this week. This person often curiously used a skiing pole as a walking cane, and a freeze-framed image of the ski pole cage digging into a dusty path began ticcing in my mind.

    I also have been thinking about a book I've had since childhood: Tomfoolery, written by Alvin Schwartz, published in 1976. It's nicely illustrated in a loose pen and ink by Glen Rounds. This was a compendium of American humor and was presented in a psudo-academic anthropological format, citing references for the geographic origin for most of the pieces.

    Some of the entries are stand-alone jokes. Some are longer, multi-stanza songs that are cyclical. Some have no ending. Others are long stories that end sharply in a bad pun. Most entries were from the 1800's, and employed humor that, even to my ten-year-old mind, seemed dusty, or too out of context to be funny.

    I remember reading Doonesbury with friends as a child, and not quite understanding many of the jokes, but finding them funny nonetheless. Some words ('voila' comes to mind) were beyond us, but we would read them aloud anyway (often mispronouncing), and hope that evoking the word would uncover meaning. Some of the concepts (the sexual politics of the 70's, the Vietnam war) were similarly beyond us. Such was the experience with these jokes here, in Tomfoolery.

    One line that particularly confused me was the punchline used in the fourth frame here, "Tag, you rascal!" It was the unexpected end to a tale of a man being pursued by an armed insane asylum escapee; the punchline stands alone on its own page, accompanied by a large illustration of child facing a knife-wielding adult. There was nothing in the context of the story that explained the line, and the word 'rascal' always threw me. I suspect it was a full decade before it occurred to me that the joke was that they were playing 'tag', and the storyteller had included the asylum and knife as misdirection (albeit as an admission of their own misinterpretation). But, still, 'rascal' feels anachronistic without some sort of context that I have yet to acquire. Is this specific to me, or is a meaning lost to our culture at large?

    This disconnect feels significant. In another time, that punchline was brilliant to a group of people. Today, not so much. I think of this as I struggle to understand half of what is happening in Twitter on a day to day basis. I don't mean I'm at a loss as in, "how can we treat each other this way?" I mean I look at one thread, and literally have no idea what is being talked about or what anything means, as if I'm suffering aphasia. And then I got to the next thread and have the same experience. My kid shows me a funny image, and I ask him to explain what it means in the context of its posting, and he is unable to provide a coherent answer, as if this state of being in absolute darkness is the new normal.

    So, that loss of meaning feels like the loss of culture. And I am like the hunchback skeleton, slowly stumbling my way toward my final journey.

    Just as my friend's mother has made hers. As with the protagonist here, mischievously rapping the boatman Charon on the head and exclaiming something that only half makes sense, strikes me as just the kind of thing that happened this last week somewhere in the deepest recesses of Earth's thresholds.



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