20 Looks at The Lamb, 6: Danse Not-So-Macabre

Considering castration, a certain strange displacement occurred.  It didn’t really strike me until after writing the fifth look, but it was indeed a displacement, and as I think about it since, it seems stranger and stranger.  Death is what is displaced, and the reason why its displacement is so strange is because it is normally simultaneously final and transitional.

The Death card in a Tarot deck is often understood as ending, loss, or conclusion, but also often as transition or change.

With shaving, biting and cutting given the symbolic pride of place, death — so often the BIG finality, or the BIG transition — turns out to be not that big a deal.  Its caricature in The Lamb is in “The Supernatural Anaesthetist,” with its disarmingly brief and casual lyric:

Here comes the supernatural anaesthetist.
If he wants you to snuff it,
All he has to do is puff it

— he’s such a fine dancer.

Here is a figure of death unlike the skeletal Death of Tarot, or the darkly robed Grim Reaper.  This guy sounds like someone you might like to get to know, or perhaps someone who would like to get to know you.  Think of Joe Black (Brad Pitt).  Or think of the bubbly and alluring Death of the Endless, from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.  This may be the better association, as “Anyway” voices the expectation that “she” is supposed to be riding a pale horse.  The anaesthetist merely “puffs,” presumably delivering a gaseous sort of sleep-inducing substance.  And dancing?  Why would he be a fine dancer?  Perhaps because (as in The Sandman) the delivery, though dark, is welcome and pleasant.

Is it even clear whose death has this unassuming harbinger?  Of course, the most natural reading is that it’s Rael’s death.  But the real death that soon follows is that of the Lamia.  I’m reminded of the Tarot reading at the end of The Gunslinger, the first volume of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, when the man in black draws that ominous card and speaks to Roland:

Death, but not for you, gunslinger.

And at the end of the series, this pronouncement is repeated, with amplification:

Never for you. You darkle. You tinct. May I be brutally frank? You go on.

It is as if Death, normally THE big deal, becomes no big deal.  Rael “writes Death off as an illusion.”  Yet death does come for another, and in both The Dark Tower and The Lamb, the death of the other is an immense burden on the heart of the hero (Roland/Rael).  I’m not sure how much help this is, however.  The doors come before in The Lamb, and the doors come after in The Dark Tower.  Well, maybe so.  But in each case there are doors.

This may be no more than the obverse of the previous look.  I’ve urged you to listen to the ways in which the (in)scisions mark the liminal sites, the thresholds.  The cutting is so much more significant, more to be feared than death.  Death dances, and nonchalantly puffs.

But maybe we should also remember that, as Emily Dickenson pointed out, “The distance that the dead have gone / Does not at first appear…”

The only thing that seems clear to me here is that, if you try to see death as a major theme in The Lamb, it doesn’t quite work.  I’m tempted to say that you’d be dead wrong.  But that might be too strong.

Another poet (Eliot) put in the mouth of his magus: “I should be glad of another death.”

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