My body is a cage that keeps me
From dancing with the one I love
Descartes, widely touted as the father of modern philosophy, taught us to think that what we are most certain about, what we grasp most confidently and most tightly, is “in here.” I know that I exist if I am thinking, he said, and this implies that I am a thinking thing regardless of what is “out there.” It’s a picture that has been rejected by most recent philosophers, but it still casts its long shadow over Western culture. It’s the picture that makes both The Matrix and Inception compelling. I am my mind, and my mind is an inside that knows no outside, what Leibniz called a “monad.” Even if I have a body, the body is outside, like a cage that imprisons me, from which I might hope to be set free in an afterlife.
Whatever life (in any strong sense) that I have, I have “in here.” “I’ve got sunshine in my stomach. But I can’t keep me from creeping sleep.” And worst of all, I might be truly alone. Others are outside too. Outside the cage, Rael sees his brother John (a name meaning “graced by God”). It’s a cage not only because I am kept in, but also because others are seemingly kept out.
If my body is the cage, then it is so, so tempting to think that the “windscreen wiper,” the dick that the doc docks, might be some sort of key, but when it disappears into the ravine, isn’t it still radically unclear whether anything is really unlocked?
Bruce Cockburn reminds us that a cage is something that an animal might pace, that we catch ourselves “pacing the cage.” And the cage in that context implies darkness, too:
Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend
The cage is dark like a cave. Rael’s cage, congealing after the cuckoo cocoon, is in fact a cave. Here it’s difficult to avoid thinking of Plato’s cave, where prisoners are chained, watching shadows of reproductions of supposedly real things. And the real things are outside. Cages are joined together in a network, yes. But John sheds a bloody tear and turns away from Rael’s cries for help.
When the cage dissolves, it’s still the body (another cage?) that revolves.
Palpating the texture of Rael’s story at this point, we find cages within cages. But are any of them really cages? They come and go (perhaps dreaming of Michelangelo?).
If I could change to liquid,
I could fill the cracks up in the rocks.
I know that I am solid
And I am my own bad luck.
Is it just too simple, too freaking trite, to suggest that we forge all of these cages ourselves, that we are our own jailers? If so, perhaps it is even more trite, even more oversimplified, to think that I can find the keys to my own cages, all by myself. The suggestion that there are others, that there may be an Other who must take part in our various releasements, may bring us back toward what I am broadly characterizing as “religious.” I don’t mean that to be a narrow, highly controlled veering-back. I don’t have a dogmatic agenda.
Or, maybe at one level, I sort of do. If you pick up the idea that release from cages is necessarily tied to others, to An Other, then you are getting a major element of my drift.
But it’s only a drift, and I hope it carries you back to Rael’s story so that you may test it yourself. In your own cages.