Are you still with me?
Well, I don’t really mean with me, and I don’t really mean me.
[Have you been listening? (No, I don’t mean to me.)]
Has it been a long time? Wondering this reminds me of the saying (I forget by whom) that life seems short only because you’re dead for so long.
My experience of The Lamb is that it is still with me, even after so long. But ‘with,’ ‘me,’ and ‘long’ constantly threaten to dissolve, even if they’ve been spray-painted on some New York City wall. I’m reminded of this again when I think of cultural references. The Lamb itself is itself a piece of culture, of course. And that means that it is embedded in a web of cultural references. In a sense, that’s what culture is. It was so when it was first written, and as is normally the course of things, it becomes more and more so over time (however long).
If there are references there in The Lamb, and if I refer to them because they are in The Lamb, a strange distancing effect enters the field again. (We have seen it before.) There are layers, aren’t there? Layers not just in these references, but in everything (if you’re listening).
The distance between New York and the where of most of Rael’s adventures is not a measurable distance, but a distance of layers. These layers both are and are not contiguous. They must come near to each other if there is to be any leaping between, but how could they be near? They are as far apart as mind and body in old Descartes’ Meditations. Joined, yet disjoined enough to feed two to three centuries of philosophical struggle. The references are always proximate, since they could hardly be discernable references otherwise. Yet they are always at a distance, for otherwise why would a reference be necessary?
“Broadway Melody of 1974” is especially rich with cultural references, though most parts of The Lamb rely on them at least subtly. Current events, some of which we readily remember, others of which we may not, set a kind of schema, or a sort of temporal locus for the development of Rael’s character (in several senses) and situation. The mis en scène resides much more in the references than in any mundane description of locale, surroundings, etc. Lenny Bruce, Marshall McLuhan, Groucho Marx, “In the Mood,” Caryl Chessman, Howard Hughes, blue suede shoes, Winston cigarettes, “Needles and Pins” (The Searchers?).
Get the picture? It is a picture of sorts, though not seen. Are you listening? Late episodes of Mad Men might help.
Sometimes a reference is fairly obvious, as in that moment in season 1 of Westworld, when you get a very brief but very clear glimpse in the background of Yul Brynner’s cowboy from the 1973 film. Sometimes it is more subtle, as are a good number of the references in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sometimes it is too far (or too near?), and the reference fails. But if it’s a reference, isn’t there always a potential (ideal?) listener who will see… I mean hear… no, I mean listen?
If I’ve got you thinking (in a loose sense, admittedly) about the distance of references, then I have two requests. First, think about the idea that meaning (in The Lamb and elsewhere) is “held together” by these references. Things are not contiguous; there are cracks. (Leonard says that’s how the light gets in, and he’s right even though it’s now repeated too damned often.) But things are “held together.” Their Zuzammenhang is by references. That’s why we can “get it,” and why “getting it” begins with a verb. Are you listening? Will you listen again now?
And second, let’s go back to the “beginning”: Are you still with me? Allow the ‘with’ to involve the entire distance that the meaning must travel. And allow the ‘me’ to be (for you) references. That’s what I am to you, really, isn’t it? But if so, that’s not bad, because that’s what everything is to everything else.
Yup, this is still about The Lamb (since The Lamb is probably about everything, in a sense). And my goal is always to encourage you to listen again.