For he strove in battles dire,
In unseen conflictions with shapes
Bred from his forsaken wilderness
Of beast, bird, fish, serpent and element,
Combustion, blast, vapour and cloud.
— William Blake, The Book of Urizen
For Donald Ault and Roger Whitson
At the core of the early Huxtable narrative rests a pronounced and discernable sense (and sensibility, at that) of apparently imminent (if ultimately unknowable and inconceivable) disaster. This sense of coming disaster lurks and lingers throughout the first five seasons of the Huxtable narrative. One can see it in Cliff’s sometimes wide, fearful eyes; in Claire’s growling expressions; in Theo’s frequent glances of surprise and shock; in Rudy’s gazes of wonder; in Vanessa’s horrified facial contortions; in Sandra’s frequent looks of confusion—and resides in the subconscious (both singular and collective at once) of all of the Huxtables. We see it—both then and now—suggested most prominently in the figure of Denise. Out of all four of the Huxtable children, she causes the greatest measure of (dis)concern for Cliff and Claire during the early seasons of the show. Denise—who seems despite her giggles and snickers and professed love of “Daddy” and keen intelligence to raise the greatest and most pronounced threat to the stability of the Huxtable hegemony—is the closest the Huxtables get to a “black sheep.” She is, indeed, capable of truly—as she eventually does, if indirectly—upsetting the Huxtable hegemony, of becoming an agent of active destruction (and deconstruction) set lose within and against it. However, by the end of the forth season the threat of Denise and the disaster she can will bring seems to abate. She leaves college and disappears, seemingly, from the Huxtable collective consciousness for the better part of a season and becomes marginalized within the Huxtable narrative, pushed off into the proverbial textual corner and thusly rendered bereft of power. The destruction of Denise seems to bring stability to the Huxtable hegemony during the fifth season. However, the seeming ease with which the Huxtables—Cliff and Claire in particular—navigate the world and control their children (and themselves, by extension) begins to quickly give way by the start of the sixth season of the show. The agent that brings about this change—this disaster, perhaps—can be—as it could be then and certainly can be now—easily identified: Olivia Kendall, Denise’s step-daughter. Olivia moves in to the Huxtable home at the start of season six (see “Denise: the Saga Continues,” 6.1) with flourish and more than a fair measure of storm and stress. Olivia, despite the complicated circumstances through which she is brought into the Huxtable home, is presented, ostensibly, as being merely a delightful little cherub, a veritable child prodigy in possession of wisdom, artistic talent and insight far beyond her three years. Yet, interestingly, Cliff does not delight in this child in nearly the same manner that he does most children. For all of her efforts—for all of her songs and quick sayings and cute expressions—Olivia cannot win Cliff’s unbridled affection and respect. But it is not that he despises Olivia. Instead he regards Olivia, at least initially, with concern, distance and frustration. She represents for Cliff (and for Claire), a return to the past; she is the personification of the very struggles that they believed they had overcome; she is a sudden disruption into the Huxtable hegemony. It is tempting to conceptualize Olivia as something of a Satanic figure (if, though, in something of a Miltonic, Romantic sense) in possession—and conscious possession, at that—of a sort of destructive, chaotic agency directed against the Huxtable hegemony. However, the further one explores and attempts to conceptualize the Huxtable narrative, that is the further one plumbs its depths and complexities, the closer one comes to realizing the true complexity of the Huxtable narrative and its countless layers of meaning. The Huxtable narrative, after all, is a decidedly non-diegetic and non-mimetic work (as opposed to Bill Cosby’s standup comedy, upon which the Huxtable narrative is ostensibly drawn). The Huxtable narrative is, indeed, allegorical, but there is no ultimate or singular or “true” final reading upon which one might arrive. To assert a singular, final interpretation of the Huxtable narrative is to lose track of and terminally mis-conceptualize the nature(s) and purpose(s) of the entire project. To begin to understand what is occurring, truly, within the Huxtable narrative, one must consider it from all possible critical angles at once, to hold, in essence, sometimes contrary critical (and theoretical) conceptions of it in mind simultaneously and engage in something akin to Keats’s notion of negative capability and accept, readily, that all critical questions cannot be resolved through one avenue of interpretation alone and be ready to shift critical gears and adopt yet another—and sometimes oppositional—critical viewpoint to properly conceptualize it. To argue, simply, that Olivia is merely a satanic force serves to reduce and unreasonably marginalize her character’s power and purpose within the narrative. Doing so, also, suggests that the Huxtable narrative is but a singular allegory that is without the plethora of possible meanings that it holds. Instead, perspective must be shifted and a new line of critical thinking must be perused in order to come anywhere closer to properly conceptualizing the narrative.
In William Blake’s prophetic mythology—which is outlined in his Four Zoas: the Death and Judgment of Albion the Ancient Man—Albion—the primeval man—was separated into the Four Zoas: Urizen (the personification of order, reason and tradition), Urthona (or Los) (who personifies inspiration and imagination), Luvah (who personifies love and passion) and Tharmas (who personifies instinct and strength). It is possible to conceptualize Olivia as a figure quite similar to William Blake’s Urthona or Los, with Cliff serving, perhaps, as something of an Urizen figure (we might stretch this further and argue that Theo represents the figure of Luvah and Claire the figure of Tharmas). The Huxtable narrative, then, can be understood as something of a postmodern reworking or (re)adaptation of Blake’s prophetic mythology. Following this line of reasoning, it would appear that the unknowable disaster mentioned above, then, has in fact already occurred before the “start” of the Huxtable narrative. At some indeterminable point in the past, some sort of unnamable and unknowable (and perhaps unremembered) disaster occurred which resulted in the division of an Albionesque Huxtable figure (who we might conceptualize as being the primal, ultimate Huxtable—the ur-Huxtable, if you will, or even the Huxtable-Prime—a Huxtable so perfect, so ideal, so godly and holy ((a Huxtable, that is, who was faultless and dynamic; of stern mind and gentle humor; of both wealth and intrinsic humility)), that larger forces—perhaps an early form of the Huxtable hegemony itself ((with the grand irony being, perhaps, that the Huxtable hegemony itself serves the express purpose of attempting to not simply maintain the Huxtable status quo but, also, both recall and resist the Albionesque Huxtable figure which essentially initiated it))—succeeded in shattering it) into four radically different and contrary Huxtables—namely, Cliff, Claire, Theo and Olivia—who are then spread across the Huxtable narrative at different spatial and temporal points. In that sense, the four most vital and prominent characters in the narrative function as but fragments of the lost forgotten “Albion” Ur-Huxtable figure, toward which all four of the previously mentioned Huxtables strive to reach. In that respect, the “story” or grand allegory of the Huxtable narrative might stand revealed. The Huxtable narrative is the story of Cliff’s subconscious attempt—his subconscious Romantic quest, if you will—to reunify himself—his Urizenesque self—with his disparate elements of self (Claire, Theo and Olivia) in order to annihilate—to bring disaster to, in essence—the oppressive force of the Huxtable hegemony which he both serves on behalf of and feels himself to be imprisoned by, to rectify the unknowable disaster that divided the Albionesque Huxtable figure in the first place. Cliff’s psychoses—a subject which this Codex has, indeed, explored to great measure thus far—might be owed to the fundamentally fragmented essence of his psyche, to the fact that his psyche is fundamentally lacking and hungering for individuation (in the Jungian sense) with its disparate missing elements.
To be continued.