Read part one here.
“What is now proved was once, only imagin’d”—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
“Shall I project a world?”—Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49.
“What is the price of experience?”—William Blake, The Four Zoas.
For Donald Ault, once again
In the last selection from this codex I offered the provocative argument that Cliff Huxtable is, in essence, representative of but a quarter of what I termed the “Ur-Huxtable” or “Huxtable-Prime,” a virtually perfect and impossible Albionesque figure who was—due to some ultimately unknown (and perhaps ultimately unknowable) quantum disaster—divided into four disparate—and desperate—selves. I argued, there, that the Huxtable narrative functions as something of a Postmodern reworking or adaptation of William Blake’s prophetic mythology as outlined more succinctly in his Four Zoas: the Death and Judgment of Albion the Ancient Man. While that argument is certainly insightful and provocative, I have come after careful consideration—consideration that has been fueled and inspired by the respective muses of Benadryl, Kava-Kava and espresso, not to mention the occasional chaos magic ritual and frequent long walk with the dogs—to believe that my earlier insistence that those other disembodied selves of the Albionesque\Ur-Huxtable\Huxtable-Prime figure are represented in and through the characters of Claire Huxtable, Theo Huxtable and Olivia Kendall, is, if not quite incorrect, then at least more than a bit too simplistic, if not downright naive. The Huxtable narrative, as we well know by now, is a deeply layered, often illogical, sometimes contradictory and most always decidedly Postmodern text that actively resists (and sabotages) any form of ready, linear and singular interpretation. To offer but one, singular reading of the Cosby Show as definitive serves only to lose sight of the true meaning(s) of the Huxtable narrative and take us further away from achieving any sort of true and holistic understanding of it.
My theory, now, is this: each of the characters Bill Cosby has
“played" embodied on his various television series—namely I Spy, The Bill Cosby Show, The Cosby Show, The Cosby Mysteries, and Cosby (notice, will you not, the progression toward simplicity implied by the increasingly shortened and simplified titles of the latter four series?)—some aspect of an Albionesque Ur-Cosby or Cosby-Prime figure whose individuated self has been broken through some kind of undefined cosmic, ontological, quantum and\or psychic disaster into at least five disparate, broken selves. The Huxtable narrative—insofar as it concerns Cliff Huxtable, that is—only tells but one portion of Cosby’s (or, better said, the disparate psyches of Cosby) Romantic quest toward individuation and reunification of self. In fact, Cosby’s entire television oeuvre can be interpreted as an attempt to unite and unify his disparate selves by, in essence, performing them and engaging in his ceaseless and very public Romantic quest toward self-realization and individuation. In the case of I Spy, Cosby’s Alexander Scott can be said, in Blakian terms, to stand as something of a Tharmas figure that embodies changeability and a shifting sense of self. Alexander Scott, is, of course, something of a playful young man engaged in espionage and deceit, a Cold War jester of sorts, a figure who at times stands between life and the apocalypse (keep in mind that, in Blake’s mythology, the fall of Tharmas results in chaos and destruction). In The Bill Cosby Show, Cosby is Chet Kincaid, a veritable Urthona figure, a high school teacher and man of tremendous energy who seeks, sometimes helplessly (and more often than not haplessly) to energize and inspire the lethargic and foolish sorts who surround him. On The Cosby Show, of course, Cosby is Cliff Huxtable, a sort of practical Urizen figure who embodies order, reason and tradition, yet nevertheless preserves a psychic sense and ability akin to Tharmas and Urthona (which suggests, then, that the separation of the Ur-Cosby\Cosby-Prime’s selves were not quite clear and decisive; to wax Derridian for a moment, it might be argued that the traces of the seemingly disparate selves of the Ur-Huxtable\Huxtable-Prime figure still linger, to some measure, within ((perhaps subconsciously or entirely unconsciously)) the psyches of the disparate Cosby selves). On The Cosby Mysteries, Cosby is the rather Byronic (as compared to the Shelleyesque Scott, Coleridgian Kincaid, and Keatsian and Blakian Huxtable) Guy Hanks a suddenly wealthy former police detective who solves crimes for the mere fun of it, which suggests that he stands as a strange combination of the Blakian figures of Urthona, Urizen and Tharmas (this issue will be dealt with an upcoming entry of the Cosby Codex). On Cosby, Cosby is Hilton Lucas, a figure who is akin to Blake’s Luvah, a symbol of love and passion (Lucas’s performance of conservatism, crotchetiness and working class values aligns him with Wordsworth). Each of these disparate Cosby “selves” can be understood as representing a portion of the supremely divided, Albionesque Ur-Cosby\Cosby Prime figure. Cliff Huxtable’s quest is, then, also that of Alexander Scott, Chet Kincaid, Guy Hanks and Hilton Lucas: to attain individuation and restore himself by reuniting his disparate psychic elements. If the grand Cosby narrative—which runs throughout these four shows, as well as, to a somewhat lesser measure, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, segments of Cos, the New Bill Cosby Show and the Electric Company, as well as Lil’ Bill and Fatherhood (as well as the films Man and Boy, Uptown Saturday Night, Mother, Jugs and Speed, Leonard Part VI, Ghost Dad, Jack, and Fat Albert, among other lesser cinematic works of Dr. Cosby)—can be said to have an overt, primary meaning or intention per se, such would be about Postmodern man’s attempt to engage in psychic reunification of self, to combat the manner in which Postmodern life serves to render the self disparate.
A question—the question, perhaps—remains. Are these selves merely performances by Cosby through which he attempts to, in essence, live the lives of what he feels—or knows—are the disparate portions of his divided psyche? Are these simply worlds which Cosby is, indeed, projecting from his imagination not unlike the saintly pleasure dome Coleridge decreed in “Kubla Kahn”? Or are these, indeed, truly worlds in themselves? Either viewpoint, of course, is valid. The former perspective implies a surprising measure of agency and psychic awareness on the part of Cosby, and suggests that Cosby’s entire television career, then, can be conceptualized rather simply in Jungian terms as an attempt at psychic self-reconciliation, reunification and individuation, and a particularly Romantic attempt at that. It is possible, though, to offer a many-worlds interpretation of the grand Cosby narrative and suppose that what is presented throughout the grand Cosby narrative are countless other worlds\universes\ontological realms or zones, that some sort of quantum event has occurred that resulted in the psychic\ontological fracturing of the Ur-Cosby\Cosby-Prime “self” and that each seemingly singular narrative represents but one branch which has broken off from such (see Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths,” Linde and Vanchurin’s How Many Universes are in the Multiverse?, Wheeler and Zurek’s Quantum Theory and Measurement, and Barrett’s The Quantum Mechanics of Minds and Worlds), that each worlds is perhaps either weakly coupled and capable of having information passed between them (hence Rudy’s reference to Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids in an early episode of The Cosby Show) and that the grand Cosby narrative serves to resolve the great question of Postmodern psychics as to whether multiple words are real or unreal by rebutting, directly, the assertions favored by Weinberg that such are ultimately “unreal.” We can conceptualize each narrative strain within the grand Cosby narrative as representing a rather isolated—though not impassable—ontological zone across which the divided Ur-Cosby\Cosby Prime’s psyche is spread. What we encounter, then, throughout each narrative strain in the grand Cosby narrative—namely the Scott, Kincaid, Huxtable, Hanks and Lucas narratives—are a series of weakly coupled seemingly singular worlds which are occupied by some disparate element of the Ur-Cosby\Cosby prime figure, with each “element” engaged in a not entirely hapless Romantic quest toward re-unification.
A multiple-worlds interpretation of the Huxtable narrative, however, raises a plethora of new questions about the final scene of the series finale of The Cosby Show. In the final moments of the Huxtable narrative, Cliff and Claire Huxtable break the proverbial fourth wall and step out of their singular ontological zone into the textual void or what Warren Ellis terms “the bleed” between universes or worlds. Might this bold action represent an attempt by Cliff (and to some measure Claire, but remember that Cliff is the one who in fact leads her out of their universe or world) at quantum suicide? Is Cliff—who seems, by that point in the narrative to have mastered his developing hetero-ontological awareness—aware that there is more than one version of “himself” in the multiverse and that he cannot, in theory, truly die? Does this action represent his surrender, his willingness to depart his universe or world; his defeat and realization of his own singular yet impossibly divided self; or a further stage on his quest to reconcile himself with his disparate selves spread throughout the multiverse?
I will attempt to begin to resolve these questions in the next selection from The Cosby Codex.