Thus far the Cosby Codex has served as an attempt to offer a series of relatively (-in-)definitive critical readings of what I have come to term “the Huxtable narrative” and, by extension, “the Huxtable hegemony.” I feel I can safely say without too much in the way of self-congratulations that I have by now made at least made a significant contribution to the fields of both Cosby and Huxtable studies. I have offered a range of theoretical readings of the Huxtable narrative/hegemony that have served to better—and possibly for the worse—open our eyes to a variety of new critical perspectives on The Cosby Show. Yet for all that has been accomplished over the past 14 selections, a number of critical questions nevertheless remain unanswered and which seem to resist, whether consciously or not, ready and full theoretical interpretation. There are a variety of narrative strains, traces and suggestions (both implicit and overt) which actively refuse any sort of clear understanding or critical assemblage; countless allusions and palimpsests which seem to lead at first, second and even third glance toward interpretive dead ends; and countless possible allegories which all but openly renounce critical engagement. For every point I seem to come across and make some measure of sense of and for every theoretical notion I find myself reading the Huxtable narrative/hegemony through there are at least two or three points, ideas or notions which I find myself, for all of my critical acumen, unable to fully reconcile. Of course that is also exactly the point (or perhaps exactly the counter-point) of the Huxtable narrative: to highlight the impossibility of every arriving at a truly definitive reading and represent the truly chaotic, existential, Godless nature of reality. The Huxtable narrative (and hegemony, to some measure) rests upon a fundamental sense of incommensurability, a firm narrative insistence that all narrative threads will not connect, that that proverbial paths of the Huxtable narrative will remain, forever, forking. And that very incommensurability is what makes The Huxtable narrative, to paraphrase the critical terminology of Harold Bloom (a critic, one might say, who has been only paraphrasing himself for the past forty years), such a “strong” Postmodern text. Still, whether intentional or not, these questions linger and haunt the Huxtable narrative (and, by effect, the viewer). What I offer below are a series of lingering questions that are not resolved within the Huxtable narrative and serve to haunt this codex. Readers are welcome, of course, to respond to these questions by emailing me with their own interpretations and responses to these questions.
1. The matter(s) of Kenny, A.K.A “Bud,” and his nameless brother (“Bud” refers to him only as “my brother”). “Bud,” of course, was Rudy’s young male friend who was introduced early in the series as something of a foil to the decidedly second-wave brand of feminism that guided the gender dynamics of the Huxtable hegemony. “Bud” offered a decidedly Hemingwayesque/Mailerian view of gender-relations that the Huxtables—and the Huxtable women in particular—actively resisted and attempted to “correct” (Cliff, however, sometimes seemed to quietly agree with some of the points “Bud” makes). “Bud” cited his unnamed older brother—who he portrayed as something of a sneering and cynical Byronic Lothario figure (one-half Norman Mailer and one-half Gore Vidal and entirely anti-Judith Butler )—as his source of information as to how men and women think and should act. Yet despite his bold assertions of masculine power and gender dominance, “Bud” was almost entirely under the power of Rudy who, in fact, named him “Bud,” (she mentioned earlier in the series that she hoped someday to marry a man named “Bud,” and seemed soon after to have conjured him into existence) and placed him completely under her agency. “Bud” voiced resistance to Rudy’s hegemony yet operated entirely under the sway of such. What are we to make of that? Is the character of “Bud” meant to be an implicit critique of the Huxtable gender hegemony? Furthermore, why did “Bud”’s brother—a character who might be said to directly rebut and rebuke the Huxtable hegemony—remain in the margin of the Huxtable narrative? Did the collective will of the Huxtable serve to keep him outside of the narrative? Are we meant to conceptualize “Bud”’s brother as more of a personified ideology or mythical personality—rather like the present\absence of Lord Byron in Stoppard’s Arcadia—or are we to question whether he even existed and assume, instead, that he was a manifestation of “Bud”’s subconscious or an outright fiction created by “Bud” in order to more safely ascribe agency to his critique of the Huxtable gender hegemony? And what was “Bud”’s last name? Why do Cliff and Claire attack Rudy for robbing “Bud” of his name while the Huxtable narrative itself deprives him of a surname? What should we term the hegemony that “Bud” and his supposed brother spout throughout the series? What are we to make of the fact that Bud never seemed to change his mind about male and female gender relations despite constant criticism of such from the Huxtables?
2. Denise’s year in Africa. What exactly was Denise doing in Africa when she met Martin Kendall? She departed in the middle of the fifth season to work in Africa as a “photographer’s assistant” (I can find no information that explains what the job even entails) and returned nearly a year later married to U.S. Navy Lt. Martin Kendall. Martin had a tendency to be “assigned” overseas randomly for short durations (he seems to be a member of the U.S. Navy SEALS and, perhaps, a member of “the company” too). There is an entire narrative behind Denise and Martin that remained, throughout the duration of the show, firmly within the margin of the Huxtable narrative. The greater question, of course, is why Martin appeared in season two (“Cliff in Love,” 2.4) under the guise of “Daryl” a young pre-med student who was dating Sandra and who happened to conform entirely, seemingly, to the principles of the Huxtable hegemony and yet was rejected by Sandra in favor of Elvin (who at first appears to conform to the gender ideals espoused by “Bud” and yet quickly falls in line with the Huxtable gender ideals). Was Martin/Daryl working as part of some strange, shadow-government (or Illuminati?) backed conspiracy to either unhinge or further solidify the Huxtable hegemony? Was Martin Daryl or was Daryl Martin? Or were both identities cover identities for someone else entirely? Was Denise later a willful or helpless part of this possible conspiracy? Was Martin, perhaps, simply an operator and Denise his handler? Did Denise decide, having been renounced by the Huxtables for violating the Huxtable hegemony, to dismantle the Huxtable Hegemony from the inside out by introducing Martin and his Satanic daughter Olivia into the Huxtable household for the express purpose of driving Cliff even closer toward insanity?
3. Sandra’s summer in Paris. During the first season of the show, Cliff and Claire actively resist allowing Sandra to spend a summer in Paris (“Bon Jour, Sandra,” 1.10). Did Sandra wind up going to Paris during the summer of 1985? If so, what happened there? Did she lose her virginity—it is implied that Cliff and Claire are afraid Sandra will lose her virginity to a Parisian man—while there? Did she study, perhaps, at the Sorbonne? Did she fall under the sway, perhaps, of Jacques Derrida? Did she join a group of Post-Foucaultians and come, for a summer, to question the very structural foundations of the Huxtable hegemony?
4. Cockroach’s disappearance at the end of season five. What are we to make of this? Are we meant to assume that Cockroach’s stealing of Theo’s position on the dance show (“Dance Mania,” 4.11) ended their friendship? Or did Cockroach simply die? Did the Huxtables repress Cockroach’s death in order to ensure that he did not become some sort of anti-Huxtable hegemonic force (as he always threatened to become) amongst the younger Huxtable offspring? Did the Huxtables (who Foucault would have termed to be amongst “those other Victorians”) learn from the death of Byron and approach the death of Cockroach in a way counter to the manner in which the Victorian ruling elites acknowledged the death of Byron? Did the Huxtables realize that the only way to defeat martyrdom is not by damning and pathologizing the dead martyr but, instead, by taking a decidedly Soviet approach and erasing him or her from history? If that is the case, must we re-examine the very nature of the Huxtable hegemony and, moreover, the titanic force of Cockroach within and against it? Is Cockroach truly forgotten or does he continue, even after his erasure, to exert his ideological force over the Huxtable hegemony? Or, perhaps, did Rudy—in possession, as she is, of tremendous gifts as a chaos magician—simply will Cockroach out of existence in retaliation be teased by him for years on end?
5. “Fat” Peter’s disappearance. Like Cockroach, “Fat” Peter disappeared from Huxtable narrative without explanation later in the series. What happened to “Fat” Peter? What did he do—aside from show a constant cowardly attitude—to warrant be erased from the Huxtable narrative just as Cockroach seemingly was?
6. The abortion question. Did Cliff Huxtable perform abortions? This was a question I asked my mother sometime during the third season of the show. I pointed out to her how we never see Cliff Huxtable perform any sort of medical procedure aside from talking to his patients about their paternal anxiety, calming down over-anxious expectant fathers and grandfathers through jokes and stories, conducting the occasional community workshop and hanging around the hospital in scrubs carrying on to nurses and younger, naive doctors. My mother said she figured that most the “Huxtable money” came from Cliff’s work as an abortionist in his downstairs office (no, I’m not making that up).
7. What are we to make of the character of David, Denise’s first season boyfriend (“How Ugly is He?” 1.9) who overtly questioned many of the foundational notions of the Huxtable hegemony by paraphrasing the continental philosophies of Michele Foucault (especially the central notions of Birth of the Clinic, Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality) and pedagogical principles of Paulo Friere? Why was David given, for virtually an entire episode, the opportunity to voice such a persuasive and engaging attack upon the Huxtable hegemony within the Huxtable narrative? Is there something of a subconscious impulse within the Huxtable hegemony that desires self-deconstruction and possible annihilation and negation?
8. Further questions: What kind of influence over Postmodern men’s fashion did Gordon Catralle (the designer of the dress shirt Theo desires in “The Shirt Story” ((1.5))) possess in the world in which the Huxtables exist? Why was the ceiling so high in the Huxtables’ basement? Where exactly was Cliff’s office located within the house? Was it part of the basement? If so, why were the ceilings so much higher in the basement proper than they were in Cliff’s office? Why do none of the Huxtable children have televisions or phones of their own? Why did the Huxtables not own a single desktop computer? What did “Jammin’ on the one” (Theo’s contribution to the song the Huxtables recorded with Stevie Wonder) actually mean or signify?
Struggle as I might, I have yet to arrive at any definitive answer to any of these critical questions. These are the questions—the critical questions at that—that linger and haunt this codex and the critical consciousness of yours truly. I invite—I beg—my kind readers to respond to me with any reasonable solutions they might have to these questions.