“Krazy Kat”, by George Herriman, was a comic strip that ran in newspapers from the 1910’s to the 40’s. It wasn’t very popular in its time because it was a bit too weird, but William Hearst, who owned a lot of papers liked it and basically demanded that it be published. Numerous cartoonists have cited it as a major inspiration since it ceased publication.
The three main characters were Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse and Officer Pupp. Krazy Kat was of fluid gender. The style at the time was to use “he” as a gender-neutral catch-all, so Krazy is more often refered to by that pronoun, but “she” appears occasionally and there were a few strips that mentioned the Kat’s androgyny. Ignatz Mouse harbored some degree of hatred for Krazy, which manifested in a constant desire to throw a brick at her/his head. Krazy was in love with Ignatz and for some reason interpreted being beaned with a brick as a token of affection. Officer Pupp hated Ignatz and was always looking for a reason to jail him. Catching Ignatz in the act of beaning Krazy with a brick generally provided justification for locking Ignatz up. Krazy was unaware of the hostility between Pupp and Ignatz and thought they were playing a game. In later strips, Officer Pupp was overtly in love with Krazy. Ignatz became aware of the fact that Krazy enjoyed being hit with a brick. Krazy and Ignatz conspired against Pupp to make sure the beaning could occur. Pupp didn’t catch on, being a bit dim.
I’ll explain it a different way. Krazy is transcendent of all pairs of opposites. Neither male nor female, both male and female, living only in the immediate present moment. Pupp is “good” in the sense of law and order, maintaining and enforcing the rules whether they make sense or not. Ignatz is “evil”, in the sense of chaos and destruction. Good and evil are in constant conflict. Transcendence has no knowledge or interest in their conflict. Good seeks to protect the transcendent without understanding. Evil seeks to attack the transcendent, which the transcendent interprets as love because chaos is what causes change. Good doesn’t move anything forward. If Adam and Eve had been good and obeyed the rules, creation would’ve stayed stuck in Eden. It is only when some agent of evil disrupts things that the story gets interesting. Ignatz – the serpent, the trickster – is a necessary force in service to the transcendent. Pupp –the enforcer of Commandments – serves the public order and basically does a fine job, but that’s all.
Transcendence loves chaos. Enlightened chaos – Ignatz in later strips – is aware of this and serves the wants of transcendence. Good, loving the transcendent in a limited and ignorant way, tries to prevent chaos, but generally fails because the transcendent is ensuring chaos will succeed.
That’s what “Krazy Kat” was about. And it was a really funny, weird and very well-drawn comic strip.
I recently got a tattoo of Ignatz Mouse looking grumpy and holding a pipe. I looked around for a strip where Ignatz is smoking a pipe, but couldn’t find one so I asked Andy, my tattoo guy, to draw one in. I wanted the pipe because at the same time “Krazy Kat” was being published, James Joyce was working on Finnegans Wake, which is a weird, convoluted tale about rise, fall and redemption. There’s a character in Wake, identified as “the cad with a pipe”, who plays some minor role in the fall from grace of the main character, HCE, and who is identified with HCE’s son, Shem. See, the Wake is a dream – everybody is also somebody else in the same way that Vishnu is also Krishna. Shem is the dark, esoteric, unloved son who moves things forward and who serves the mother, ALP, who is the agent of transcendence. The cad with a pipe, therefore, is in the same role as Ignatz, disrupting the plan and making things happen. I identify with Shem, and am comforted at times when I feel like the unloved son by the knowledge that this is how its supposed to be. Sean, the golden boy, gets all the glory, but delivers the wrong sermon – cf. modern Christianity – but Shem is always there, working in the shadows, to keep the wheels of the world turning. I’m with that guy.
My new tattoo, then, represents a pair of agents of enlightened chaos, with whom I identify. It is a very simple design which conveys much meaning – as symbols should do. I might as well state here, because it can’t be overstated, that symbols are only symbols. Symbols represent concepts. Symbols are a form of shorthand and should not be taken too seriously in themselves. Symbols should not be confused with the concepts they represent.
I see myself occupying a position between Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse. I am fully aware of the reality of the transcendent and seek to serve it, but on the ground, I tend to behave in a way that some people find chaos-causing. I do it because such is my basic nature and because I encounter a lot of people whostrike me as being a little too comfortable with their established forms and their concepts of how things “should” be. These people must be fucked with. I have no desire to butcher sacred cows, but a huge desire to point out to their worshipers that are, after all, just cows. I do the same to myself – soon I will slander James Joyce, who I am certain was the vehicle through which the Divine transmitted Finnegans Wake, a Holy Book on par with the Bhagavad Gita, the Diamond Sutra, the Bible and the Koran. In time, I may attain to Krazy Kat’s level – actually, I most certainly will, as shall all sentient beings – but for now, I’m satisfied to be a grumpy mouse smoking a pipe, tossing bricks when the opportunity arises.
James Joyce was a complete bastard – an arrogant, drunken, whore-mongering, syphilitic Irishman. His favorite comic strip was "Krazy Kat".
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.