Thursday, January 10, 2013

Catching Up With Caitlin Cass

Caitlin Cass continues to crank out comics inspired by the life of the mind. Her Postal Constituency and its schedule means that something comes a reader's way every couple of months, even if it's not directly related to the story at hand. She's doing her first extended series, called The Index, which is a sort of synthesis of the ideas she's presented in her other comics in the context of a relationship. The story is about a man and a woman living together (platonically, the reader is to assume). She has vast amounts of blank index cards that she keeps as a soothing reminder of her own insignificance. He starts to fill them out because it reminds him of his own inability to finish anything. The second issue finds him soothing himself by filling the cards with anything; the content is irrelevant because his project is to fill them with everything. Thus, any content at all counts. She is driven crazy by her nice white cards suddenly being filled up and strikes back by giving him a card telling the story of Paul Otlet, a functionary who seized upon the idea of coming up with an organizational system of Everything, spending his time answering questions about organization and indices.

Cass depicts that idea as a kind of virus that infects the man's thinking, making him start to organize his index cards. While she hoped this would deter him from continuing, he simply transfers the idea from a sort of nihilistic gathering of information to his own model of his consciousness. Cass reminds us in a card that's Volume 3, #10 of the Constituency that we are stuck between the infinitely small and infinitely large; a gigantic fulcrum point experienced by every individual. It's titled "Lest We Forget" and also refers back to the man's project as hopeless. Of course, the very hopelessness of the project is why he draws comfort from it. Knowing that he could never draw near to finishing it means he won't ever have to confront his inability to finish anything. Like Xeno, he's never able to let his arrow fly from bow to target, seeing that gulf as an infinite divide. That's why the woman is content to stupidly gaze into the infinite, not worrying that her life is not an exceptional one because no experience is exceptional in the face of the infinite."Infinite Regress", #9 of the Constituency, is a construction where the reader is asked to tape together the comic in such a way that it forms a cuboid object. Where one starts and where one ends is arbitrary once the comic is read, but it addresses what is not spoken of in the comic: how the two relate to each other as humans and how their mutual decisions to overintellectualize their daily lives serves as an infinite buffer to emotions.

Continuing on that theme in the book of etchings Contribution, Cass' art is at her most beautiful. Generally, her figure drawing is functional at best, but she really went out of her way to create something beautiful here. This silent story features familiar imagery for Cass: academics working in primordial muck and ooze in an effort to create new ideas or at least crank out work. It's a hellish factory grind of a world that has a number of casualties, yet the nimble of mind can persist and break free. It's a fascinating comic because Cass is clearly as suspicious of her background wherein she was taught directly from the Great Books of the Western World as she is taken by it. Anyone who's spent time in grad school knows that the "school" part is a small component of the overall grind. As an artist, Cass is getting better as she continues to simplify her line and concentrate on making individual images come alive. The Index is a project worthy of her extended time and attention, and I suspect she'll be a different artist when she comes out the other side.

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