[home][ table of contents][ literary][ essays][ humor][ email]

A Note On Aardvark Symbolism In Late Castilian Literature

Upon occasion I construct literary flights of fancy and, if the mood strikes me, I expose them to public. Once in a fit of totty headedness I published in a usenet group called rec.arts.books a small squib entitled A Note On Aardvark Symbolism In Late Castilian Literature. William Grosso, evidently of a like mind, seized upon this posting and produced his own flight of fancy. I replied in turn and the exchange grew increasingly more improbable. This is what we produced.

HARTER:
In post-republican Spain the romantic Monarchist literary movement spawned a pseudo Castilian literature, stories written as though they hadbeen produced in Castile, a Castile ineluctably present in then modern Spain. Chief among the writers of this school was Dr. Juan Bodega, a forcibly retired jurist, who turned to literary endeavours after his retirement. Although Dr. Bodega was not a founder of the school, he quickly became its most prominent member and his works were widely imitated.

A peculiarity of his works was the recurrence of aardvark symbolism. This has been traced to a particularly unfortunate incident in his youth that occurred in a visit to his uncle's aardvark ranch in South Africa. The precise nature of this incident is unknown but it is clear that it was traumatic, so traumatic that although he consciously denied the very existence of aardvarks, they appear as thinly veiled dark symbols thoughout his work. Nowhere is this more evident than in his most famous work, The Earth, The Pig, and The Cross.

In Dr. Bodega's work the role of the aardvark is idiosyncratic and personal. Not so with his imitators. Aardvark symbolism was seized upon wildly and was pressed into the most outre usages. Indeed its usage spread beyond the confines of the Late Castilian movement. Cordova, in his savage commentary on Franco, Ant, used it with great effect, playing off the twin themes of religion and greed as the archetypal Earth Pig consuming the citizenry. The effect of this critique was not lost on the government and Cordova ended his years in exile.

GROSSO:

"Indeed, one of the most subversive acts associated with the Muppet Show (second only to Happy Days in its attempts to disassociate the dominant cultural schema) were the scenes of a deranged food-laborer, wielding a cleaver and screaming 'Aaard Vark Vark Vark.'"

From Howard Lippincott's masterful treatise Prelude to Snuffleluffagas: Castilian Symbolism in Modern Television.

HARTER:
Is this the same Howard Lippincott that wrote God and the Disneycrats: the Emptying of the American Mind? One loses track of the Lippincotts - for a while it seemed as though every major University had to have one on their faculty. Harvard, I understand, resolved the problem of not having a Lippincott in their philosophy department by abolishing said department and putting in a Starbucks instead.

GROSSO:
One loses track of the Lippincotts for a very simple reason. Indeed, I am astonished that you are not up on your Lippincott lore.

The story goes somthing like this: Twins, Howard and Theresa, are born in 1943. Howard is unremittingly brilliant and stunningly handsome. Theresa is, if anything, even more brilliant and the single most exquisite woman on the planet. They enter college at the age of 12 and, as they head into graduate school at the age of 15, there are rumors of strange behavior-- Howard has been seen dressed as a giant bat and Theresa is suspected of being the person who replaced the milk in the dorm with cat sperm. When accused, they pretend not to know English and vigorously speak a language that is later recognized as Aramaic.

Things quiet down (except for the occasional rumor of incest) and they begin work on a joint PhD thesis. Then, tragedy strikes-- Howard dies in a ballooning accident over Norway. Theresa, her mind completely unhinged by this loss, goes on to seduce and marry 23 professors at various universities. Before marriage, she insists that they legally take the name "Howard Lippincott" as a tribute to her dead brother.

Back to your question: you are referring to Howard Lippincott 11 (from Oxford) while I was referring to Howard Lippincott 17 (UW Madison). They were fierce competitors for a while and it was not uncommon, at professional conferences, to see them angrily accusing each other of ruining the good name of Howard Lippincott.

HARTER:
Now this I did not know. It explains much that has confused me including the loss of a monogrammed pen in the back streets of Paris. It strikes me that I may have known Theresa Lippincott. I knew, as a casual acquaintance, a woman by that name some years back. She ran a small coffee shop on a side street off of Harvard Square for a couple of years. It was finally closed by the board of health when they discovered exactly what was in the mystery meat hors d'oeuvres. For a while, though, it was the place for the intelligentsia to hang out. I used to hang out there too. The reason I ask is that when I slept with her (we all did, there's nothing in that) she used to moan "Howard". She may have been deranged; I'm not certain; it's so hard to tell in Harvard Square. I must say that her choice of house pets was unusual - fortunately I don't suffer from anemia.

Could this be the same Theresa Lippincott?

GROSSO:
Ah. And that it was you who lost that monogrammed pen back in the early 60's explains much as well. Did you, I wonder, realize the seminal nature of this occurence ? Did you know that, as you gesticulated wildly, screaming in rage (for inspiration had struck, you had taken out your little black notebook where you recorded thoughts of genius and THE PEN WAS GONE), did you know that you were founding a whole school of literary criticism ?

For Derrida was watching carefully that day, drawing line sketches of the cafe's patrons. He had given up on academia. Encouraged by the aging Sartre, who admired his devilish carictures of Foucault, and dismayed by Theresa Lippincott's stunning rejection of his ardent suit (He pledged his love:. "Je t'aime. Moi, Je suis le Howard." "Non," she sadly replied) Derrida was embarking on a career in animation. Sartre, through his connections with various Arabian sheiks, had raised the money and Nauseau was to be Derrida's breakthrough; a musical cartoon version of the classic novel starring an animated Foucault as a street urchin who sells lollipops to passersby (and narrates the story).

And then, Derrida saw you and reflected that here was a man, poised to write, wanting to write, and yet unable to. But, quite able to verbally abuse the table, the chair, and even, he noticed (for you were acting quite strangely by then), able to scream at the baguettes.

History was made that day.

HARTER:
I recall the day well. There I was in this little cafe, casually sipping my vile coffee (but the baguettes were quite nice), reflecting idly on Marie's peculiar propensities, when I noticed an artist across the way, one of many who infested the area. He evidently was an animator or cartoonist of some sort but he had the oddest style. He would divide the page up into little boxes as though he were creating a page of cartoons but then he would put all of the figures in the margins. As I reflected upon this, a sudden illumination lit up my mind, a series of thoughts that would, I was certain, revolutionize the way men thought of philosophy. I hastened to write and, behold, my pen was gone! This thought, this conception was glimmering away; I needs must write before it vanished entirely. Do not ask what it was; the thought is vanished and we shall not see its like in this millenium.

In those days I was a practicing pantheist. This was evidently a moment when the divine was touching the world and I acted on my beliefs. I prayed to the table and the chair for guidance in finding my pen, first humbly and then imploringly. Then, when they answered not, I cursed them as men do curse the gods that answer them not. But I did not curse the baguettes; those I ate.

I recall that the artist looked at me strangely. At the time I supposed him merely to be apprehensive about my sanity - so many were in those days. Upon reflection, however, it almost seems as though he were struck with some odd inspiration of his own.

I've often wondered what became of him. He seemed to a likable chap with an original turn of mind and a philosophic bent but he really was not a very good artist. One hopes he found a calling more suited to his talents.

GROSSO:

"In those days I was a practicing pantheist. This was evidently a moment when the divine was touching the world ..."

As were many other moments when you, the pantheist, and Zamfir, master of the panflute, played your mysterious music together. Traipsing across Europe, laughing, singing, and making the people cry with sheer joy when, after managing to simulate an entire orchestra for Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture, you admitted defeat at the end and, where there should have been the boom of cannons, instead shouted "Aye Carumba!!"

Ingmar Bergman still speaks fondly of his high-school prom. Of how the chaperones, giddy from lutefisk gone off, had pretended to be skalds and chanted epic poems about hall passes and showing full-color slides of the human digestive system.

And how, just when all seemed lost, there showed up a pair of wandering minstrels to save the day with tender music and soaring melodies that touched the heart and moved the spirit.

Elaine May, upon hearing Ingmar tell this story, went home and was inspired to write Ishtar (listen carefully; the dialogue from some of the scenes is lifted straight from The Seventh Seal, in tribute to Ingmar's seminal role).

Ingmar, too, reported your preternatural fondness for baguettes. He assumed that you were expert with a quarterstaff and used baguettes, in a pinch, for self defense (how else to explain your refusal to share, when offered a full plate of lutefisk). But maybe the more prosaic truth is simply that they reminded you of Marie and those carefree days spent sipping vile coffee. Memories that you would not trade for any plate, no matter how heapingly filled with lutefisk.

HARTER:
Lutefisk, don't mention Lutefisk. It is the one unpleasant memory of that wonderful year. The Swedes, alas, are a race of alchoholics (a commendable vice in the French) and use Lutefisk as an excuse for drinking. How I blessed those baguettes. They were a refuge from Lutefisk. At need they could be pressed into service as a weapon to defend myself against overly enthusiastic Swedes pressing plates of their national dish upon me. The French may dote on snails but snails are redeemed by garlic and butter, a sovereign remedy that fails against Lutefisk.

I remember Ingmar. He was not a prepossessing youth. He had acne, he stuttered, and, to be honest, he had an unpleasant odor about him. But he was intelligent and, unlike all around him, sober. One saw immediately that he was destined to go places, either as an artist or to the local asylum.

You forget to mention that our duo was initially a threesome. There was myself playing the pantheist, Zamfir playing the panflute, and a brooding Spaniard, Cordova, playing the pandemonium. We met in Hamburg where I was a street barker for a small theatre on the Reeperbaum which featured audience participation. We met of an evening when we were simultaneously thrown out a beergarden for singing on key.

Cordova was an interesting chap. He had some obsession about aardvarks - he had a coat of arms with an aardvark rampant emblazoned on the side of his pandemonium. He was very gay when he played music but off stage he would brood about his beloved Spain. We left him in a small town in Norway; he announced that a place with a six month night was the proper setting for writing on the midnight of the soul. The man had the most amazing knack for cracking his knuckles; it sounded like a small cannon going off and the sound would fill a threatre. It was this talent that inspired us to add the 1812 overture to our repertoire. Our performance was never the same after he left us.

It was indeed an enchanted tour. Sometimes we basked in the admiration of a cheering crowd; sometimes we left town hastily in advance of a jeering crowd. I have the fondest memories of that tour except, of course, for the unpleasant incident in Corsica.

This page was last updated February 14, 1997.