Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume
The animals are scattered in the wake of the Circus Train’s crash in Montana. Mother Elephant has been hung in a mock trial. Rabbit is nursing his broken heart on the road back home. Tiger and Peacock have accepted their fate… But Fox seems to be preoccupied by late 18th century French post-structuralist philosophy, despite her dire situation.
We join Fox and Bear wandering the countryside, deep in a philosophical debate. Fox seems to be in the middle of expounding some point about her own ideology. Let’s take this slowly and see what we can turn up. First she describes herself using the pronoun “I” and calls herself “provisional”, which something existing for the present but subject to a later change. For now we will keep that in mind. Fox also describes herself as almost, but not quite, fully alive. A ham-fisted layman’s translation might make the first line something like, “The person I was for that moment was barely alive compared to what I am now” [Provisionally, ‘I’, practically alive], although that implies some things we’ve yet to unpack.
Fox continues, saying that she “mistook signs for signified” in her former mindset. Here is where the French philosophers of centuries past rear their lofty heads. Mistaking a signifier for something signified is an element of post-structuralist philosophy. In short, this philosophy deals with how much one reads into a text. For example, the perceived meaning of a text by a reader is as important and relevant as the author’s intentions. Perceptions of meaning often very wildly because meaning itself is said to be constructed by the signifiers of the reader. In other words, what the reader brings to the text drastically effects the perceived meaning of the text. These signifiers can be anything, such as race, gender, religion, class status, sexual orientation, or past events. The problem arises for seekers of ultimate Truth, as all of our animal characters seem to be in one fashion or another, when the the meaning of an idea gets swallowed up by the signifiers the reader has brought to the table. Mistaking signs for signified then, is a surprisingly astute self-observation by Fox. She is saying that she has too often let her own pre-conceptions muddle the meaning of the truth she has been seeking. Whether or not that observation sticks remains to be seen.
Fox’s response to this realization is an attempt to banish the signifiers themselves from her life entirely [and so since have often tried to run them off the cliff like Gadarene swine]. The comparison she makes here to cliffs and swine is a reference to an account from the Synoptic Gospels in which Jesus casts a multitude of demons out of a man and into a heard of pigs in the Palestinian city of Gadara. The newly possessed pigs then stampede into the sea, drowning themselves.
But the comparison is seemingly a more direct allusion to yet another philosophical idea, that of the Gadarene Swine Fallacy. The fallacy deals with observations of groups in formation, and the supposition that because a group is in a correct formation, they are on the right course. From another angle, it is also a fallacy to suppose that because an individual has strayed from the group, that he is off course. To the perception of the group’s mind, this individual may seem off course, but to the ideal observer, he may seem right on track. The following is an excerpt from The Politics of Experience by R.D. Laing, that explains the dangers of the Gadarene Swine Fallacy:
From an ideal vantage point on the ground, a formation of planes may be observed in the air. One plane may be out of formation. But the whole formation may be off course. The plane that is ‘out of formation’ may be abnormal, bad or ‘mad,’ from the point of view of the formation. But the formation itself may be bad or mad from the point of view of the ideal observer. The plane that is out of formation may also be more or less off course than the formation itself is.
The ‘out of formation’ criterion is the clinical positivist criterion.
The ‘off course’ criterion is the ontological. One needs to make two judgements along these different parameters. In particular, it is of fundamental importance not to confuse the person who may be ‘out of formation’ by telling him he is ‘off course’ if he is not. It is of fundamental importance not to make the positivist mistake of assuming that, because a group are ‘in formation,’ this means they are necessarily ‘on course.’ This is the Gadarene swine fallacy.
This is a weighty idea when put into the context of the rest of the song and the overall theme of Ten Stories. I have already referenced numerous times the idea that the Circus Train represented institutionalized life according to Aaron Weiss. We’ve seen that one of the metaphorical details surrounding the concept of the institutionalized train could be it’s stoic progression toward a perceived goal along a pre-determined track, and we’ve compared that to Mother Elephant’s admonition to the animals, urging them to wander the wilderness and discover the Truth. While Fox initially seems to have set her thinking in line with such ideals, we will soon see that she is beginning to let history repeat itself in her own mindset. She is coming around to the Circus Train’s view of things, and this will cause her to see her companion as “out of formation”. Let us explore how the Gadarene Swine Fallacy plays out as Fox and Bear continue their lonely conversation.
Fox has, in her mind, banished all of the signifiers that she has brought to the table, and is beginning to uncover what she believes is truth. Depending on whether you go by the liner notes or what Weiss actually sings on the album, Fox says that she has tied either her thoughts or her words firmly in anchor bend knots to a new realization [and tied my thought ropes in anchor bends]. This profound understanding, perhaps brought on by the fact that they are now wandering in the wilderness and beginning to starve, is that maybe they were better off on the Circus Train [wondering whether we were someone better then], or perhaps at least more easily persuaded to idealize a life outside of the Circus institution [or maybe just better able to pretend]. In either case, Fox has come to the conclusion that perhaps they would have had a safer path to an easier end on the train [and what better means to our inevitable end]. If they were going to die anyway, they might as well have done it in a place where they were fed regularly, rather than alone in the wilderness. It is interesting to note that immediately after her proclamation that she has abandoned bringing signifiers to her idea of the truth, she lets the signifier that she is starving and lost completely turn her opinion of their quest around.
In effect, she is also acting out the Gadarene Swine Fallacy by trying to convince Bear, who appears to her now as one wandering away from an ideal formation, that his faith in Mother Elephant’s parting words to them is wrong. Bear’s response comes from a far more humble place.
“I don’t know much, but I know that some say with utter certainty that no one can be certain of anything.” [No, I don’t know if I know, though some with certainty insist ‘no certainty exists’] Bear is willing to admit that he knows very little. This isn’t how Fox deals with things. She is ever fluctuating in her allegiance to one “truth” or another based entirely, it seems, on circumstance and her latest thoughts on the matter. He also highlights an irony in Fox’s arguments, as he claims that arguing unknowable certainties, especially when involving matters or faith and belief, is a pretty pointless exercise that goes nowhere, like someone saying they beyond a shadow of a doubt know that no one can know anything.
Instead of banishing the signifier that has defined his entire view of the world to this point, Bear embraces it. It is here that he tells a story of his lost love from before the Circus years. “I only know one thing for sure: I’ve only ever kissed one girl these past fourteen years. [Well, I’m certain enough of this: In the past 14 years there’s only one girl I’ve kissed.] On a hot day on the pier in Asbury, New Jersey, my girlfriend and I sat quietly on a Ferris wheel, watching the spinning fairground ride and looking at the Atlantic [in the blistering heat of the Asbury pier we sat, quiet as monks on the Ferris wheel, until looking down at the waltzer and out at the sea]. I broke the silence with a joke, asking her if she ever had that recurring fantasy of pushing children off of the rides [I asked her ‘do you ever have that recurring fantasy where you push little kids from the tops of the rides?’]. She just shook her head in awkward silence, so I told her I was only kidding [She shook her head no, I said ‘Oh, neither do I.’]. It was then that I decided to propose to her. I took out my grandmother’s ring and got down on one knee [And with my grandmother’s ring, I went down on one knee], and the disaster that happened next has haunted my memories ever since that day [and the subsequent catastrophe has since haunted me like a fiberglass ghost in the attic of my inconveniently selective memory].
Bear’s story completed, he now responds directly to Fox’s assertions about truth and belief as it relates to their situation. He repeats Fox’s description of herself as provisional [as provisionally ‘You’]. This is perhaps to highlight that, despite Fox determining that she only used to be characterized by provision as we defined it earlier (her mind seems made up about an idea in the moment, but is subject to drastic change), Bear recognizes this as her present state. As Fox observes Bear according to the Gadarene Swine Fallacy as the one wandering off course, he observes her as a member of an entire formation that is off course while his is the correct path. Still, perhaps because he is smitten by Fox and seems to have a low opinion of himself due to his past experiences, he tends to allow himself doubt at her recommendation. What he thought he knew, she is now convincing him may have been wrong. He feels rather lost as a result [mercifully withdrew all the bearing points we thought we knew].
Days pass and their discussion continues. They have indeed become hopelessly lost, both literally and metaphorically. Fox’s certainty that they have probably made the wrong choice by escaping the Circus Train has removed their sense of purpose in the wandering quest for truth [Day’s run, day’s set plot; our compass shot]. Bear likens them now to a drifting sailboat [we sailed waywardly on], and the philosophical discussions that they have had every night until the dawn to arrows shot back and forth from broken bows on passing boats in the dark [singing out midnight archer songs, until well past dawn. It’s still dark on the deck of our boats, haphazardly blown, broken bows]. It might be of interest to note the allusion to wind here, which cropped up before in reference to Fox and Bear, and will again. While they were told to set sail to the wind and let it take them where it may, this current confusion in Bear’s mind as to what is true seems to have him looking rather dubiously at the wind. No longer seeing any truth or guidance in the wind he once followed, Bear now feels his little boat of understanding has been haphazardly blown off course by it. Where once he saw himself as on a path to Truth, with Fox and the Circus on a path to certain destruction, he now has allowed the idea, at Fox’s behest, that he is off course while the others maintain the true path to poison his mind. He has allowed his relationship with Fox to become a signifier that has overwhelmed what he considered the truth. Bear has begun to mistake sign for signified.
Still, he seems to have enough sense to maintain his opinion that this sort debate about truth they are having is ultimately going nowhere, as the idea-arrows they sling in the darkness have no certain aim, and are thus ultimately meaningless. They are simply going around in circles and ending where they began over and over again [our aimless arrow-words don’t mean a thing]. The conclusion Bear is coming to is a confused one. Fox has nearly convinced him that there is no God, but something inside Bear knows that there definitely is a God [so by now I think it’s pretty obvious that there’s no God and there’s definitely a God].
One morning, Fox awakens Bear to tell him that she has had a strange dream. There seems to be two levels to what the dream is all about (as far as we know for now), so let’s read the dream in it’s entirely as it is told, and then examine it more closely. In it, Fox saw the rocks of the beach in Asbury, New Jersey, where Bear took his girlfriend on an ill-conceived date [I dreamt of the rocks on the Asbury dunes]. Then she looked up and saw Bear leap from the top of one of the rides, a water ride known as the Log Flume, just like the children in his joke [and that you jumped from the top of the Log Flume]. When Bear lands on the sharp rocks below, a crowd soon gathers with an unanswerable question on their lips [And they gather like wolves on the boardwalk below and they’re howling for answers no wolf can know]. Fox charges into the surf holding a glass, but the waves toss her small body back onto the beach [I charged at the waves with a glass in my hand, and was tossed like a ball at the bottle stand]. She washes up next to Bear’s broken body, and his cold fingers grab her leg [And I landed beside your remains on the stones where your cold fingers wrapped around my ankle bone]. Meanwhile, about ten feet away, a gigantic star bigger than any sun has been exploding [While maybe ten feet away was a star, thousands of times the size of our sun exploding like tiny balloons that you throw darts at].
Thus ends Fox’s dream about Bear’s Log Flume suicide. Alright, let’s look at a surface level explanation for Fox’s dream first. Bear jumps from the top of the ride, a crowd gathers, and Fox tries to save him, but fails. This interpretation of the dream doesn’t really even touch an esoteric nature until the description of the gigantic exploding star that has been presiding over this event, presumably the entire time. What this version lacks in an underlying message, it makes up for with a slight narrative and character advancement for Fox and Bear. Where we get the sense that once this romance seemed to be entirely one sided (if the strange segment of “Grist for the Malady Mill” is indeed concerning Fox and Bear’s relationship), with Bear’s infatuations quietly rebuffed (much like the girl in Bear’s past), now we see that Fox genuinely cares for him. She rushes to his aide as soon as she sees him fall. Their time spent wandering the wilderness together seems to have softened her heart slightly, even if it is a sentiment that only emerges in her dreams.
Taking a second look at Fox’s dream, we begin to uncover her own inner turmoil over her certainty that they have chosen the wrong path. The Gadarene Swine Fallacy becomes a mirror for Fox to see herself in, however sub-textually it may be. The gathering crowd of “wolves” howls for an answer that they can never know, much like she and Bear have been doing in their recent debates. Fox’s certainty about her own knowledge of the truth is made literal as she attacks the mighty Atlantic ocean with nothing but a glass to contain it and keep it off of Bear. No amount of analyzing will allow someone to take on the complexity that is an assurance of the existence of a truth (like God). It’s simply too enormous and powerful of an idea, with implications far too vast, to ever actually know for certain. Ironically, as they debate the existence and definition of such a thing, it hovers nearby bigger and brighter than the sun itself, exploding to get their attention. It is, ultimately, ignored as sign obscures the signified once again.
Bear then tells Fox of his own dream, a dream of socks made from yarn he and Fox had created out of Dorset and Shetland sheep’s wool that they’d sheared [I slept until our chest was full of yarn we spun from Shetland wool. Socks from where the Dorset grows, sheared and scoured hours before the rooster crows]. It is a dream of cozy innocence that betrays his essentially simple nature. Bear may not be truly lost yet. He isn’t the one dreaming complex and emotionally devastating dreams, after all.
Fox’s next lines seem to indicate that she may never be convinced of her penchant for allowing her doubts be a signifier and completely devaluing something she previously believed so strongly in. Her dream has taught her nothing as of yet. She has heard that the price of silver German thaler coins has dropped (something that, interestingly enough, actually happened in 1878-79, resulting in German thalers dwindling). Her response is much like her newly acquired view of the Circus as a more positive place to end up than the wandering path set before them by Mother Elephant. Instead of riding out the drop in price and using what little they had left if they ever needed it, she throws all of their money into a wishing well [The price of German silver fell, threw disused thalers down the superstition well].
mewithoutYou poster design
Catch for us the foxes in the vineyard…the little foxes.
Bear’s Vision of St. Agnes
And so we come at last to the final leg of the journey for Fox and her adoring friend Bear. We find them now, struggling to survive in a wilderness of rocks and sand, holding hands and trudging ever onward, hopelessly lost now that they have followed Fox’s whims and doubts and are no longer following in the spirit of Mother Elephant [Barren rocks and sand, our wooden sculpture hands/Bear and Fox held hands. Held like a timber hitch]. And still, the bright sun of Fox’s vision shines over the oblivious creatures, and they burn like tiny candles in it’s brightness [held candles to the sun].
Neither of them can hold out for much longer, but nevertheless they carry on [Both faint and fading fast, they walked on, windward, kept time with a pocketmouse, mouths kept mostly shut]. In keeping with my ongoing theory that wind plays a crucial part in the imagery of Ten Stories, particularly for Fox and Bear, it is interesting to note that they are described now as walking “windward”. Mother Elephant told them to go where the wind would take them, and they lost that for a while in their endless theological debating. Now, without realizing it, they have found the wind, and are walking directly into it instead of allowing it to guide them. Which might mean that they have completely lost hope of finding their way, and in their blindness have done the opposite of what they were meant to when they escaped the Circus.
It is Fox, in her guilt, that finally breaks the silence [Fox broke the silence like a bone]. “I have been a burden to you. I have done nothing but slow you down [half-moaning: “you’ve worn me like an albatross, I’ve only slowed you down]. You could have gone your own way long ago and found the girl you once loved on the Asbury Pier [You could’ve long traded in your braided crown by now. You could’ve found that Anabaptist girl you always used to go on about], the one you used to talk about in the Circus as we rode on bicycles and balanced on beams for the crowds [As we rode in circles on our bicycles, we walked on balance beams, as the audience cheered for us]. We wore hot human clothes: fur hats and masks [We burned like fevers under carriage hats, hid behind Venetian masks in our human costumes]. We stood like statues in checkered shirts, and we will do it again one day: dressed in colorless human outfits on broken stone platforms [We stood like statues once in shepherd’s check, we’ll both be decked in herringbone, wrapped border drab around already broken ironstone].
Such is Fox’s lament to the hopelessness of their plight. Weighted down by guilt over leading Bear astray (with the Gadarene Swine Fallacy mentioned before), she describes their plight with sweeping and poetic imagery. Like they now burn beneath a harsh sky, (and perhaps even the exploding star that she continues to ignore despite her dream of the log flume), she remembers how they once burned under the hot lights in the humiliation of the Circus tent. She had misgivings once, but no more. She can see with enough clarity to know that the Circus institution stripped them of their animality, making them crude imitations of their human overlords for mere sport. The Circus puts forth Cardiff Giants and Fiji Mermaids, legendary hoaxes, as central attractions; but living long enough in that crushing institution turned even the animals themselves into shams. The audiences weren’t cheering because they were seeing the beauty and savagery of Bear or the animal cunning of Fox, nor the bright ferocity of Tiger. The institution and it’s constituents never sought to praise Peacock merely for his plumage, or Walrus for his wisdom, nor Rabbit for his sure-footedness. No one cheered merely because of Mother Elephant’s enormity and grace. The institutions of this world, like the Circus and it’s ever-traveling train, seek only to consume and assimilate their victims until the natural beauty of the individual is snuffed out in favor of silly hats and masks, shoddy and humiliating imitations of human behavior. The Circus institution wants to warp the senses of it’s prisoners, convince them that there is no hope, that to endure in their cages is more of a freedom than Mother Elephant’s wilderness. The human world seeks to make the animals see themselves and their fellows as born for the Circus, and forever destined for the Circus.
The Circus tells them to see the cage as a refuge. As absurd a notion as a fish lusting after an eggplant. And yet, to the institutionalized mind, even iron bars seem a comfort. Fox thought this once, and even led Bear away from his calling for a time. In her lamenting, Fox sees the bars for the prison they are, but nonetheless predicts doom: they will all end up in the Circus again, one way or another, dressed up and on display. There is no longer any hope. Things come full circle, ending where they began: in humiliation and imprisonment, or death.
But then Bear speaks up, taking Fox’s hand. He seems to have seen something.
Before we go on, a bit about St. Agnes’ Eve. From wikipedia:
…the superstition that a girl could see her future husband in a dream if she performed certain rites on the eve of St. Agnes; that is she would go to bed without any supper, undress herself so that she was completely naked and lie on her bed with her hands under the pillow and looking up to the heavens and not to look behind. Then the proposed husband would appear in her dream, kiss her, and feast with her.
John Keats, the famed English Romantic poet of the 19th century partially based his poem, aptly titled The Eve of St. Agnes, on this superstition. The relevant portion:
Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.
The maiden undresses on the Eve of St. Agnes, completes the ritual, and looks steadfastly upward, lest the magic flee, in hopes of seeing her future lover and husband. St. Agnes’ Eve has come for Bear and Fox. It is the evening of January 20th, 1878. It has been twelve days since they escaped the Circus. Twelve days of hopeless wandering.
Bear looks upward as Fox declares their fate, and what is it that he sees? St. Agnes herself, patron saint of lovers and virgins and purity, holding her lamb and carrying her palm branch. And, like Mother Elephant saw for herself on the Circus Train, he sees his bridal fate, the consummation he is destined to meet in an eternal marriage bed.
Bear sees the cliff, and knows what he must do [But I’ve seen these cliffs before, St. Agnes brought her palm branch to the hospital, looked upward lest the charm had fled from my brother’s breathing bed]. He turns to Fox and tells the lie he must tell. Looking out over the cliff and the Saint above it, he says to her, “Did I ever tell you that I had a twin brother? He died, and after I shut his blue eyes, they laid him to rest below this very cliff [And when he died I shut his dogtooth violet eyes]. He looked exactly like I do, Fox. He is probably still resting down there. Go, take his body, and eat it. Do not let yourself starve. Let me stay here and hibernate as we bears do [He looked just like me - climb on down and see, they laid him on the rocks below, there’ll be enough to fill your cup for days; I’ll stay up here and rest].”
Fox, undoubtedly touched by this gesture, obeys and begins the long climb down to the valley below. Bear then readies himself for his final act of selflessness. With the same grande language Fox used to curse their plight and the inevitable uselessness of the journey, Bear now describes the triumphant act of self-sacrifice. “We will not end in the Circus, dancing fools dressed like humans. No, I choose to explode forth from this life and into the next as from a cannon, my path straight and sure [We’ll fly in straight lines as from carronades]. We will not end with a half moan in the wilderness. Our lives will sweep over the desert like a tidal wave overcoming an island [We’ll crash like tidal waves, decimate the islands]. My body will fall like the lumber on the log flume, and my life will come full circle. Perhaps when I come crashing down I will find myself ending where I began, in a rag shop on the Asbury Pier, on a hot summer day [As our hollowed lumber falls like water, ends where I start - In that tattered rag shop back in Asbury Park].
Bear no longer considers himself an individual. He will soon be a part of Fox through the ultimate intimacy of self-sacrifice, and thus he refers to himself in the plural. There is no more Bear, no more individual. There is only the plurality of giving himself over to consumption by his friend. He has denied himself the opportunity to seek his former life. He has denied himself the opportunity to be with Fox as a lover. He has denied himself life, in order that Fox may live.
Bear’s story is similar in many respects to an old Buddhist tale - referenced in an interview with Aaron Weiss, who called it the inspiration for this song - in which a young prince feeds a starving tiger and her cubs the only way he can:
Finally realizing his error, Mahasattva jumped up and climbed the hill above the tigress and her cubs. Once there, he found a length of bamboo that he fashioned into a sharp knife. Holding the splinter of bamboo in his hand he stabbed himself in the throat and, as his life’s blood drained away, he fainted and toppled over the edge of the hill, landing right in front of the tigress and her cubs.
The tigress pounced on Mahasattva’s dead body, eagerly devouring his flesh, gnawing on his bones and lapping up his spilled blood. In moments, the tigress’ breasts began to fill with milk and her cubs suckled greedily. Revived by their meal, the tigress and her seven cubs left the valley
-excerpt from A Prince Gives His Life to a Tiger, from Frescoes and Fables: Mural Stories from the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang
Mother Elephant’s ideals have come full circle; and thus our story has come full circle. As it began with an animal’s sacrifice unto the death for the betterment of those she loves, so it shall end. Bears calls one last time down to Fox.
Then he leaps over the edge of the cliff to greet his bridal fate.
The hour has come to consummate, Bear thinks as he falls.
“I will soon be dead, unmoving, but if it will help Fox live, then it is a sacrifice worth making. It elevates us all [Look how soon my hands won’t move - but if you’ll improve, we’ll all improve. Look how soon my arms won’t move! Sixty feet and my feet won’t move, as you improve we all improve]!” Bear sees this sacrifice as the ultimate Truth, the hope to which Mother Elephant clung so deeply. This is not merely one animal dying so that another may live.
This is life itself.
This is truth.
This is escaping the Circus at last.
This is rebelling against everything the institution has forced down his throat.
This is Bear betraying himself and dying to himself.
In the blink of an eye, Bear surpasses the mere asceticism of Walrus. He exudes the abundance and purpose of life itself. He knows the meaning of everything he has ever wondered about during his long trek to these cliffs.
Beneath the loving gaze of St. Agnes, Bear goes to his fate willingly, lovingly even.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
-The Gospel of John 15:13
As he falls, his final words of encouragement to Fox echo off of the rocks below. “Build us a den, and fill it with acorns to eat. I will wake in Spring, before the salmon are passing through the rivers. [Fill our den with acorn mast, I’ll wake before the salmon pass].
Ten feet more and nothing moves.
If Dr. Seuss Books Were Titled According to Their Subtexts
my theatre teacher has all of these on a wall in his classroom.
i want these on a wall in my room
when you make a joke and everyone laughs
Being As An Ocean - How We Both Wonderously Perish (1st Press - Blue Eyes)
I hate when black clothes are a slightly different black and don’t match
we joke but this is an actual thing
Just a reminder that tattoos don’t have to mean anything. They do not require some intricate and moving backstory. Some people just appreciate having art on their skin…it’s as simple as that.
have you ever considered that female celebrities claim not to be feminists/push a watered down version of feminism because it’s fucking unsafe for them to admit to anything else? emma watson gave the most watered down, man friendly speech on feminism i’ve ever seen in my life and men threatened to leak nudes of her and attack her so