Thursday, 8 September 2011
Mathematicians learn, fairly early on in their intellectual development, that presence and absence are the exact same thing, simply observed from opposite directions. To a more reality-based mind (and anyone who argues maths is reality based simply hasn't done enough maths to know what they're talking about), there are sights and sounds and tastes in abundance that distinguish what we have from what we don't have, but in the realm of sets and closures and numbers both rational and otherwise, an outline is an outline, and it doesn't really matter on which side of it you're standing. The train tracks from one to the other go both ways, after all.
If "Paradiso" was about what Lucifer has, then, either what he's gained from his new universe or imported from his own one (which is far more than he wants to admit to), then "Purgatorio" deals with what he lacks. And not just him, by any means.
Every character in fiction can be broken down according to four criteria: what they have and want, what they have but don't want, what they are trying to acquire, and what they are trying to avoid. Lucifer has said right from the very beginning that there is nothing he is trying to acquire (that's why the Voiceless Gods were unable to influence him) and that nothing he has is of any interest to him (or so he keeps insisting to Mazikeen, at any rate). Nor is the fear or losing anything something he would or could ever admit to. What drives Lucifer - or, more to the point, what he says drives him - is simply the desire to be rid of those things he does not desire.
Hence his own Creation. His goal is not to compare his universe to that of his father's - either as mockery or as competition - but merely to ensure there exists a reality in which he is free of Yahweh's desires and Destiny's dictates (if indeed that's not a tautology - the relationship between God's plan and the Endless' book remains murky to say the least).
Except... that can't be the whole story, can it? Exiting Creation would have been enough to ensure his freedom, but a letter from God giving him that option just wasn't good enough. Indeed, on learning Yahweh had constructed the letter of passage in such a way that the gateway out of his realm would prove a one-way trip, Lucifer was incensed.
The question here is: why? Why would Lucifer ever want to return to the reality that runs entirely according to his father's will? Why wasn't his "Get out of Creation free" card good enough?
The only logical explanation is that Lucifer is lying. Lying to everyone he meets, and to himself as well. There is something else here. Something else he wants to be rid of. And, because absence is just presence looked at from another direction, there must be, despite his protests, something he is attempting to gain.
It's Death who spells this out for us, as she sits with Lucifer, watching him straddle the line between life and, well, death. Even the Endless have a healthy respect for the Morningstar, and clearly would think twice about pissing him off, so as Death says, this is probably the only time she can have an honest conversation with him, whilst he's tied up fighting the damage caused by Susano O Mikoto and the Basanos. So she tells him what she's been "dying to say" (geddit); namely that no matter what Lucifer wants to believe, that this is all about his father.
This, of course, is the exact opposite of a surprise. By creating his own universe, and by demanding its inhabitants cling to no religion whatsoever, Lucifer is saying more than merely "I don't need you, father", he's moved on to "No-one needs you, father." It's not about proving he can escape Yahweh's influence, but proving that influence was unnecessary from the very beginning. It's as though Lucifer is writing an instruction manual: "How to Run a Light-Touch Universe". Either he desires proof that he can do things better than his father, or he wants to be free of the idea that his father alone can run a universe. Two sides of the same outline.
Clearly, whatever it is the Lucifer seeks, it's something he's prepared to risk his own existence for. And not just him, either. Susano O Mikoto, Meleos, the Basanos, Michael, the Lilim and presumably Elaine as well, all are as immortal is the Morningstar. We are not watching them fight for survival, but risk survival in order to obtain what they want, or divest themselves of what they want to be rid of.
That fight is always about absence, it seems. For Mazikeen and her followers, it's the absence of a home (until the return of Lilith, at least), but for everyone else in this maelstrom of violence and intrigue, this is all about the absence of family.
This is just the latest in the long list of reasons why Carey is such a talented writer. He's taken as a foundation what is probably Western civilisation's most well known tale about the rejection and betrayal of family, and turned it into a story in which family is all important. Susano is so consumed by rage over the death of his brother Kagutsuchi that he's willing to face off against a former archangel whom he couldn't best even whilst his foe was mortal. Meleos, in contrast, is so ashamed by how totally he was beaten by his "children", and by how much damage they have caused that he's willing to try and destroy them. And whilst Elaine's need to save Lucifer is clearly based on more than the fact that he's her uncle, that factor should not be dismissed entirely.
If we return to Meleos briefly, though, his role in "Purgatorio" is crucial, and not just because it is his actions that make it clear to Lucifer that his own success (and indeed survival) may be contingent upon the cooperation of others. When first we met Meleos, he was incidental, all but irrelevant to the story other than for what he possessed: the Basanos. This time around, his presence and help is all that allows the Basanos to be defeated.
Up until now, a fundamental narrative strand of Lucifer has been the manner in which we deal with our parents. Lucifer, Michael and God, Basanos and Meleos, Elaine and her angry, violent foster father. This is the point where the tables turn, and we begin to see how parents deal with their children. The same track, but the opposite direction.
This is true not only in Meleos' dealings with the Basanos, but with the Basanos' own attempts to gain themselves a child. So desperate are they to renew themselves through procreation, they're prepared to challenge Lucifer in his own Creation, where he is at his most powerful, and where their ability to see the future no longer functions. Indeed, why else does our sentient tarot deck favour its own iteration as small girl so heavily, if not as a demonstration, conscious or otherwise, of what is truly important to them? The fact that the next most commonly witnessed card is that of the Grim Reaper tells you all you need to know. The future, to paraphrase G'Kar, now consists of only two possibilities: the Basanos gain a child, or they lose themselves. Give me nappies or give me death, as it were . Secure my future, or end it (that damn outline again).
We can go further, though. The conclusion to this story makes clear that the Basanos are not really willing to risk death if it can gain them a child, they are willing to ensure death if it guarantees them a child. They are more concerned by what is absent than what is present. Their loyalty to and love for their (only just conceived) child is already greater than their own sense of survival. The unswerving, unquestioning loyalty to one's offspring is in evidence elsewhere as well. Michael chooses to bring down the wrath of God upon him (and remember: Michael has witnessed the wrath of God before, and knows exactly what it entails) in order to protect Elaine, and even Elaine's adopted father seems genuinely distraught when faced with her "death".
This raises a crucial question: how far would Lucifer himself go to protect his Creation? What is he prepared to give up in order to ensure he and his world are finally free? We already understand this up to a point, in how savagely he deals with the Basanos. Had someone invaded Lux in such a way, Lucifer would have taken his revenge, but only as a matter of principle, not because there is anything in the nightclub that he truly values. The same is not true of this world he has fashioned for himself. There is more at stake than his pride: this is about the life of his child.
His Creation is not his literal offspring, of course, but how else can you interpret something in which you've poured all the time and effort and blood you have so as to create? Especially considering Lucifer (and Meleos), lacking Michael's demiurgic power, are completely sterile. Creation is the closest thing they'll know to procreation, and they know it. Indeed, once again we return to the relationship between Lucifer and his father. What better way to cut the cords that bind you to your father than to create your own child, and raise them in as different a way as possible as what you experienced? Sometimes, we define what our children need to have by what was absent from our own childhood.
Of course, that isn't the whole story. For that, we must consider those who love both their father and their child. Whilst Lucifer is - ludicrously - trying to ensure he is nothing like his father whilst ensuring the nature (as oppose to the nurture) of is own child is as close to that of his father's as possible, Michael is forced to choose between father and daughter. In choosing Elaine he encapsulates "Purgatorio" perfectly. What we want from our fathers, and what we want for our children are the exact same thing. The same destination, a little further down the track.
So which is it? Is Lucifer thumbing his nose at Yahweh, or trying to escape him through contradiction, or simply letting him know how all of this was supposed to work? There's no way to be sure, really. Lucifer isn't telling, and it would be amazingly foolish to question him on the matter. Death looks like she knows, but as Elaine has already found out, the price of learning from Death is that you don't get the chance to come back and tell anyone about it.
In any event, we now know who Lucifer is, what his goals are, how he deals with his foes, and what he is prepared to risk in order to keep his Creation free from the control of others. The next obvious question, as Lucifer travels to Effruil to fight a duel he cannot possibly win in his current condition, is just exactly how much all of this is going to cost.
 I am very much pro-children, so long as they're someone else's. Indeed, one regular commentator on this blog has a daughter that I love to bits. Even so, it does seem like the development of one's offspring can be summarised thus:
"I need you to clean up my poo!"
"Here are all the toys you must give me now!"
"I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you!"
"Can I borrow the car?"