Mapping in “The Lizard of Ooze”

We talked a fair amount in class about the relationship between the “Night Towns” and the real world in “The Lizard of Ooze,” but we never brought up the story’s own explicit commentary on what it calls the “Cities of the Map” (Lake 163). As opposed to the a real world “ruler-straight city girded by concrete and stone,” Astur exults how Ooze changes such that “with a turn of the head the world would be different” (169).

I want to look at this characterization of Ooze in terms of Jameson’s geneology of cognitive mapping. Jameson says that postmodernism’s new type of hyperspace has “succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually, and congitively to map its position in a mappable external world” (43). Ooze, though, is not a mappable external world, and Astur claims that it is precisely this that makes Ooze superior, or at least more interesting, than the “Cities of the Map.” Ooze is described in terms of it’s landmarks, which seem concrete enough–“The Seats of Ease” (159), the “comestitorium” (162), the “Descending Stair” (167)–and its social orders. But the narrator still finds himself in unfamiliar territory when he visits the lizard, who continually changes its physical manifestation according to the “logic of fear and desire” (168). Physical order, from Astur’s point of view, means mental constraint, and in this sense, we can view the New Weird as a revolt against the mundanity of the real world.

We can also look at the relationship between Ooze and its real world counterpart in terms of the story’s central conflict, that of Astur and the clown. Whereas Astur is a human wearing the costume of a Night Town, the clown is the inverse; a feral clown hidden beneath a human guise. Correspondingly, Astur is a champion of a sort of social order, while the clown is a threat, and this is what characterizes Astur’s humanity. This story, then, associates humanity with a Jamesonian commitment to logical orders–cognitive maps–over appearances, and turns appearances into the strange, unstable bodily permutations of the New Weird.

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