A big ginger tomcat of predictable tastes: canned tuna, naptime, and all the best spots to sit and stare at an owner who struggles to find who he is. He may be asleep, sure, but he is always there.
Ian is introduced to both Eric and the reader as the only reminder of the first Eric Sanderson. In this way, Ian serves as Eric’s link to his unknown past.
I thought he might run if I tried to get too close but he didn’t budge at all, he just kept on looking at me as I knelt down to read his collar tag: There was a name – “Hello! I’m Ian” – and a full address although the first line told me everything I needed to know. (23)
In the episode where we are introduced to the haunting of the conceptual shark – a danger familiar to the first Eric – Ian appears to recognize the source of the noise unfamiliar to the clueless second Eric.
Bang….the cat was upright and alert at the end of the bed, staring with huge eyes at the wall….Bang. Ian disappeared in a ginger bounce of nervous energy and I knotted up in shock. Another bang. (51)
Eric’s inseparable attachment to Ian is vividly revealed in his concern for the cat’s potential escape into the darkness of un-space. This concern hints to Ian as a component of the second Eric’s self-identity.
I clicked the catch off and swung the front open. After a moment, Ian’s big ginger body stepped out, cautiously at first, and then…he sauntered off into the depths of the warehouse. ‘He’s not going to come back….I don’t know what I would do if I lost him. It’s always been just him and me, you know?’ (193)
Ian is the only living component of the boat fashioned to liberate the second Eric from the trail of the conceptual shark. This suggests the desire of the first and second Eric to arrive at a new place.
‘It’s a boat,’ Fidorous said catching up with me. ‘A shark-hunting boat. The shark-hunting boat you might say. Come this way around, I’ll show you’….10. Ian the cat. Asleep. (297, 299)
The book ends with Ian propelled to a new world free of the conceptual shark. In a way, Ian embodies the cure from insanity for the first Eric.
“Ian frowned out over the water like an old-fashioned sea captain as the two of us swam his little boat toward the distant shore.” (425)
Part II / Analysis:
Ian the cat has a quiet presence. Unlike most cats, he doesn’t meow, purr, or use a person’s leg as a personal scratching post. In fact, you could almost forget that he too traversed through those narrow corridors, holes, and loops of un-space, right there with Eric and Scout. All from the comfort of his little carrier. Indeed, the dim corners of un-space make for the perfect naptime setting (which Ian had no issue helping himself to). Yet even from his royal throne, he was not absent in the journey. The ginger tomcat often intrudes into the action and chaos that surround and consume Eric. In terms of planning, Eric and Scout account for Ian’s bathroom excursions and play tag-team choosing who-gets-to-carry-Ian-next. If Ian’s screen-time consists of sleeping and giving Eric mean looks, why then is the big tomcat brought to the fore of Eric’s mission in his discovery of self? There is something else that lies under that hunk of orange fur.
It is possible that Ian is a reminder of what is lost – the first Eric Sanderson. If so, the cat embodies the first Eric’s wish for the second Eric: to sever the chains of history and be free from the buzz of the digital screen. Ian’s reaction to the introduction of the Ludovician is telling in this regard. When the shark attempts to attack the second Eric – the loud noise that echoes from the small locked room safeguarding the red filing cabinet – Ian scurries off from the room as if knowing well the dangers that lurk inside. His hurry-hurry refuge is a warning to the second Eric to do the same. In not following Ian and instead choosing to open the door, Eric makes himself vulnerable to the control of the Ludovician (again!).
Ian’s large and critical eyes feel familiar. His gaze strikes us like those of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s in The Great Gatsby; he sees and knows all. Ian’s close association with the second Eric may then be seen as another guidepost gifted by the first Eric. While not followed, Ian’s quiet guiding orange fur (or light?) helps to save Eric’s life. He’s also good company.
Interestingly, Ian serves as a vital part of both the blueprint for the shark hunt and the small dinghy after the wreckage created by the Ludovician. As a component of the shark boat, Ian supports Eric’s journey to hunt and slay the shark. Asleep and enjoying the warm air at sea, he channels the lost efforts of the first Eric to aid the second Eric. At the same time, Ian is equally supported and aided by the second Eric. He is safely propelled to the shoreline from the comfort of his little boat while Eric and Scout serve as the propellers fighting the cold currents of the seas. Eric and Ian complement each other; neither can survive without the other. As Eric tells Scout at one point: “It’s always been just him and me.”
Ian’s presence symbolizes you can never really escape the past. Despite their success in arriving at the Naxos coastline, Eric and Scout cannot forget their history because it inspired their transformation from passive tourist to active captain. That history is the fear of what the Ludovician and Mycroft Ward mean: databases in Facebook that somehow capture personality (what doesn’t my profile say about me?), Instagram filters that distort reality, and emerging global information companies that aim to track and predict consumer behavior for future profit. Of those emerging companies, Neilsen’s might as well be the catchphrase for digital technology: “what people watch, listen to, and buy.” If so, Eric and Scout want out. They declare their independence from the age of information and venture toward a new identity. This break was fueled by the anxiety and pain this world caused them – the shark is on your tail, ready to strike. This couldn’t have happened without Eric and Scout’s burning desire to escape who they were: prey waiting to be fed on. As such, experience is like a lake always in your mind. Ian is that lake. Ian is a reminder of pain.
Ian’s silence in his cage is a source of action and noise in The Raw Shark Texts. We feel the burden and weight of information in controlling our thinking. To liberate ourselves from the noise, we must remind ourselves of the turmoil and pain that shape our experience. Ian is Eric’s anchor to history. The orange tomcat evidences our need to keep close in mind the fear of losing control. That Ian is never separated for long from his cage shows the first Eric’s entrapment by the conceptual shark.
Hall’s message to us is that while we cannot escape the past, we should not feel caged by it. Rather, we should be propelled by our experiences to embrace new and foreign worlds – pushing the furry grumpy sea captain toward a warmer coastline.
Part III / Questions:
1) Clio, described as the muse of history, and Scout, described as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, plot Eric’s voyage. At points they are starkly different and run against each other. At others, it seems as if they are the same person, as revealed by the smiley face tattoo on Scout’s toe that was always Clio’s wish to have. How then should we interpret these two characters in relation to Eric? Are they the same person or distinctly different? How do they support/hinder Eric’s own voyage?
2) A patron walks into Matisse’s studio and comments on the length of a painted woman’s arm. Matisse responds “that is not a woman, sir. That is a painting.” The episode evidences the subjective nature of creativity. In other words, Matisse’s painting is an objection to the “reality” of the woman. But this objection has the power to become reality. As we see in the text, creativity engenders Mycroft Ward. However, this creation quickly turns into an obsession and sends Eric and Scout fleeing for escape. Is creativity a good thing? Or can it distort and confuse our perception of what is “real” by ousting the reality it first objected to?
3) Reflecting on The Raw Shark Texts, we can think of the story as a psychological thriller devoid of any commentary on the nature of digital information or as a serious philosophical treatise that aims to tell us how we can combat these forces. Most modern readers may consider Eric’s voyage as nothing more than psychotropic fugue and a man who loses his mind, agreeing with the news clipping that ends the book. What does the interpretation of this text say about our understanding of media? Is the text validating our expectations of how we engage with information on the page or is it fueling a counter-culture to a digital life?