Published: Febrary 14, 2008

The past, made up of mistakes, violence, foolishness, deceits and lies, was, at least, certain. In lieu of errors and unreasonable beliefs, contemplation was rarely held separate from action, and auspicious decisions were made frequently, through which we moved confidently into the future, as if there could have been no more important thing. We did not flit around so much wondering about necessity; we admired the goodness of unasked questions, for they required no answers, and thus possessed an irresistible beauty. From beauty these uninvited questions assembled into truths, and life became one big silent, unverifiable affirmation. And we accepted that, like the greatness of Shakespeare, like the way he seemed just to have sprung fully grown from a soil that could not have nurtured him.

Albeit a bucolic place, the menagerie in which we now feel, laugh and bleed is built of a diametric groundwork, committed not to unsought questions but to loud curiosities. Who? Why? What the Fuck?! we are encouraged to say! And yet we shout this from cages, house-like constructs, if you can imagine, that resemble a captive-breeding facility, made of diagonal wood siding and sunburst panels, set up according to size and shape. Inside of these we live, willingly and freely.

From a parallax view, the enclave appears in a practical, geometric shape curled around estate sized lots, sidewalks, and a simple, central aboiteau—the Common Space. We, who live here, while possessing basic rights, are overfed. All that hangs from the ceilings and the walls in our private homes stays there as if by magic, without explanation. Who I am, as in Andre Breton’s glass house, appears “etched by a diamond.” Every individual knows just what they are, who they were, and what they mean to be—and that all three are precisely the same. The majority of us claim to be comfortable here, though we do not agree on what the word “comfort” means. . .

The largest of our breed are a somewhat isolated, tendentious bunch, belonging to the outskirts of the city. They stay where the flora and bonsai trees are least attended and where an irrational, almost eerie silence pervades. This cloistered assemblage, in the occasion of public meetings, are still typically the first to speak up, and the only ones in the community to lead, yet they stay indoors most often, living separately, trying not to draw attention to themselves or be subject to the audacity of what they have referred to before as “plebeian extremes.”

Those living closer to the aboiteau and boutiques make up the majority of the common faction. Between the two classes there exists no intermediary. Society is propelled by the tension between the dichotomous order: one group, making a daily fight for survival, while the other spends life, in seclusion, looking forward to its end.

Within our quarters, we live autonomously. We go inside to live among our sets of dishes, our class values, our hopes, duties and dreams. We reheat pasta and make love, or we visit the multiplex cinema to see Lassie, that equestrian flick with Elizabeth Taylor, or Annie Hall, which plays every other week. The system, for the most part, is tame. Our duty: to oscillate. Advancements are sometimes made, which provoke excitement; sometimes things regress, but whatever goes on, when it’s over, little has changed. What it would be to live without the walls, or the hierarchy of cages—not one of us wonders. The idea of roaming together, liberated, absolved of categories—this seems radical, destructive. And what would be the benefit, exactly? We are fatigued with indolence, yawning. We lie still as the sun, adoring our fleas.

But among us lives the jaguar. A restless being, pacing her cage, spinning from the bars, striding like wildernesses of freedom, she is a reproach. She tries not to draw attention to herself, yet her body language is power, aggression. The world rolls under the long thrust of her heel and over the cage floor; her hips move in and out of joint, swaying coquettishly. She gazes out like some revenge, always silent. “Duplicitous,” says the walrus one day, flicking his whiskers by the aboiteau. “That jaguar acts as though she were chosen by God.”

But the jaguar, while capable of grievous harms, is beside the point. She is beside the point because the point, the final point, the only point, is to preserve the zoo as an institution; the zoo, which is that symbol of security for the individual choice of the animals therein. Even if the jaguar plans to escape it, to flee and live by her own reign, the extent of her actions must be free and uncoerced, the zoo must uphold its canon, so that for her irreverence it cannot be blamed. And if the job of the zoo is to be concerned with the rule, the standard, the norm; and the job of the rule, the standard, the norm is to maintain the freedom, the zoo, itself, thus provides criteria for the assessment of rules about freedom. It carries authority with it.

The jaguar’s constant movement is jostling; she upsets others. In a meeting place, the other animals forge an alliance for the valorization of the life of their freedom, identifying themselves and their commonality by their disapproval of the jaguar’s deviance. The walrus rises, in a moment of lucidity, to speak for the crowd. “The jaguar, who presses us, who forces our unease,” he gleams, “who intends to question the way things are, seems to have forgotten what everyone knows and shouldn’t have to say. What action should we take?” There is some commotion as the largesse offer their voices; as the grizzly bear, the rhinoceros, and the antelope compete to be received.

Suddenly, as if summoned, the jaguar interrupts, sallies in. Silence pervades the turbulent democracy of bears, penguins and bovine. Arriving on stage the jaguar stands on hind legs to speak. An intersubjective gasp, an aural reverberation, turns insides out.

“I have loved the opportunity to live among you,” she begins, her front paws pressed together on the podium surface, two claws forming a steeple. “But I am curious, friends, how you see the world. I ask you: is it through the prism of the zoo cage?”