Linton- Life in the Collections
William James Linton aka Hattie Brown:
41) Catoninetales. A domestic epic.
Hamden, CT 1877 / London - New York 1891
The Linton-Archive holds signed and numbered copies of both editions, the original one, which was published with an inserted photo of Linton by the Appledore Press in 1877 in a limited edition of 25 and of the book market version, that was published by Laurence & Bullen in London and New York in 1891 in a much wider circulation of 330 copies.
Like its predecessors Bob-Thin and The American Odyssey, this large illustrated mock-epic also substantially lacks narrative movement. Its Sterneian structure is a rather stagnant one consisting of endlessly interlaced annotations and nonsensical interpretations that mimic scientific analyses and twit academic pretension. But beside this absurd body of hermeneutical subtexts, the Catoninetales has a quite serious and disturbing subject. The domestic affair, to which the subtitle alludes, is the problem of apartheid and racial violence in the Southern States, which wasn’t settled by far with the ending of the Civil War. The main title is a pun that refers to a main symbol of racist claim to superiority. Cat o' nine tails is the name of a dreaded multi-tailed whip, that was used by slaveholders and also as an instrument for judicial punishment. The author states that the stripes of the American flag originated from the constant usage of this instrument.
Linton plays in his rather unfunny satire with different interpretations of the proverbial nine lives of the cat and the curiosity that killed the cat and connects them with variations of the popular nursery rhyme Who killed Cock Robin. The text says that cat Robyn, before he turned red by violent death, had been black. By undermining nursery rhymes with topical contents, Linton reverts to a common technique of radical satire, which he had already used in his House that Tweed built. Only piecemeal, what falls into place is that the decisive parts of this innocent nonsense allude to various ways of racist lynch law: drowning, hanging and shooting. Although it wasn’t by far as effective as Abel Meeropol’s and Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, Linton’s verse satire represents a first disturbing attempt to cope with this theme in metaphorical terms.
Cat o' nine tails provides further evidence that Linton’s poetry was much more a conceptual than an entertaining matter. The method of the overtone language as well as the basic plot of the ninefold death and the repeated burials and resurrections of cat Kok Robyn additionally reminds one of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and its basic plot of the death and resurrection of the drunken Irish mason. And like Joyce, Linton repeats this event in endless mythological interpretations and linguistic variations. Whereas Joyce had Giambattista Vico’s theory of historical cycles as a theoretical framework, the Catonine satire emanated from Darwin’s idea of evolution, which in Linton’s view in a last consequence would enable endless metamorphosis from “squash to cat.” Linton had experienced Darwin’s evolutionism as an instrument to justify racist claims to dominion. The levels of criticism, of which this nonsensical epic consista, do not only refer to socio-political and institutional dimensions (racism and academicism), but also explicitly to those predominant cultural doctrines of the epoch, self-referentiality and mysticism, which were the main signatures of the Aesthetic Movement.