Comic book characters are often unreal, fantastic, hyperbolic distortions of people. But the exaggeration may work like an X-ray, revealing the inner monster, or showing some virtual reality, or uncovering a facsimile of truth or beauty. The cartoon form exaggerates features, of a landscape, an idea, a face, enabling the author to make fun of some relatively small tic by accenting it, drawing it out of proportion. But out of proportion to what? The feature could be a pothole in the street, the idea of chivalry, or a haircut.
Speaking of haircuts, I got one last week. I went to a place I’d never been before, over in the Hawthorne district, a small, stand-alone, two-chair shop. I get my hair cut only about twice a year. Not because I’m losing my hair. My hair still grows like, well –
“It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear.”
My hairdresser whispered Dante to her partner as I left the shop.
It’s not the first time I’ve thought of my hair as a forest or jungle, wondering if the curly mess didn’t suggest an objective correlative for the syntax mess within. In any case, one is easily lost there. And it’s a hard thing to cut, let alone speak of – continuing in the hyperbolic realm of the comic book.
After my haircut, I continued to wander, and I found a copy of “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” in a thrift store over on Division. One of my sisters recommended the book a couple of years ago. I glanced through it and saw this:
“’Who cut your hair like this?’ asked the hairdresser indignantly once I had, with a Dantean effort, entrusted to her the mission of transforming my head of hair into a domesticated work of art.”
The girl handling the thrift store exchanges said nothing about my hair, but she did complement my selection of “Hedgehog,” in agreement with my sister.
As I left the thrift store, hedgehog in hand, a car screamed to a stop in the middle of the street, its driver, a damsel in freaked-out distress, teetering on the edge of a pothole the size of the Chicxulub crater. I chivalrously placed my hedgehog over the pothole, and Beatrice drove safely on, a beatific look of driving peace on her face. “Nice haircut,” she said, as she drove by.
I’m on page 60 of “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” the chapter beginning “Homespun Cowls.”
“The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” 2006, by Muriel Barbery, translated from French, “L’Élégance du hérisson,” by Alison Anderson, Europa Editions, 2008, 325 pages.