Sunday, December 28, 2008

Egg & Identity (Identity)

I recently dined at a little breakfast place in the Las Vegas area, called Egg Works. Egg Works is a branch off of an older successful restaurant called Egg & I. The food was good and I have no complaints regarding the restaurant itself; however, I found myself disturbed by some of the artwork displayed. I think, in my admittedly overly analytical perspective, that there lays an interesting philosophical dilemma portrayed, however unintentionally.

The restaurant has an obvious egg-related theme. Anthropomorphic egg cartoons are present everywhere throughout the place: the menu, the windows, the wall, the condiment containers, which feature a nifty little device for signaling waiters that has a happy face when you’re fine and a sad face when you need service, and in the logo. The eggs all exhibit distinct characteristics that separate them from each other; although there are no specific characters, there are the authoritative egg, the humble egg, the enthusiastic egg, the content egg, and others. The logo features a boy egg and a girl egg who are embraced in a hug and clearly infatuated with each other.

The problem comes from a notice in the display stand at each table, which announces the new location of Egg Works as opposed to the previously singular Egg & I location. I snapped a picture of it when I was there, but as the picture is highly fuzzy, I’ll describe it here. The notice is themed to look like a newspaper, the “EGGNEWS”, with a front page article describing the new opening location:


Egg Works new location at Sunset and Eastern
hatched in July!

help us celebrate the new arrival!

And alongside the note is (oh my god…) a hatching chicken. The egg is in pieces, and in the shell sits a baby chicken. The chick has its wings open in delight, a goofy smile on its face. So, my question is… what happened to the intelligence governing the egg persona it once was?

Eggs are people in the artwork of Egg Works. They have intelligence and individual personalities. When an egg hatches, what becomes of that person? When they are eggs, is the intelligence suspended in the developing egg yolk, which would then operate the shell body as a brain, the ghost in the literal shell? If so, perhaps the chicken would exist as a continuation of that same person, much as a caterpillar undergoing metamorphosis into a butterfly. However, suppose the chick is a new life, as the note about the “new arrival” would suggest. Have we witnessed the death of a lovable egg person?

The situation makes me recall the bittersweet world of Haibane Renmei, an anime about rebirth. The anime takes place in what appears to be a world in between worlds, a weigh station for the souls of children yet to go on to their next life, whatever that may be. The Haibane are these angel-like children who are reborn into this world, Guri, through being hatched out of room-filling cocoons that grow from plants that appear in abandoned buildings. Before they emerge from their cocoons, Haibane experience a vivid dream that would appear to be a last remnant of their previous life, basically their deaths. Aside from the rapidly fading memory of this dream, the Haibane are born into the world without knowledge of who they once were and subsequently take names based on their dreams. So, we have Rakka (falling), Nemu (sleep), Kuu (air), Kana (river fish), and Hikari (light) – people whose memories of their past selves are limited only to their final moments.

Eventually, every Haibane leaves on their Day of Flight. Although their angelic wings are useless for true aerodynamic ascension, they can leave the walled-in town of Guri through a mysterious process in which they enter the forbidden woods to the west and ascend to the sky in a miraculous light beam, leaving behind only a burnt halo. The Haibane always leaves suddenly without saying goodbye, after their character has evolved to the point where they no longer have need of Guri and can make their way to their next life.

When the once-childish Kuu leaves on her Day of Flight, Rakka is thrown into depression. If I am destined to leave here, never to return, she wonders, does my life mean anything? When the representative of the Renmei, the local government, assures her that she will see Kuu again upon her own Day of Flight, this does little to ease her troubled mentality. What if Kuu doesn’t recognize her? What if there is no memory of her previous existence?

This life-and-death metaphor is rather different from the Egg Works case in that, for one thing, the stages of life and afterlife of Haibane Renmei are completely separate universes. While a crow, representing one of Rakka’s loved ones from her past life, managed to get from Earth to Guri, there is no indication that its soul was able to get back. There are hopes and intuitive suspicions, but ultimately no one knows what the next life may bring. This is not necessarily the case of the Egg Works cartoons, which may plausibly have a hatched chick exist at the same time as of one of the other egg people.

This opens up the doorway for more issues. If the former-egg and one of its egg buddies interact, will they know each other or will they be strangers? The tint of the egg shell matches that of the girl egg in the logo, making me suspect that they might be one and the same. It breaks my heart to think of the boy egg talking to the hatched chick unable to resume their former relationship, much like the plot of The Notebook.

In conclusion… I embrace over analyzing stuff. I have no doubt that the creators of the anthropomorphic egg artwork never meant anything more than to add a little playful atmosphere to a family breakfast place. However, I do have a great interest in the philosophical subject of identity, and that my idle thoughts on their egg cartoons should provoke such questions is only evidence of the continued preoccupation I have with the subject. In the end, the main reason I wrote this is that my going on about the “philosophical issues” present in the egg art prompted my dad to sarcastically suggest I “write a blog about it.” So I did. :)

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