In honour of Halloween we explored monsters in media yesterday. Zombies, vampires, aliens invaders--the monstrous makes it appearance in our world in any number of ways. What does our fascination with these creatures mean? Why do we enjoy being scared out of our wits? These and other questions were part of our class exploration. It's been said that monsters have their 'tentacles wrapped around the foundations of history', every age and culture seems to have them--the Middle Ages was fascinated with bestial humans, the Renaissance era with wolf-people and conjoined humans, the early modern world with Frankenstein and Dracula, on and on throughout our histories, these monsters and strangers appear again and again.
There are Biblical monsters and biblical roots for our western monsters--Leviathan and Behemoth--the Great Dragon--the Devil--an amalgam of any number of biblical images coalesced into that figure which is at the root of much of our monstrous imagination.
I talked a bit from Richard Kearney's remarkable book, Strangers, Gods and Monsters. He argues that these three figures are the backbone of our self-narration. Strangers operate as a limit experience for us as we try and identify ourselves over and against others--Greeks and their Barbarians, the Europeans their 'savages' etc. Gods are those figures whose power and mystery exceeds our grasp and monsters signal borderline experiences reminding us that we are never wholly sovereign. All of these ideas play out in our cultural imagination and story-telling. These creatures defy the accepted norms of identification and invite us to consider again and again what it means to be human. They are the expression of our fears and concerns, as well as our hopes and aspirations--they say the unsayable, says Kearney.
I quoted John Sallis--What if the truth were monstrous? But nobody really bit on that one, so I didn't explore it too far. I really like the Foucault quote--that the monsters change with the history of knowledge--you can trace their expansion and multiplicity as our world becomes more and more inter-connected and over-loaded---monsters and strangers multiply in our story-telling---a tale of Vampires coming out (True Blood) becomes a pluralized world of vampires, witches, shape-shifters, fairies, more and more strange creatures echoing and voicing our fears and challenges in the 21st century. As our understanding of the universe expands it is no longer just the Martians attacking, it is alien civilizations of all kinds (District 9, Alien etc, etc.) and even technology and technological aberrations (Bladerunner, I Robot etc) become part of our monstrous exploration of human self-understanding.