Our Monsters, Ourselves

100_4079The MONSTEROUS plays an enormous role in literature and the human imagination—from the Book of Revelation and Dante’s Inferno to Nosferatu and Mad Monster Party.

It also plays a large role in politics—as in the demonizing, by the far right, of Barack Obama as a secret terrorist—and possibly the Antichrist (or BEAST) of the “End Times.”

And I was thinking this morning about what it would feel like to be a MONSTER (as opposed to merely encountering a monster).

In other words, what, exactly, would it feel like to be a monster from the inside?

In his Inferno, Dante grouped SINNERS IN HELL into three broad categories (based on Aristotle’s Ethics):

  • The incontinent (in other words, those possessed by compulsiveness, and a lack of self-control, as in sexual desire and gluttony)
  • The violent (those who give reign in their souls to anger and hatred, and lash out at themselves, at God, or at others)
  • The fraudulent (those who put on appearances for purposes of exploiting, deceiving, or betraying others)

In Dante’s scheme, the incontinent cause God the least displeasure, and the fraudulent the most. And so it is that Judas, the betrayer of Christ with a FALSE KISS, is in the lowest circle of hell, and is gnawed upon in the very mouth of Satan. To betray the exchange of love, and send false signals to others, is the greatest of sins, for it ruptures the value of existence.

Who, afterall, would want to live in a world without LOVE, or in a world where those around you do not really love you?

And it occurred to me that Dante’s categories (and Aristotle’s), when they fail en tout, and are accompanied by power over others, is what makes one a MONSTER.

A monster, in other words, is something driven by its hungers, indifferent to the harm it causes to others, and—if the monster has intelligence—is devoted to constructing multiple layers of DECEIT in the singular pursuit of its objects.

Needless to say, much of our behavior as humans is thus monsterous, as when we fight in war or engage in cut-throat social or financial advancement.

Something else that characterizes monsters is their MONSTROSITY. In other words, there is something not quite right about how a monster is put together (as with Dr. Frankenstein’s monster). A monster is in the world, but somehow does not belong to it. It violates the ecology and harmony of the world by its very appearance. It seems to break down categories (being, for example, half horse and half man, as a centaur is).

Likewise, we as humans, experience ourselves as not quite right in the world. For example, we are in a world of plants and animals, and our bodies have evolved from animals, but we alone have consciousness. We are in this world, but don’t exactly seem to belong to it.

And our bodies fail our ideals—we see ourselves as imperfect.

In short, to know what it’s like to be a monster, we need go no further than to look into a mirror and get in touch with our own inner states and motivations.

The monsterous is without and within.

We are, as it were, living like Jonah in the belly of a sublime monster—which is the universe itself—and ourselves.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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