MODO DE VOLAR

And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Multitude; for we are many."

Man & His Monsters – III Man

Monsters played an important role in the play of tensions and demarcations of the dichotomies that were more important for the justification of the place of Man: the role that hermaphrodites play with relation to the male-female dichotomy, so did all monsters with the Man-animal one, or with civilized-wild one.

This article is divided in four parts published in a row in this blog. The first part is here.


 

II – Man

 

man and his discontents

 

This odd, and at points bizarre new proximity between Man and Monster is something that appears in the Renaissance with a strength previously unknown. Calling to mind the Middle Ages’ understanding of the relation between the Natural and the Divine, we can see why such proximity was not a menacing or even tense one. In a World where Nature was not demanded to present regularity or uniformity, where there were no natural rules, laws or paths to be unveiled, and only God’s will to follow, monsters and were part of His design. Man kept his ontological – i.e. theological – centrality undefiled.

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With the rise of a regular Nature, and of those things contrasting, however, these relations change. Insofar as a natural explanation of the creation and situation of the Catholic Man is now part of the justification of his status, things that question such explanation and order are menacing to him. Either by natural or unnatural causes, monsters now needed to be explained away.

 

We will call this role played by monstrosity, in calling into question the nature-place of Man, its critical operativity. Critical for its adversity to the figure of Man; but critical, also, for the possibilities of critique it raises.[1]

 

This does not to agree perspectives that project twentieth century emotional or psychological states onto Man. The menace represented by monsters does not need to be put in the category of ‘horror’, or that of ‘anxiety’ in order to be considered.[2] Monsters played an important role in the play of tensions and demarcations of the dichotomies that were more important for the justification of the place of Man: the role that hermaphrodites play with relation to the male-female dichotomy, so did all monsters with the Man-animal one, or with civilized-wild one. Commonly, the idea of monstrosity was not only associated with these brinks, but also to the verges between Man and the Divine: «We have become accustomed to call Monster… all which appears rarely, & that far surpasses… the order & the Laws of its species. Hence we have called Monsters the great Men, who… approached Divinity. In contrast, we have also called Monsters, the Men who live like beasts (…). Enfin, we have characterized with the same name, both women of ravishing beauty, and women whose deformity creates fear.»[3]

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As for monstrous births, that might not fit in the gaps between Man and the Divine, between Man and natural beasts, one should have in mind that Demons also presented a form of alterity at this point. If nothing else, the vastness and scrutiny of the prosecution of witchcraft resolutely show us how the barriers between the Devil and humans was not a crystal-clear demarcation.[4]

 

Despite admitting that «European authors used exotic races to test and explore fundamental boundaries in their own culture,» Daston and Park argue that the horror at times provoked by monsters «did not spring simply from the confusion of categories… its roots lay rather in the perceived violation of moral norms.» At such time, however, moral norms and theological and natural categories were intricately related, and at times coextensive. Early Modern morality was transparently a form of categorizing and of maintaining categories.[5] Take the heresies of the flesh: That a man should not lay with another man, or that a woman should not lay with a beast were, first of all, moral statements; but they were also statements on the nature of the subjects – their male or female essence, their animal or human nature – and hence statements that created an reified categories, divisions, and natural and moral order.

 

 

man in doubt

 

The critical role of monstrosity became even more preponderant with the european exploration of the world, and with the discovery of new beings and new monsters. In fact, the discussion of what Man is appears throughout the european Early Modern period: the scholarly Valladolid Debate of 1550, for example, on whether indians were or were not human and  on the existence of their soul, speaks directly to it, as does the inclusion of an african man in Aldrovandi’s Historia, referred to above.

One of the most manifest examples of the reflexive dangers provoked by the expansion of the known world is to be found in Anthropometamorphosis, where John Buwler compares several traditions of body modification. These traditions, however, were not just those from the non-Christian peoples; it was also included in such comparative analysis the several habits that could be found in europe. Written during a turbulent time of english politics, this book has been read as a piece of political theory.[6] But one has to ask what allowed for body modifications to be used politically in such a way, and the answer cannot put aside the restlessness felt towards the figure of Man. What else could bring together in a single book the humanoid monstrosities from across the world with his last chapter on The Pedigree of the English Man?

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[1] See e.g. Mittman & Dendle (2012)

[2] Daston & Park (1998), chap. 5. for ‘horror’ and Kappler (1999) 20-1, 27,  Lecouteux (1982) 330-32 and Roy (1975) for ‘anxiety’.

[3] Liceti, k(1708) chap. 1

[4] Clark (1999), Weisner (2000), chap. 7

[5] Davidson (1991)

[6] Burns (1999)

 

 

 

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