Monthly Archives: March 2018

Grendel’s Lobsterhood

The concept of the boundary transgressing animals is somewhat ridiculous to explain what animals and things humans find bizarre. Venus fly traps are flowers that eat bugs like a lizard. Lobsters are large arthropods that walk along the ocean floor. Pangolins have armor like a dinosaur. Platypuses are semi-aquatic mammals with beaks that lay eggs like a duck. I agree that all of these animals make humans feel weird as they are not easily classified or categorized in the broad general categories.

Monsters occupy different categories. Classic monsters from movie and literature occupy the space between life and death, human and animal, man and machine. Zombies, vampires, cyborgs, and of course beings that are supernatural and human. Giants in the bible are the sons of fallen angels and human women.

Grendel from Beowulf is a great example. He is the son of a scaly, female lizard monster and Cain, who murdered his brother Abel and was exiled from civilization by God. Cain’s clan, at least in the imagined Denmark of Beowulf, is an entire race of humanoid monsters. Grendel has fur and his mother has scales, putting them apart from the relatively hairless apes that are people. Grendel’s mother lives beyond human civilization in an untouched swamp that sucks up and drowns all men who enter (except the superhuman Beowulf).

Grendel, who is more human lives in the border lands of human civilization. He is neither man or beast, wanders about the moors, and raids the walled-off, civilized world at night for food. He eats both livestock, like people, but also eats people, cannibalism which is taboo in most human cultures. Grendel is half-human thus this might make him a demi-cannibal? Does Grendel himself howl as he himself knows he is violating this taboo? This argument of Grendel being an existential outcast reminds of John Gardner’s Grendel novel. Grendel works as Grendel himself is a boundary transgressing animal. He is feared by men like men were apprehensive about eating lobsters, giant ocean floor bugs, until lobsters became a luxury good to conspicuously consume.

From Divided Worlds to Divided Selves

The concept of the divided self is an interesting one. That concept being that people divide self-perception into the conceptions that there are multiple versions of themselves: the involatile inner being that is the true self untethered by the demands of work and then a external, volatile one that is materially imperfect and must perform the various unpleasantries necessary for human survival. The idea is that this is what let’s us function as citizens in a democratic society where everyone shares in sovereignty. There is a certain unalienable part of you that belongs only to you that cannot be taken away no matter how dehumanizing your occupation or circumstances are. That garbageman in public might drive a truck in a dirt-covered jumpsuit but in private he might be shred on guitar, organize horror film conventions, or help feed the orphans on the weekend. These are all totally separate from his occupation in waste management which covers him in filth everyday. The occupation in which the garbageman is seen by his customers performing in public is different from his true, private inner-self, which could be anything. He might be an inner-garbageman and dream of more efficient ways of dumping cans while

This divided self allowed every individual to be sovereign in a republic or democracy. There is a part of them equal to everyone else that cannot be taken away no matter how low a rung they occupied. A garbageman covered in filth therefore has an inner aspect of himself that cannot be reduced by the trash he picks up. An individual spirit that cannot be tarnished or taken away. More lucrative or prestigious occupations would also have this inner, private undiminished self that gives them the same undiminished, slight, and equal share of sovereignty.

People prior to the enlightenment had no concept of this. People were embodied by who they where and which rung they occupied in society. Everything about them was drawn from this. John the smith was a smith as his father was a smith and he would not have been considered to as have the same sort of soul as say a lord or a king. What is interesting is this conception of a unified self is more in line with their perception of the hear and now of the material world. People were what they were as that is what they were then and there.

The pre-Modern mind used that perception to conceive an entire weltanschauung from it where the spiritual world manifested itself in the material, then and there, beyond the creation myths and supernatural forces ordering the natural forces that pre-modern people could perceive but not understand. Things happened to people, people were who they were, and the world was as they were due to the divine spirit world beyond the perception of humanity. This spiritual world was perfect while the material one was flawed and filthy. Even a “self” could not be perfect as it was manifested from the idea of what it was, the logos, that was created by God (or the Gods) and manifested down the great chain of creation into a flawed person. A blacksmith could never be perfect and neither could a king but a king is obviously more moral and better than the blacksmith as the spirit world made him a king in the material one.

Post-Enlightenment modernity abandons this. Such platonic universlas were disproven with Aristotelian logic in the High Middle Ages and Renaissance. This may have provided the roots of actual universal sovereignty of the people as everything was no longer ordained by God. A king or rich man still held a a higher place in human society and had an easier life than a blacksmith or a garbageman. Some are more prosperous than others due to birth, personality, or fortune. The concept that people have another person inside of them who they are externally gets around this issue. Coincidentally with the mass change in forms of governance from absolute monarchies to republics and parliamentary constitutional monarchies, humanity in effect went from a mass conception, unfounded in perception of the material world, of a divided reality to another equally unfounded in the physical perception of divided personhood.