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Strangers, God And Monsters Essay

1465 words - 6 pages

Strangers, gods and monsters represent experiences of extremity which bring us to the edge. They subvert our established categories and challenge us to think again. And because they threaten the known with the unknown, they are often set apart in fear and trembling. Exiled to hell or heaven; or simply ostracized from the human community into a land of aliens.The figure of the 'stranger' - ranging from the ancient notion of 'foreigner' (xenos) to the contemporary category of alien invader - frequently operates as a limit-experience for humans trying to identify themselves over and against others. Greeks had their 'barbarians', Romans their Etruscans, Europeans their exotic overseas 'savages'. The western myth of the frontier epitomizes this, for example, when Pilgrim encounters Pequot on the shores of Massachusetts and asks 'Who is this stranger?' Not realizing, of course, that the native Pequot is asking exactly the same question of the arrivals from Plymouth. Strangers are almost always other to each other.'Monsters' also signal borderline experiences of uncontainable excess, reminding the ego that it is never wholly sovereign. Many great myths and tales bear witness to this. Oedipus and the Sphinx. Theseus and the Minotaur. Job and Leviathan. Saint George and the Dragon. Beowulf and Grendel. Ahab and the Whale. Lucy and the Vampire. Ripley and the Alien. Each monster narrative recalls that the self is never secure in itself. 'There are monsters on the prowl', as Michel Foucault writes, 'whose form changes with the history of knowledge'. 1 For as our ideas of self-identity alter so do our ideas of what menaces this identity. Liminal creatures of the unknown shift and slide, change masks. We are of the earth, they whisper, autochthonous. We are carriers of the mark of Cain, hobbled by the Achilles heel of a primal unconscious. Monsters show us that if our aims are celestial, our origins are terrestrial. They ghost the margins of what can be legitimately thought and said. By definition unrecognizable, they defy our accredited norms of identification. Unnatural, transgressive, obscene, contradictory, heterogeneous, mad. Monsters are what keep us awake at night and make us nervous during the day. And even when they claim as in Monsters Inc. that 'they only scare because they care', they still scare.And what of 'gods'? Gods are the names given by most mythologies and religions to those beings whose numinous power and mystery exceed our grasp and bid us kneel and worship. Sometimes they are benign, at other times cruel and capricious. But whatever their character they refuse to be reduced to the bidding of mortals. Transcending laws of time and space, they readily take on immortal or protean status. Gods' ways are not our ways. They bedazzle and surprise us. It is not ours to reason why. But where monsters arise from underworlds, and strangers intrude from hinterworlds, gods generally reside in otherworlds beyond us. Whether it be Jehovah, Zeus or...

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