All posts tagged: monsters

Dostoevsky on the Demonic Decimation of a Shareable World

One way of thinking of the modern demonic is that it is marked by an otherness viewed not as a threatening outside, but a shocking inside contributing to the doubling of a self that cannot find ballast and thereby becomes capable of intentional forms of evil far beyond the circumscription of the human flesh and psyche. Given this definition, my proposal is that the literary figure who is most penetrating and expansive on the topic is Fyodor Dostoevsky. There are other writers with plausible claims to this mantle, perhaps one of the French trio of André Gide, Georges Bataille, and Jean Genet, maybe even William Golding who unerringly exposes our collective illusions regarding sympathy and fraternity throughout his oeuvre and not simply in Lord of the Flies. Needless to say, under scrutiny the bona fides of Golding as the connoisseur of the modern demonic do not hold up. As a writer Golding is more focused on the return of the repressed than on the endlessly spiraling reflection that is the ground of acts of evil …

Dostoevsky’s Literary Burden of Representing Saints

Perhaps no one in the history of modern literature was as conscious as Dostoevsky regarding the literary burden taken on when it came to presenting or representing an unassailably good person. Such a depiction was weighed down with representational disadvantages: it took talent but was not impossible to depict a great sinner who undergoes conversion or is capable of such; it took a unique talent, someone of Dostoevsky’s psychological acuity, to lay bare the psyche of the person alienated from others, self, and God and free-falling into incoherence. But how to depict a truly good man, indeed, a man who is nothing short of a saint, someone who has died to self and made himself available to others, was a task for which Dostoevsky was unsure that his or indeed anyone’s literary gifts were a match. Hagiography is a genre of long-standing, but no modern writer confuses it with literature, which requires characters that are not only believable in the modern world, but show the capacity to negotiate and transcend it. But just such a …

4 Reasons Why Christians Should Read Dante’s Paradiso

To insist that a Christian should read the Paradiso is a far more specific injunction than to enjoin her to read good religious literature where she can find it or even to read the Divina Commedia. It is more bold as well as more specific than even the latter, since it has become a cliché in 20th century reception of the Paradiso that poetically it is the least realized part of Dante’s great epic. The general opinion is that as a poet Dante is at his best in the Inferno, even if it has become a commonplace to express humanistic reservations about the sadistic forms of comeuppance to be found throughout all the circles of hell. Still, even for those critics who wish to impress on us their refined moral sensibility at its very worst the Inferno is a masterpiece of horror in which Dante provides objective correlatives for our deepest fears (explored in the series which this essay concludes). Thus, it should not come as a surprise that not only has the Inferno found a …

Kant and de Sade: The Modern Recalibration of the Monstrous and the Demonic

Demons and Monsters With regard to the imagining of who we are, and who we could become, 1794 was no ordinary year. This was the year in which the ever-reliable Immanuel Kant, whose walks in Konigsberg were such that you could set your watch by them, wrote a strange and spectral book called Religion within the Boundaries of Reason Alone, a book that seemed at once to recall the thinker of a few years earlier while also presenting a stranger who was more familiar with evil than anyone—including his erstwhile self—might have guessed. If Kant surprised himself by feeling compelled to write about “radical evil” in book 1, he shocked Goethe who, feeling betrayed, decried what he judged to be an inexplicable regression to the hateful Christian doctrine of Original Sin. Goethe was only somewhat right in linking Kant’s view of radical evil to the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, and if right at all perhaps only by accident in that certainly Kant intended to debunk Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin and any of its …

The Stare of Medusa and the Return Gaze of Christ

It is just one of Nietzsche’s many bon mots that if one stares at evil long enough it looks back. As is usual with Nietzsche there is an implied boast. We divide into the strong and the weak depending on whether we can or are willing to endure this look or looking back. Nietzsche leaves us in no doubt as to which camp he belongs in, even if with all the bravado about amor fati we sometimes get the impression in reading him that he is expecting as much our pity as our admiration. Still, the aphorism is powerful, and it is powerful not only because it is scintillating in its expression, but because it is experientially apt. Over the centuries, as they looked at and into the world, victims as well as victimizers have experienced the force of that look or counter-look that announced that all hope should be abandoned and that our abused flesh empty itself of everything that makes it human and all will to be human. With regard to victims we …