Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Not of One Skin

April 08. WSB: "April is the cruellest month mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain ..."

Was reading The Book of Werewolves, by Sabine Baring-Gould, and A Lycanthropy Reader, edited by Charlotte F. Otten, reading casually, i.e., not front to back, or even completely. Also was reading several books of compiled Norse mythology, including the beautifully illustrated D’Aulaires Book of Norse Myths. Thinking about werewolves, beserkers, transformation, lack of control. I’d written a paragraph-long bit of prose for an exhibition catalog accompanying a show about transformation, about shape-changing, which gets to the heart of what I'd been thinking about:

Transformation is not always or even usually willed. Consider lycanthropy. Werewolves are subject to wildness temporarily and involuntarily. The pathos of the lycanthrope lies in his intermittent social malfunctioning and inability to cope with the consequences. Although usually yoked to metaphors for bestialized libido, the figure of unfettered sexuality he cuts would better be subsumed under a larger umbrella: the death drive. Why not a cipher instead for alcoholism? Self-sabotage? Addiction to failure? Abdication of responsibility? Extreme hate? Abandonment of ambitions? Bipolar disorder? Suicide? The werewolf surveys the havoc he has wrought remorsefully, like an alchoholic sobering up after a bender. The shape into which he shifts does not fit into social norms, nor should it necessarily. Thus, as much as he victimizes others, his wolf-form also makes of his humanity the prey of his predatory behavior. As both lion and lamb to himself, he is also a figure of Poetry.

Also thinking about Gauguin: his directness; his intense, symbolic color. What's left of him after feminist, anti-racist, and postcolonial critiques have picked over him is something yet sympathetic: a desire for radical Otherness in an increasingly homogenous world. An exhilarating, horrifying Otherness might yet be found inside, in the evil that we resist and yet to which we continually succumb.

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