Last week we considered the importance of narrative in monster-wrangling, and looked at the ultimate weapon of the Powers, the narrative opiate of the people: the Myth of Redemptive Violence. This week we unveil the people’s ultimate weapon, subversive agape, and wrap up the series.
Who Will Be Othered First?
If the proper battlefield for wresting control of our monsters from the Powers is Story, the People would seem to be outgunned from the beginning. This is true a fortiori in those parts of the world where people have “sold their birthright for a pot of message,” largely turning story-telling over to the mass media.
Since storytelling is how we remember things, this puts communal memory at the mercy of Mammon, the vampiric idol of the market that along with zombie Moloch makes up the military-industrial Power. Very little need be said about how deadly Its preferred narrative is to a fully human life: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
Worse, whoever controls the narrative has the high ground in the battle to determine against whom the monsters are used: that is, who will be othered. That narrative structure—the Myth of Redemptive Violence—is all too familiar: dial down the empathy, dial up the tribalism, and unleash the violence against that which is licit to kill. Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.
If You Can’t Beat Them, Invite Them to Dinner
We’ve already seen that you can’t fight a myth politically, especially not the very one that lies at the root of the political system, whose last resort is violence. (The eucatastrophe ofthe movie Time Bandits shows this reality vividly when the “good guys” bring allies from other centuries to rescue the protagonist only to find that Evil controls the weapons.) This, too, is ancient knowledge, whose first great flowering some call the Axial Age, when humanity seems to have woken to the realities of the Powers in many and varied cultures between 800 and 200 BCE.
The fruits of that awakening are equally varied, but for the Western World, the one of most interest in the present context is agape, a total commitment to the well-being of the other. The very word itself illustrates the origins of the Western world in the collision of two Axial traditions, a term of Greek philosophy used to describe the table-fellowship practices used by a Jewish prophet to demonstrate the fundamental nature of God.
The enacted parable of universal commensality is highly subversive, striking at the very heart of the othering strategy fundamental to redemptive violence. What greater collection of First Century monsters could you find than the tax-collectors, collaborators, and terrorists often found hanging out with the notorious glutton and wine-bibber from Nazareth?
Spiking the Canon
Of course, it’s hard to imagine issuing a dinner invitation to Hannibal Lecter, who we saw incarnates so well the military-industrial Power we contend against. But if we break him down into his component archetypes, the vampire Mammon and zombie Moloch, it becomes at least imaginable.
In fact, we’ve already wrested much of the vampire away from our masters. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has been doing it for over 30 years with the vampire-hero St. Germain. More recently, Joss Whedon took Spike the Vampire from soulless monster to repentant human, although it took several seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, itself a deliciously subversive deconstruction of redemptive violence, to get there. These are but two examples of what subversive agape looks like in action.
Zombies are a genre I have little interest in, except as comedy, like The Evil Dead. So it’s a little harder for me to imagine table fellowship with zombies, due to their distressing habit of dropping body parts in the soup, but I imagine it’s already happening to some degree. Perhaps the breakthrough will come by applying subversive agape not to zombies but to some other modern projection of the archetype; I’d suggest that Norman Spinrad made a good start on this with his novel Osama the Gun.
No matter what the monster, the strategy is the same: look into the Abyss, find it looking back, and then dust off the mirror. Repeat as needed. If one does it often enough, one may eventually be able to do it with illegal immigrants or banksters or even worse monsters, like the little old lady whose cats dig up your flower beds.
Or, as Rumi, a poet deeply immersed in yet another Axial tradition, tells us with another commensal image:
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.