Saturday, February 19, 2011

Twilight Selves: Cannibalism, Werewolves and Identity Part #3

By Mr. VI

(This is the third and final post in a series. Part 1 and Part 2.)

We've talked about wolfish behaviours in previous articles, and of the apparent admiration they garner from the general populace, despite the supposed moral outrage. Topically, at the time of writing, the Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi is due to be placed on trial in April on charges of having sex with a minor.

As writer and thinker Jasmina Tešanović put it in a post on the widely read Boing Boing blog:

'Silvio Berlusconi will be the first head of a G-7 state to be arraigned in court on charges of paid sex with a minor. '

The G-7 are seven of the largest developed countries whose finance ministers meet once a year to discuss economic and financial policy. In terms of elites and finance, such a group is surely an exemplar. These 'developed' countries are supposedly world-leaders, they literally have provided other nations with something to aspire in terms of wealth and power.

Yet one of their leaders allegedly performed an act which, amongst others, might be seen as a few inches above the ultimate crime in the West – that of paedophilia:

'The Church as well as Catholic believers are divided. It's not about sex, says one of the high ranked church officials: hardly any Italian anymore confesses those misdeeds as sins. It's his way of doing it. Then there's the hardcore of Italian machismo, who aspire to that level of misbehavior themselves, and frankly admire Berlusconi for his orgies.


So what did Berlusconi do so wrong in his unfortunate dalliance with Ruby, and the numerous other girls that he invited to his home and paid generously? The court in Milan issued 27 pages of evidence. Ruby was a minor when she was partying "bunga bunga" style at his place, and he knew it. Ruby was caught stealing from friends, and he freed her from the police although the cops had her in custody as a minor. Ruby was an illegal immigrant, and he smilingly promised to forge her papers for her.

Finally, he arranged to deceive the Italian police by absurdly claiming that Ruby was the niece of recently deposed president Hosni Mubarak, in order to set her free.'

Yes, that Mubarak. The former de facto dictator of Egypt who was ousted by a popular insurrection after 29 years. Currently, a wave of unrest is sweeping the Middle-East. Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Bahrain – all these places are writhing against the status quo.

All these are protesting against the current power-dynamic in their nations, and they are doing so by banding together, becoming a pack which may very well topple regimes through sheer force of numbers and will.

These are not bloodless revolutions either, and nor should we expect them to be. A vicious response from the power-holding elite is to be expected. Teeth must be shown; the urbane suited figures must shift to strike and strike hard. It is the size and connectivity of the band which is the threat, and thus the bonds must be severed – a reflex which may be seen with the clamp-down on internet access in affected countries.

Terror is therefore the primary weapon deployed by such an elite, that and speed. These things are archetypically wolfish, as mentioned with the Harii and the berserkers in the last post. They are affects, in the Deluezian sense. Communication is also an affect – it's no coincidence that elites often have controlling interests in the media. Berlusconi is the head of a vast media empire after all, and it is standard practice of dictators to control television and newspapers. The transmission of ideas, whether they be open or cryptic, and the way they are received and used by those within the group is also a characteristic of the group itself.

These affects are what shape and maintain the identity. By partaking of the affects they reinforce the identity – by acting wolfishly, they reinforce the perception of themselves as wolf which enhances the potency of the actions taken-as-wolf, creating a feedback loop.

This reinforcement further emphasises the predator/prey dynamic. Mythologically speaking, it is possible to assume wolf-shape by wearing a skin, as mentioned with the ulfheðnar in the previous post, or drinking from a wolf's paw print - to name two examples.

Terror and rapidity of hostility subject the victims to a significant perceived threat which triggers behaviours within the reptile brain in the same way that enforced scarcity may render a 'need' for protection and leadership.

This scarcity plays a large part in many mythological narratives. In the previous post, I touched on Valhalla, and Judeo-Christian and Islamic thought also posits a post-mortem existence where the adherents-as-elect may be freed from scarcity.

late 12c., "Garden of Eden," from O.Fr. paradis, from L.L. paradisus, from Gk. paradeisos "park, paradise, Garden of Eden," from an Iranian source, cf. Avestan pairidaeza "enclosure, park" (Mod.Pers. and Arabic firdaus "garden, paradise"), compound of pairi- "around" + diz "to make, form (a wall)." The first element is cognate with Gk. peri- "around, about" (see peri-), the second is from PIE base *dheigh- "to form, build" (see dough). The Gk. word, originally used for an orchard or hunting park in Persia, was used in Septuagint to mean "Garden of Eden," and in New Testament translations of Luke xxiii.43 to mean "heaven" (a sense attested in Eng. from c.1200). Meaning "place like or compared to Paradise" is from c.1300.
Running throughout these religions is the motif of mankind's fall from grace – quite literally a refusal to abide by the conditions wherein the species may remain in pre-scarcity bliss. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed – these individuals purportedly carried the knowledge of the conditions which would once again return humanity to a place where scarcity no longer occurs.

Those who follow these conditions are able to achieve reintegration, and those who do not are doomed to wander outside the ultimate gated community, until the inevitable forces that engender privation and scarcity destroy the world – literally all that is extant – and it is remade as being perfect.

So runs the standard exoteric interpretation, an interpretation which a variety of fundamentalist sects have taken to heart. Regardless of the iteration of the monotheist stream, they have performed an act of spectacular hermeneutics:

The chosen – chosen by virtue of adherence to practices which form an identity – are due to inhabit this walled garden and are thus apart from the general populace. The world-as-is exists solely to bring about the exteriority of this new environment.

God, or Allah is utterly exterior to the human world – for it is the domain of the Devil, imperfect and lacking in the full grace of co-existence with deity. The prophets and/or Christ are agents of that grace – to Christians, the potency of Jesus is that he is the living embodiment of that grace.

To the fundamentalists mentioned, the world is hence something to be ended.

The environment is thus a resource to be consumed, and the unbeliever to be eliminated or converted. The ending and removal of all that does not acknowledge the utter exteriority of the deity actually hastens a return to grace.

Or to put it bluntly; killing or converting the unbeliever gets your name on the Paradisial guest list. It makes opening time come quicker. This is the doctrine espoused at multiple points through the ages, most notably during the Crusades, and finds its most violent expression in the modern-day suicide bombers.

It is at the root of much sectarian religious violence, and the reflex to sacralise – literally 'to set apart' also echoes this exteriority. To many fundamentalists, they are strangers to the world. It is their job to re-order it according to the precepts of their group. There are myriad religious groups who campaign for certain changes to be made – too many and varied to be discussed here.

This same reflex is often what forms pressure groups, and on a larger scale forms the protests we have been seeing. The urge to break down current structures and change their arrangement is what binds them together and gives them an identity. The protests in Egypt were not designed to kill or destroy the nation, rather they were to cannibalize and re-purpose the structures within it.

But, ironically it is an analysis of the suicide bomber/terrorist as the exemplar of modern bogeyman which lead us to an intriguing proposition. The primary weapon is that of fear, something it shares with many existing power-structures. What is unique, is that the suicide bomber operates from a position of inexorable success because they can induce that affect without an army or police force.

Even if they fail to detonate, do damage or kill people, the mere fact that they exist induces terror. They hold the status quo in a double bind. Even the fact that they might exist has an effect.

What's more, like werewolves, they often appear ordinary until a critical point - until they change into the extra-ordinary. This means that anybody has the potential to be one.

As such, the doctrine of total war occurs when an entire population may become 'weaponised' – everyone becomes a weapon in potentia. Far from it being driven merely by radicals, politically Egypt and other movements prove that a population has a potential to detonate – everyone carries the 'virus' of 'lycanthropy.'

This does not limit itself to politics either – one may argue the potential to form packs is inherent to humanity, and the narrative of the werewolf is one that is inherently liminal. One bite, one contact with a sorcerer, one horrific combat experience and it may emerge.

This is in itself amoral – a simple fact. One event may affect a larger group. The werewolf is inherently a myth about bonding and connection, even when viewed as the outsider or Other. It does not have to be elitist, rather it can be read as a figure in constant flux, emblematic of necessity and change.

Rather than being isolationist, it can serve as an acknowledgement of the very concept of identity itself being shared amongst all; if it stands for recognition of difference, as a borderland figure, it provides entrance and exit.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, St. Christopher, patron saint of ferrymen, travellers and many others, is held to have been dog-headed, while in Egypt the jackal headed god Anubis served as guide to the dead.

Immersion in the archetype provides us with an in-between state of utmost potential, regardless of circumstance. Once again we return to the idea that scarcity need not apply, only this time through utilisation of personal resources applied to whatever environment we encounter.

I've titled this short series Twilight Selves, not because I wished to make references to the novels or films – though it's a useful SEO bonus – but because twilight is the blue hour between day and night.

We all have a mutable identity, a twilight self that adapts to circumstances and environment; as fluid and rich as dreamstuff, able to prosper in harshest of circumstances, and as potent as the Biggest Baddest Wolf There Ever Was.

Be seeing you.
Mark out the points

Build the pyre

Assemble different drummers

Light up the fire

Put on your masks

And animal skins

Illumination, illumination

Listen to the drums

Between each beat, each beat of the drum
- The Death and Resurrection Show

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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