Something’s Touching My Leg. It’s My Other Leg.

Cyborg (creative commons)

So I have been working out this poem, which is part of a series of lyrics, where the speaker’s central concern is a desire to become a monster. It’s slightly off territory for me, not so much that it is macabre or sci-fi or anything like that, but that the speaker must, in order to want monstrosity, be a lovely fellow indeed.  He is a public speaker (something I do, oddly, write a lot about, though I am not much of one myself) and it’s pretty much gold and wind pouring out of his mouth all the time. I suppose some of this is beside the point, but my question for you is, do you ever feel any kind of desire like this, to be a monster? Try and think for a minute beyond childhood fantasy or the slightly more adult desire to have, say, special powers, some kind of hybrid prowess, like a cheetah’s speed or a bird’s ability to fly, or, as evidenced by this rather creepy picture , mechanical (hydraulic) strength and computation, and try to think of some moment where you have more desired to be so fully off the grid that the very nature of your body is in question.

To me, this is true monstrosity, a discomfort with oneself, a feeling of a foreigner controlling parts of you. This doesn’t really sound all that pleasant, really, ever, and as I was working this poem out I was asking myself a lot about the legitimacy of the speaker’s want. A lot of it is wrapped up in this want for ruin, to break out of the palace, and in some instances of this in mythology a kind of monstrousness gets evoked by the hero (the Buddha was a prince, and you could say his enlightenment was the introduction of some foreign element, something that made him less human, which, of course, is up for debate). But I still don’t think a desire for ruin, for change, necessarily lead to this idea of the monster. What does, however, is drama, and let me caveat that I am about to define the monster in an extremely loose way. Loneliness, isolation, ill-feelings, etc., are all marked by a kind of imbalance, in whatever form, and here there is a strong correlation to the monster, whose oversized or multiple arms or incredible strength or infrared vision or whatever else throw him straight through and beyond the standard deviations (digression: what I find so compelling about a character like Frankenstein is this attempt at becoming human, and that what keeps him from being so is not so much one given thing but a serious of very subtle errors or constraints that accumulate into one egregious whole. Frankenstein is really just a bit tall, square, and dumb, but that is enough to keep him from being human), and perhaps when we feel “out of sorts” ourselves it is precisely this sort of feeling that we are having, this being acutely marginalized, this being so beyond the reality we see around us that we can’t possibly be a natural inhabitant. So we feel monster sympathy, Frankenstein is lovable, as is WALL-E, as is Spock (okay maybe not lovable). We sympathize because they are outsiders, by their very nature, and we have flirted with that sort of permanent banishment, at least in the way we feel we are treated. I guess there’s also this whole uncanny valley thing, but damn it that’s for another time–what I really came here to show you was one of my favorite Lorca poems. Pick him up anywhere, really (feeling link lazy), though this translation is W.S. Merwin (I guess you should now the poem is by Lorca of the Federico García variety). I think the relevance to all this monster banter will be apparent.

()

Cancion del Naranjo Seco

Leñador.
Córtame la sombra.
Líbrame del suplicio
de verme sin toronjas.

¿Por qué nací entre espejos?
El día me da vueltas,
y la noche me copia
en todas sus estrellas.

Quiero vivir-sin verme.
Y hormigas y vilanos
soñaré que son mis
hojas y mis pájaros.

Leñador.
Córtame la sombra.
Líbrame del suplicio
de verme sin toronjas.

()

Song of the Barren Orange Tree

Woodcutter.
Cut my shadow from me.
Free me from the torment
of seeing myself without fruit.

Why was I born among mirrors?
The day walks in circles around me,
and the night copies me
in all it stars.

I want to live without seeing myself.
And I will dream that ants
and thistleburrs are my
leaves and my birds.

Woodcutter.
Cut my shadow from me.
Free me from the torment
of seeing myself without fruit.

2 thoughts on “Something’s Touching My Leg. It’s My Other Leg.

  1. Great discussion, Ryo. Thanks for posting it.

    In the beginning of the nineteenth century, “monster” was used in a specifically biological sense to mean anything that deviated or did not fit into a species. When Cuvier discovered mammoth bones, his first instinct was to consider them the bones of a monster — a deviant of the elephant. He soon came to the conclusion that it was rather an extinct species. Still, the mammoth was one of the first true monsters, Mary Shelley’s coming soon after. The idea of of monstrosity was very generative for the Romantics (both poets and prose writers) as it has been for you apparently. And for them as well, it spoke to the sense of the deviant within us. In one of my favorite moments in literature, Maria Edgeworth uses the monster – the mammoth in particular — as a symbol for the deviant histories we have buried. In this scene from _Belinda_, Clarence Harvey is at a dinner party; Clarence is a friend/admirer of Lady Delacour, who is not at the party, but he realizes in this scene that she has a daughter, which she has never admitted. At the dinner party, Clarence has been telling a young boy about the “apocryphal chapter of animals” when the following occurs:

    The dessert was on the table before Clarence had done with the mammoth.

    As the butler put a fine dish of cherries upon the table, he said, “My lady, these cherries are a present from the old gardener to Miss Delacour.”

    “Set them before Miss Delacour then,” said Lady Anne. “Helena, my dear, distribute your own cherries.”

    At the name of Delacour, Clarence Harvey, though his head was still half full of the mammoth, looked round in astonishment; and when he saw the cherries placed before the young lady, whose resemblance to Lady Delacour he had before observed, he could not help exclaiming,

    “That young lady then is not a daughter of your ladyship’s?”

    “No; but I love her as well as if she were,” replied Lady Anne.–“What were you saying about the mammoth?”

    “That the mammoth is supposed to be————” but interrupting himself, Clarence said in an inquiring tone–“A niece of Lady Delacour’s?”

    If you read Clarence’s last statement straight through, you get, “That the mammoth is supposed to be a niece of Lady Delacour’s.” And, symbolically, so it is. I have always found this to be a beautiful example of the monstrosity within us.

    Also, to further riff off your discussion, I think the modern feeling of monstrosity has much to do with Baudrillard’s simulacra, or more specifically, has to do with living in a world in which “normal,” as it is presented to us in media and by “the media,” is unrealistic. I’m sure kids growing up in the plain states who are watching hours of Laguna Beach feel quite monstrous and very much deviants from the species they see on the television.

    • Outstanding stuff Adam, I love the kind of subterfuge here, this thing hidden in the mechanics of the dialogue. This is a really generative topic for sure!

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