The Monstrous, the Impure, & the Imaginal

This interview about the ‘monstrous’ made me think of a related idea. The monstrous is a more extreme version of the ‘impure’, whether impure in terms of the physical, psychological, social, religious, etc. The monstrous and the impure are both in some way ‘wrong’ at a gut level. They just feel wrong causing an instinctual response to get away from the perceived source of danger… or else to force it to get away from us, to attack it, to banish it.

The reason the idea of the ‘impure’ came to my mind was because of research I’ve seen on ideology. Conservatives have a stronger disgust response. The research I recall had to do with rotting fruit. To conservatives, this was more likely to be responded to with disgust. This makes sense in that rotten food has the potential to cause sickness, but rotten fruit is hardly an unusual experience. Anyone who keeps fruit around the house regularly experiences fruit that is in varying states of rot. It’s just what fruit does when it sits around long enough.

This is also interesting in that rotting fruit is the cause of alcohol. Learning how to make alcohol was one of humanity’s greatest discoveries. More importantly, alcohol has the ability to alter our consciousness (often making us more ‘open’ which is a trait related to liberalism) and this is probably the reason alcohol has been associated with the divine and with religious rituals.

So, rotting fruit doesn’t only endanger our physical health. It also endangers us through its potential to alter our minds, to connect us to realms unknown and uncontrollable. Dionysus, after all, is the God of wine. To the modern (especially the modern conservative religious type), a God like Dionysus is a bit on the monstrous side.

This makes me wonder what has become of the monstrous. In the Old Testament, Yahweh wasn’t disconnected from the monstrous. We moderns tend to see fear as being somehow unacceptable. This is even true for modern conservatives who often portray God as lacking the true horrific power that Yahweh had in the distant past.

The liberal tends to not have much understanding or respect for the monstrous/impure. The liberal response to rotten fruit is to be curious. As a liberal, I highly recommend this response. However, I also wonder if something is lost when fear isn’t given a place in our values and beliefs, in our religious conceptions.

This is why I’ve been drawn to the imaginal. The imaginal is the realm of the trickster, neither this nor that or else maybe both.

The trickster has always had an liminal role, often a being above or greater than or prior to humans and also below or lesser than or progeny of the Gods. Godmen, both God and man, like Jesus tend to have Trickster qualities. Other beings, neither God nor man, such as Prometheus and Loki also tend to have Trickster qualities.

Depending on the culture, the Trickster may be perceived as either good or evil, either as defender of religious/social purity or as tempter/deceiver. Take Dionysus for example. He originally was worshipped by one group, but deemed dangerous by others, especially those in power who would attempt to deny him. With the Romans, he was turned into Bacchus who was less overtly divine. Dionysus, however, lived on in another form as many of his attributes were inherited by and made into more human form with Jesus Christ.

Humans have always been wary of the imaginal. It’s disconcerting to come face to face with something unknown and not be able to discern whether it is friend or foe. It’s easier to make an arbitrary designation one way or the other and create social boundaries and cultural norms to protect against it. Most often, especially for the conservative, this means the imaginal gets portrayed as evil or dangerous. The liberal goes the opposite direction by often dismissing the imaginal entirely. Neither side necessarily takes the imaginal seriously on its own terms.

6 thoughts on “The Monstrous, the Impure, & the Imaginal

    • By the way, my mind always thinks in connections. I wasn’t intentionally placing them together, but my last two posts do resonate with each other. Culture as it is lived and history as it happens both inhabit a liminal realm, of what has been and what is becoming. We can’t stand outside of it which gives endless play for deception and confusion, the Trickster’s playground.

      Also, this of course fits into the whole ideological realm. Conservatives tend to have more fear/disgust which means they either try to maintain the connection of the present to the past or react to the present becoming something new. Liberals tend to have more desire/curiosity which means they imagine new possibilities different from the past and have ideals that can conflict with present realities. The liminal present is the battlefield between the two, but it’s a battlefield where it isn’t easy to determine sides, where progressives can become neocons, where reactionary conservatives can adopt left-wing tactics and terms, where someone like Kolakowski can make brilliant observations and then deny them later.

      I was wondering how culture and the imaginal might overlap and interweave. The imaginal isn’t primarily about metaphysical this or that. It’s about the interaction of mind and matter, perception and reality. Any metaphysical attempts to define the imaginal will be undermined for it has no singular location. It’s in some ways just the placeholder for our own ignorance and confusion.

      If you don’t mind a little crazy speculation and playful wondering, you might find interesting a post I wrote about Marx (probably the only post I’ve ever written primarily about Marx):

      This is an area of thought I’ve been thinking about for quite some time:

  1. Even though I’ve been thinking about some of these ideas for a long time, the context of my thinking has been shifting in recent years. When I first came across these sorts of ideas, it was probably the mid 1990s when I was reading such authors as Robert Anton Wilson and listening to Coast To Coast AM. Back then, my thinking was more personal and more philosophical. Since then, my thinking has drifted closer to the larger spheres of society and politics.

    I’m not entirely sure what caused this intellectual drift. My voting for Nader and my involvement with the anti-war movement definitely contributed to it, but the last decade in general has been so divisive as to be hard to ignore even by the most apolitical.

    In this particular areas of thought, I articulated this intellectual drift most clearly in my post about the North/South divide with emphasis on the Civil War and my experiences living in the Midwest vs in the South. It was my personal experience of two different regions that brought my thinking into looking at larger cultural patterns in terms of specific data. Also, I’ve always just liked looking at data. Years of browsing demographic and polling data inevitably led my mind to see various patterns.

    Now that I’m doing genealogical research, my mind is looking in even more detail at the connection between the personal and the political, the cultural and the regional, etc.

    In all of this, the connections I’ve seen have often been ambiguous. It’s hard to get beyond speculation because a pattern in data that seems obvious to me may not seem obvious to others. Plus, there is always the counter of correlation not proving causation. Maybe that is why I was just now considering the connection of the imaginal to the political.

    On another related note, I own the book ‘Politics and the Occult’ by Gary Lachman (a guest of C2CAM). I have only read bits and pieces of it so far, but here is one thing I came across that made me think of you (Intro, XIII-XIV):

    To many at the time, the secular, materialist world rooted in science, rationalism, and economics seemed bent on destroying age-old traditions that had hitherto given life and society a secure meaning. [ . . . ] The confusion and dismay accompanying these transformations is perhaps best expressed in Karl Marx’s remark that in the modern world, “all that is solid melts into air.” Marx’s analogy gives the impression of a dizzying social free fall, but the sociologist Max Weber voiced an equally distressing concern in a radically different metaphor, calling the modern world an “iron cage” of rules and regulations that casts its lonely inhabitants into a “polar night of icy darkness.

    We may regard these and other gripes against the modern world, from William Blake’s “satanic mills” to the “liquid modernity” of the contremporary philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, as the whining of misfits unable to get with the program. But it is difficult to ignore the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski’s remark that today “it seems as though we live with the feeling of an all-encompassing crisis without being able, however, to identify its causes clearly.” Kolakowski is right, I think, and this is the modern condition.

    As far as I can tell, Lachman doesn’t discuss the imaginal. However, his general discussion of the occult is closely related.

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