Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Grendel We Cling To

What is going on with those monsters in Anglo-Saxon poetry, the Grendels, the dragons? Beowulf is a good example.

Surely most people wonder this when exposed to the literature or music, of anonymous bards, and very nonomous musicians like Wagner?  Don't we all  find monsters enthralling, but---- why? 

Here might be one reason: the dragons and monsters thrill us because their historic function was crucial for humanity and that function was----they represented the real.

Huh, you ask, dragons don't exist, and there is no way some Anglo Saxon story-teller ever saw a dinosaur.  How could dragons function as the reality note in a story? 

Monsters demonstrably mark the spot on maps where there is an unknown.  The Indians (American) in the 17th century spoke of monsters on the river (Mississppi), monsters who had a huge roar and would not let travelers pass.  This might be the way a plains people would describe a waterfall. 

Our conceptions are always static, a word is not a word if it cannot be defined, but a definition is a confinement.  There is no real motion if your reality was exactly as your words portray it. And yet it –the world --moves.  To comprehend this movement is one function of monsters.  At best all the human mind can do, at best---is take still snapshots of the rapid rush we are contained in.

Dragons move the story, the people, the world, along, they provide motion, in a world which is now, and has always, been, at the heart, incomprehensible.  Dragons are the plot points, that incite and demand human activity, they slay the heroes, they give a purpose to the quest, the dragons draw in big black lines the irreducible dimensions of the human world.

You ask why the young and  good are killed.  At the level of words it makes no sense.  Yet the flow of reality is experienced even if we cannot capture, convey, our world in words.  This gap between words and reality, is where monsters come in. They provide the differential over which the water of reality can flow, in a closer approximation to the world we experience, than can words alone. 

Yet now, over a thousand years after Beowulf, slew and was slain, we still love dragons, and even sing about their disappearance.  Does that mean the epistemological issues raised in this essay are resolved. I wonder is there  not some modern substitute for monsters?  I wonder and intend to continue this essay soon...

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