Monsters and the Sublime

Lately, in class, we have been exploring the nature of the monster – looking specifically at how monstrosity may function to represent alterity, deviancy or otherness, to reveal sinister or corrupt aspects of the unconscious, to blur the boundary between the real and unknown, to reflect individual, societal or evolutionary anxieties, or to, aesthetically, induce fear or create an atmosphere of strangeness.
However, despite these many potential forms and meanings, it is interesting to consider how monsters are unified (and uniformly made effective) through a shared connection to the sublime.

monster chain

Colloquially, the sublime is used as a synonym for the enjoyable (for instance, it is not uncommon to hear a person refer to a tasty meal as ‘sublime’). However, Edmund Burke makes an important distinction between the sublime and the beautiful by emphasizing that the sublime transcends straightforward aesthetic or sensual pleasures, dwelling instead in extremities of pain, terror, danger, darkness and expanse.

hamburger and waterfall

Burke emphasizes that “whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime” (Burke 24). In addition, he observes that “to make any thing very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes” (Burke 40).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Philosophical_Enquiry_into_the_Origin_of_Our_Ideas_of_the_Sublime_and_Beautiful

Considering our class’ recent discussions, it seems that our understanding of the monster is in agreement with this definition of the sublime; often posing a threat to physiological, psychological, social or aesthetic harmony, the monster is implicitly dangerous. Furthermore, the monster can be seen as meeting Burke’s requirement for obscurity. Slippery in definition, the monster occupies a sort of liminal space – a space in-between life and death, the known and unknown, the comprehensible and incomprehensible.

monster as edmund's sublime

If we consider monstrosity in this way – monstrosity as something sublime that creates an “overwhelming sense of awe or other high emotion through being vast or grand” (“Sublime”) – we may be able to gain insight into why the monster archetype is, inherently, so powerful. Perhaps the monster is successful at departing rich and diverse meaning in part because it is first able to arrest us through invoking this sense of awe. Perhaps before the monster is meaningful, it is sublime.

transcendent monster

Works Cited

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. 1759. New York: Dover, 2008. Print

“Sublime.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, October 2014. Web. 

 

Is it best to be seen, or to Not be.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” 
― H.P. LovecraftThe Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

http://www.blastr.com/sites/blastr/files/cthulhu.jpg
The nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh…was built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults.

Is Hard Science Necessary for Science Fiction, or does it get in the way?

Lovecraft knew that to make a great monster, to make a beast that wraps around your soul and chills your core that you can’t fully understand it.  A mistake often made by modern creators is to explain too much to make too much known.

Don’t bother explaining how Han made the made the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs, he just did.

Star Wars Wiki
How you doin?

The Force is awesome and omnipresent, it doesn’t need god-damn middiclorians.

How i feel about Episode 1

 

Q has amazing powers, don’t even bother trying to understand your weak little human mind would break and the beginning of a notion.

I don’t even like long road trips.

On the other hand some our most profound Spec Fiction comes from Hard Science: Arthur C. Clack and his Orbital Elevators,

Please mind the Rail

Heinlein and his Rejuvenation Techniques

Sure Close enough.

and Asimov and his positronic Brain with its three laws.

WWW.digitalseeds.com
4. Azimov films must not star Will Smith

For as many stories where the hard science allowed the story to happen there are just as many that the hard science allowed the author to not really worry about character or plot.  And for just as many Soft Science fiction stories don’t let the realities get in the way of a good story there are those where the break from physics just can’t let me into the story.

Science was not the reason you came to see me.

I grew up on Hard Sci-fi, I had my grandfathers pulp editions of the grandmasters.  There was a reason for everything to exist, and when I was a boy I needed that concreteness of reality to jump into adventure.  I didn’t care about Carter, I wanted to know about the tele-porter, I didn’t care about the financial troubles of the U.S. Robotics company but i  was fascinated by the philisopical nature of the three laws.  But later as i grew older and other people actually became of interest to me i cared less and less about the nature of how but of Why.  I came to understand that in the beginning of this format that writers hid behind how to avoid the extremely difficult why.

Avoid the tele-porter, it’s not done yet.

But maybe I just found that I enjoy stories with girls in them for than stories with say a man and his Robot Dog.

For how many of you was this your first crush?

Freedom and the Zombie Apocalypse

 

I recently had a conversation with a family member who has just started watching the Walking Dead series. She said she finally decided to find out what all the fuss was about and ended up getting hooked, and she told me that she wished real life was like the apocalyptic world of the show. I understood what she meant. There is a kind of freedom and simplicity about living in a post-apocalyptic world, zombie or otherwise (although recently, mostly zombie). Our present consumerist society encourages pursuit of wealth and accumulation of stuff, and as we jostle for position in the rat race, we might feel we are in a never-ending competition with no meaningful goal. But in an apocalyptic setting, life is stripped down to the essentials- survival. Life in an apocalyptic world consists of finding food, shelter, safety. We are forced to live by our skills and our wits and everyone must pull their weight to survive; an apocalypse can be a social equalizer- at least temporarily.

 Zombies represent the most monstrous part of ourselves- hungry, ravenous, mindlessly consuming and never satisfied. And if zombies embody our unsatisfiable need to consume, which in turn consumes us, then bashing a physical embodiment of the ugliest part of ourselves is profoundly satisfying.

But while I certainly do not relish the idea of living in a world filled with flesh-eating zombies (especially the terrifyingly fast variety from 28 Days/Weeks Later), there is something appealing about a quiet, empty, bureaucracy-less, low-tech, traffic-free, suit-and-tie-less world. If it weren’t for the zombies it would be utopia.

Apocalyptic and hellish images by Zdzisław Beksiński below:

How Science Fiction has Secretly Become Mainstream

So, I will be honest here. I do not read a lot of science fiction. I mean, I have read some, and I grew watching Star Trek and Star Wars, and I think my mom has made me watch Galaxy Quest at least a dozen times, but I’ve never really gotten into Science Fiction on my own.

 

However, ever since we defined what Science Fiction is in the first couple of classes, I’ve realised that it’s actually everywhere. I went to see The Maze Runner a few weeks ago and guess what? Science Fiction. I finally watched Captain American: The Winter Soldier and realised that all of Marvel was Science Fiction (we then had the presentation on it two days later), the movie Lucy, and, as someone pointed out in a previous blog, YA novels, such as The Hunger Games trilogy and Divergent trilogy are also Science Fiction. I guess I always thought it had to have aliens.

However, despite the fact that these are incredibly popular, there still seems to be a stigma against Science Fiction that it is “nerdy.” As it turns out, I have watched and read many Science Fiction movies and novels without even realising it, and I’m guessing many others have too. I’m sure if I asked many of my friends if they liked Science Fiction they would say no, but I also know many of my friends religiously watch, and love, Doctor Who (for more on the genre of Doctor Who, read this).

Why does this happen? My guess would be that people, as I did, have a very narrow view of what Science Fiction is. Movies and TV shows are cast into different genres to make them more mainstream so that people won’t just disregard it because it is Science Fiction. Film trailers will tend to focus on the fact that it is action or comedy instead of focusing on the fact that it is Science Fiction.

What do you guys think? Has Science Fiction slowly been integrated into mainstream society without people noticing, or is it still a land for the “nerds”?

Post-Apocalyptic YA Novels

As someone born in the mid ‘90s, I grew up with the knowledge of climate change, excessive pollution, lack of sustainability and other issues of human existence that have to do with our relationship to the earth. (Meanwhile, other such issues are still prevalent, such as inequality, disease ect.)

Unlike generations before whose fear was rooted in more human-focused ending points (Wars, famine, disease ect.), this generation is burdened with the seemingly unavoidable reality of an end to our current way of life. And because everyone has at least a passing interest in the future, the current rise of Post-Apocalyptic stories in YA Novels, movies, and even TV shows is a way for youth to find some degree of hope (if not in an explicitly happy future, at least a future).

I think the most well-known is the Hunger Games trilogy, where both the books and movies seem to be quite popular (and also have an awesome female protagonist, yay!), in which the dystopian state of the world comes from the divide of classes, as well as the terror tactics employed to keep people complacent. The criticisms in this story are more socially fueled than, in say, The 100, in which humanity has had to flee Earth after nuclear war. I didn’t get very far into The 100, but the messages that were appearing in the first few episodes were interesting. Then of course there are the other two SF recent book-to-movie adaptations, The Maze Runner and Divergent, which also focus on dystopian themes.

All of these stories place at least some blame of their dystopia on the actions of those who came before, yet even in these terrible situations the people are able to rally and make some progress in their world. So in a way, each of these relatively easy-to-follow stories gives a young(er) audience a way of exploring what could be, criticising what we are currently doing wrong, and hoping for a chance at fixing it.

http://culturefly.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/the-100-episode-1.jpg

We read and watch and consume, experience a warning, as well as experiencing the potential for righting a wrong, making a change, and moving forward into an even more distant future.

Viewers Fault that Books are Ruined through Moviefacation?

I would like to wage the argument that the producers ruin books on purpose, and it is the fault of the viewer. In order for the producer, now a days, to feel they have made the largest project possible they need to emphasize certain aspects of the tale. Stories such as H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” have the action aspects heightened (I am discussing the most current adaptations of these movies). John Carter also has the romantic relationship between John and his Martian princess Dejah Thoris very clearly established throughout the movie. I am suggesting that this is because more people wish to watch movies that involve Tom Cruise being chased by aliens in order to save his children then the depictions that Wells created of less alien and more avoidance. Wells’ novella discusses more of the aftermath and internal ideas then the movie shows. Unfortunately, this allows the science fiction reader to feel slighted by the creation of this style of film because it is not a true representation of the story, it is a recreation that only slightly deals with the actual issues presented throughout the novel. While it is the screen writers and producers that allow for this filtration, it is with the viewers in mind that they produce such creations. Therefore, while it is these people who recreate the stories, it is ultimately the viewers fault they are being recreated in the first place, after all the creators of these movies are highly motivation by how much money they generate. Now having presented this argument I do not in anyway suggest that all movies are created in such a fashion, just that some recreations are done for the audience rather then for the original story. Some recreations are done with close regard to the original novel, however, those are not the focus of this blog.

You’ll create a Time Paradox

light-years-movie-poster-1988-1020204196
From Rene Laloux, the creator of ‘Fantastic Planet’ and Isaac Asimov, the most renowned Science Fiction writer of our time, comes an epic vision of the future.

“My quest began with a riddle. In a 1000 years, Gandahar was destroyed. 1000 years ago, Gandahar will be saved. And what can’t be avoided, will be.”

I hope you like time travel and paradoxes because this might get confusing. Now, the above quote is from the opening narration of  Light Years, the English release of the French film Gandahar and it is weird.  I could write several essays on the film but for now, I’ll be focusing on the mechanics of time travel and paradoxes.

I’m going to avoid as much summary as possible. If you’re curious, the ever accurate wikipedia provides.

What you need to know for the context of this post is that the protagonist averts a bad future and returns to the present and lives happily ever after. Anyone familiar with time travel stories will be able to spot the paradox. If the bad future never occurred, then the protagonist had no need to time travel which means they never averted the bad future which means the bad future happens again. So on and so forth, ad infinitum with the universe stuck in an eternal cosmic loop.

Offhand, there are a few ways to avoid this.

  • A reality shattering paradox occurs and ends existence until another big bang or theological equivalent. I don’t like this one; it ruins the narrative by killing everything ever.
  • Don’t write a story with time travel. I also don’t like this one; what’s the fun in that?
  • Create an alternate timeline. I don’t like this on either; the original time line happened and there is no changing it.
  • My favorite and the one I will be focusing on. Ontological Inertia. In other words, things will keep existing until a physical force acts against them, like a gun or a bulldozer.

  If someone travels back in time and shoots the inventor of time travel, there is no reason for the time traveler to cease existing unless there are time police or some embodiment of time that will erase them. People do not maintain their existence because they were born by their mother. They maintain their existence by eating and sleeping and doing human things. Simply because someone stops having an origin, they don’t stop living.

Now, this argument is discredited in a few different ways.  Firstly because it is built entirely on logic and philosophy as opposed to mathematical principles and quantum theory. Secondly, this doesn’t work if the future can be observed. By definition, the future doesn’t exist but if it can be known, then the entirety of the future was planned out before life even began. That means any time travel shenanigans had already been accounted for and the future would be redrawn accordingly. If the future has already happened from something’s perspective, then it cannot be changed because all that time travel has already happened and made its impact resulting in one continuous, unblemished timeline.

Clarifications? Counter-arguments? Comments?

Sources:

http://www.moviepostershop.com/poster/light-years-1988.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandahar_%28film%29#cite_note-1