Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Monstrous Abject

We've been reading Frankenstein in my Lit class this past month. One individual whom I once considered friend has become increasingly ostracized from a certain group this past semester. The two lines converge now.

What is the abject? It is the cast-off, the underbelly, the ugly, the taboo, the rejected. Frankenstein's monster, "Adam," was abject because he was almost but not quite human. He sat on the border of human and corpse, human and animal, human and other, and so he was rejected.

My once-friend is clearly a human, but often he says things that really do not need saying, random facts that distract from the objectives of the group, that he finds interesting but which receive a response of, "I really didn't need/want to know that, dude" from the rest of us. In this way, perhaps, he lies outside of the borders of what we consider a useful member of the group, or outside of the borders of what many consider a pleasant conversant, and so he, too, is rejected.

I'm circumlocuting, probably because there is a slim, slim chance that the once-friend of whom I speak could find this post. You know what--forget that.

Having this guy around brings out the worst in us.

All right, I've said it. Someone who exasperates, who can't focus, who says things that don't matter, who doesn't...fit in. Someone abject. Do you see what is happening? A bunch of easy-going, liberal teenagers suddenly turn clannish and exclusionary, putting down someone for being different.

I never thought I'd be in this position--of someone who is accepted by the group, and participates in trying to get someone else to conform ("stop talking, man," I said at least three times), but now that I'm here I might as well analyze it.

Why do we do this? Why do we want this guy to act contrary to his nature, to compromise for the sake of the group? Because he's not productive as he is now, spouting off random trivia (I use the word trivia in both denotative and connotative ways). But many of us were doing homework, not contributing. Because his non-productivity draws others into it; it's disruptive. Dealing with him diverts attention from the main objective.

Why do we lack patience with him? Because he's been annoying some of the most influential people in the group, the leadership, since junior year. Being rude to him is now reflexive for some of us. Because he tries to provoke a response. Because he says things that make people get defensive or annoyed.

Because...I am thinking about a conversation we had that made me annoyed at him, but which would have left me unruffled if another friend had made the same comments. Because it's hard to take criticism from someone you perceive as being less qualified than you are.

"Less."

(I knew we'd get back here somehow.)

The abject is often viewed as "less than" human. And while this individual is obviously a human, deserving of the full rights as such, many of us don't treat him with the same kind of consideration with which we treat others. Most, if asked, would probably say that he "deserves" his bad treatment for being annoying or because he seems to feel entitled to special treatment/freedom from consequences.

In other words, his personality has made him unpalatable to our society, and therefore the rude treatment is a symptom of our rejection of him.

Look how I am treating him now: as an object, as a focal point of a discussion here, without his knowledge or consent. Maybe he wouldn't want to be discussed. Maybe I am in the wrong, in writing extensively and, for the most part, negatively, about someone I once called friend.

See here, also, this fresh example of the valuation of human beings. He was "once" a friend, and has since been demoted. Does that mean that some people are worth more than others?

Yes. Or at least, we perceive--okay, I perceive, I can't generalize to everyone--I perceive people as being worth different amounts, relative to me. Does that make me just as much of a monster as Victor Frankenstein, who rejected his "wretch" on the strength of his inhumanness? Maybe.

I have been trying to work my way to a satisfactory personal definition of a "monster." Earlier in the post I thought it might be that a monster is an entity that, through its liminality, induces "insiders" to circle the wagons and behave in a reactionary way, that brings out the worst in the people whose identity it threatens.

The root of the word "monster" also led to the verb "mostrare," to show. Perhaps a monster is a being that shows us the worst in us, either by mirroring it (Frankenstein's monster) or drawing it out through the responses it provokes (my once-friend, if he is indeed a monster). Or, like me, using people, carelessly analyzing them in the quest to understand more about my motivations.

I still feel in the wrong. How can we expect someone whom we've excluded, emotionally ostracized, verbally abused, to want to help rather than hinder us? Esteem once lost is hard-regained. No matter what happened--if tomorrow he was suddenly eager to contribute, and uttered not a single irrelevant phrase--we'd still distrust him. We'd probably think it was fake.

What bothers me the most--and this is probably indicative of my immense self-centeredness--is the hypocrisy. We all like the quotes about how outcasts are the ones who change society, how unconventional thinkers end up getting the last wprd. But this guy, who clearly offers a different perspective--well, we call his perspective not valuable and--you know what, I think we bully him.

A monster is a self-replicating device. It is a zombie--a thing on the border of human and inhuman, which touches the human, shows it mortality, and makes it like itself.

If I had time, I'd explore this idea some more: why do I start out with the assumption that group "insiders," of which I find myself perturbingly a part, are "human," or at least "more human" than the guy who has become abject? From whence this arrogance?

The slaying of monsters makes a monster of the slayer. --me

Good night.

--

Bonus for those interested in MBTI:

I am an INTJ, the abjected/objectified guy an INTP. These two articles may offer some psychological context.

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