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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912

Abstract

GOOSEN, Danie. Monsters and humans: On the spritual and her contemporary absence. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.4, pp. 515-529. ISSN 2224-7912.

This essay is a reflection on the phenomenon of the monstrous. It is underpinned by the following question: Can contemporary thought identify and judge certain phenomena in a well-founded manner as "monstrous " - given the modern tendency to condemn the negative in a dualist fashion, and the opposite tendency in postmodernism to question, even in a spirit of indifference, its very existence? By means of an appeal to traditional philosophy and theology it is argued that the monstrous can be understood as a contra-spiritual movement. In traditional thought the spiritual is not only experienced as a substantive entity, but also as a movement between body and spirit, between immanent and transcendent being. The aim of the spiritual movement is to have community with and participate in transcendent being. By contrast, it is argued that the monstrous can be associated with those movements of the spirit that is characterised by a reductive focus on immanent being (and more precisely, by a single-minded focus on survival, i.e. by the attempt of the subject to survive without taking cognisance of the inner tendency of the spirit to participate in being as such). The latter represents the monstrous moment: Instead of the subject opening itself for the spiritual movement toward being, the exclusive focus on survival (and the good that the latter represents in traditional thought) is accompanied by the paradoxical turn into its opposite. In short, being is henceforth experienced as monstrous. However, it is also argued that the monstrous cannot be seen as a substantial power, but rather as something that is without ontological substance. In fact, being nothing but a reduction of being, the monstrous can be experienced as a privation of being, i.e. as mere nothingness. In order to substantiate the argument, an appeal is made to natural law as understood by Aquinas (and the underlying idea that nature is marked by the spiritual desire to transcend the immanent in favour of contemplating being as such). In terms of Aquinas' understanding of natural law being is not only characterised by a tendency toward the good, but also - and more specifically - toward survival, community and contemplation. Seen from this perspective the monstrous represents in essence a forgetfulness of the spiritual desire for more than mere survival, i.e. for community and contemplation. In the concluding paragraphs the focus turns to different ways in which modernism has responded to its own understanding of being as a monstrous event. It is argued that modernism responded to the monstrous by means of monstrous instruments, namely the modern territorial state (Hobbes' Leviathan) and puritanical moralism. In responding to the monstrous by means of the monstrous the preconditions were laidfor what can be referred to as the modern dialectic of the monstrous. In other words, both the modern leviathan and puritanical moralism repeated the monstrous in the very attempt to transcend its violent implications. By contrast, traditional philosophy and theology point to ways in which spiritual desire is redirected in such a manner that the monstrous itself is exposed as a being without substance. Instead of merely repeating the dialectic of the monstrous, traditional philosophy and theology can thus show the way beyond its violent circularity.

Keywords : spirit; community; co-appearance; virtues; monstrous; modernism; dualism; indifference; Aquinas; tradition; nothingness.

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