Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Ghood, the Bad, and the Ugly.

I am reading Umberto Eco's On Ugliness.
He is now discussing notions of ugliness in illustrations (text and image alike) of Christian Hell.
Agents of Hell are often chimeras, with parts compounded from the human, avian, feline, et al. Also recurrent in their physiognomy is polymelia: a multiplicity of [consummately single or twinned] parts, like the beast with six arms or twelve eyes or doubled sex organs.

Thus, there is something horrible in the repetition of body parts. Abstractly and in mythos, with more eyes there is greater facility of sight; with more arms, of holding and handling; with more genitalia, of coition. In this way, polymelia is fearsome for its connotation of superhuman power. The latter is not always unsavory; it seems that Vishnu's four arms are a manifestation of his omnipotence, with fourfold palpation, knowledge, and might.
But I think the horror of polymelia lies somehow in its superfluousness. In life, most supernumerary body parts are nonfunctional. In circus menageries, you'll find cows with supernumerary legs that hang dead from their backs. It is that deadness, and the simple sense of more-than-there-should-be that is frightening. But why frightening? Is it the "error" of nature, citing mortality?

Lots of people are afraid of spiders. Like a human, a spider has a head and an abdomen on which its limbs are hinged. But the spider's eight eyes and eight legs immediately dissociate it from us, and are largely what scare us. The house spider is so small, and harmless, and as earthly as us - but with its many hastening legs, its many eyes appraising us, we would prefer it be dead, and not even to see its remains.
Because it is so non-human(oid), is the spider a 'monster'? (Is anything that is aberrant from our understanding of what is humanoid a monster?) We are uniquely disgusted by the idea of being touched by supernumerary parts, and similarly, by the many legs of the spider. The wriggling or ticking of insect, crustacean, or arachnid legs puts a tremor in the belly. If the spider is permitted to walk upon us with those legs, it has assumed dominion over our body. Its weightless, woolen step has some preciousness like a lover's falling hair. The spider's touch is trespass, and defilement.


These are of course just ramblings - a sort of shoddy exegesis that good reading moves me to.
This piece is a working composite of twice-life-size drawings, depicting a friend's body and mine, that I began in the spring. In an attempt at forging Ground, there is a 'bedding' of wolf spiders under me: black crayon rubbings of a rubber relief cut on tracing paper. From far away, they could read as a plot of grass.
The spiders were fun to make, but I'm worried that they are too much like applique. Ground - it's back to the drawing board with you.

Now end up with "Goosebumps" by Mr. Bungle.