Back in May I stumbled upon an online culture journal, The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for the Advanced Studies of Culture. I don’t know much about either the publication or the IASC, other than they’re based out of the University of Virginia, so I can’t speak to their degree of implicit Leftist infiltration, but default position is that any organization in 2020 that isn’t explicitly conservative is probably Left-leaning.
It’s sad that I even have to make that disclaimer, because some part of me still clings to the old ideal of a broad, humanistic approach to knowledge—that we should examine ideas on their own merits, not on the politics of the entities espousing them. I still believe that ideal is worth pursuing; I just also believe it is currently dead, or at least on life-support.
But I digress. The then-current issue of The Hedgehog Review was dedicated entirely to the theme of “Monsters.” It being the Halloween season, the time seemed ripe to revisit those pieces, and the idea of “monsters.”
The two pieces I bookmarked five months ago are now hopelessly lost behind a paywall, and as I’m in the business of selling subscriptions, not paying for them, I’m just going to wing my analysis based on their opening paragraphs.
The first, “Monstering,” starts with a relatively self-indulgent, overwrought introduction all about the author being a criminal defense attorney and an artist. Sure, I’m self-indulgent, but this is a blog, not a serious academic journal. Ms. Vanessa Place, the authoress of this piece, does not come across as particularly serious, either, with her needlessly complicated opening paragraph, in which she literally states she has nothing to add to the topic of monsters!
Thank goodness the rest is behind a paywall. The painting of “The Cyclops” by Odilon Redon drew me in, but Ms. Place repulsed me where the ostensible monster attracted.
The second article, “Desperately Seeking Mothman,” seems more promising. It’s about cryptids, cryptozoological animals for which anecdotal evidence exists, but formal zoology does not accept as real. The author, Tara Isabella Burton, makes an interesting point in one of the two paragraphs cheapskates like me can read:
The field of cryptozoology—the occult-tinged study of as yet unbeheld creatures—from the bloodthirsty chupacabra of Mexico to the ponderous Bigfoot of the Pacific Northwest—has often been dismissed (fairly) by the academic world as a pseudoscience. But spotters of Mothman (a red-eyed, winged humanoid first glimpsed in West Virginia in the 1960s), the dinosaur-like Mokele-mbembe, or the Loch Ness monster aren’t doing science so much as practicing a kind of acute antiscience: resisting the notion that the world, with all its inchoate wonders, can fit neatly into any one taxonomy. Cryptids, as practitioners in the “field” call them, aren’t just “undiscovered” animals, but category-crossing ones: creatures whose bizarre juxtapositions render them icons of a world more complex than empirical science alone can explain.
That notion that certain things can’t be neatly fit into the traditional categories of science—really, of the Enlightenment—is one worth exploring. Indeed, I think it’s one worth embracing. One needn’t believe in Bigfoot (as my good blogger friend Audre Myers of Nebraska Energy Observer 98% does) to understand the vastness of Creation, of our still-limited capacity to understand it. Even the humble duck-billed platypus defies our attempts at neat classification—and it was considered a fake once, too!
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