ISSUE 8 / June 2021


God's anger and terror

children are not scared at night

by Aftermath laika

Machiavelli argued that fear is a fear of punishment. Perhaps a kind of alert, of conscience that prefigures the inexorable divine justice: Nemesis comes from the Latin expression indignatio. If good is eternity, is evil a passing circumstance? Is happiness an excess?

Credits: Texts, Design and Illustration Aftermath Laika® / Buenos Aires 2021

Lao Tse presents his work Tao Te King in the XNUMXth century BC, perhaps during the Warring States period, the Golden Age of Chinese Philosophy. In his texts, rather than observing the individual within his own social universe, he concerns a transcendental relationship –the way of the Tao– harmonious with nature and the laws of the Universe. From that cosmic and abstract position it suggests warnings; paradoxes and learning in pursuit of obtaining a fluid and harmonious path in the face of lost existence. To face the mutations and the constant flow of ordinary life, the Tao is presented as impartial and fair, that is to say that by not having its own interests it only seeks the continuity of existence in the natural order of the universe. Thus, Lao Tzu rejects any legislation that operates on the morals of the peoples as a form of submission and punishment. In this framework, where existence is the cause and consequence of a preceding humanity, and war, the victor's tears, Lao Tse poses a profound link between possessing and losing: "There is no greater crime than the power of desire (Ch. 46)" therefore, if we want to weaken something, we must first strengthen it. In these terms, by feeding a desire we prepare the pain for its loss. Terror is not about anything else: an evil mechanism that precipitates the end of what we believed to be alive - perhaps it belonged to us - and we celebrated its existence.

Ezequiel Ludueña refers in his essay Eriugena that during the reign of Carlos el Calvo, the monk Godescalco de Orbais postulates in his writings the double predestination: only God decides who will go to heaven and who will go to hell; that is, from all eternity. The church detects a fragility in this concept; In any case, God can be seen as an unjust and completely responsible guide to Evil: he punishes precisely by not wanting to avoid it. The dispute required revisions, refutations and other postulates to try to resolve the discussion that got the heretics punished and imprisoned. In a way, an incomplete battle can be seen: the spiritual world never finished finding a place of interest as luxury goods did. "It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven"[1].

Machiavelli He argued that fear is a fear of punishment. Perhaps a kind of alert, of conscience that prefigures the inexorable divine justice:  Nemesis.

If good is eternity, is evil a passing circumstance? Is happiness an excess? Nemesis comes from the Latin expression indignatio. It also responds to a certain theory of punishment, a retributive justice.

Although punishment is a common penalty for behavior and is expressed within the limits of morality, possessing is only about accretion and accumulation. Except for death, we understand loss as something aspirational. The mere mention of the deprivation of something valuable - a sumptuous good - generates in itself anguish; loss of health, terror. But although life is the highest common good, fragility is part of the daily reality of the backward classes. Can the threat arise in a society without destiny? Basically we could not tell the story of its horrific effects that generally question the fatal imbalance between the happiness of comfort and the appearance of something monstrous: its inexorable loss at the hands of an unforeseen destiny.

Terror therefore seems to be a differential perception: a question of class. Bourgeois terror is in any case also an intellectual discussion about aesthetic abstraction and the restless spiritual. The popular classes are not afraid of losing what they know they will never have. It is masterfully applied by Walt Disney in each of his stories: What vagabond could be concerned about the departure of a dog in the middle of the night if the dogs roam by themselves in complete freedom and in any case, on stormy nights, they howl conscientiously to push that moment away as soon as possible? But the loss of that other neat little animal, well loved, whose collar identifies its class membership, scares a good part of the spectators. In any case, what are the resonances of fear? Are they regressions? Atavisms or habits? Children are not scared at night, their parents do.

Philip Roth wonders how it is possible for a good and almighty God to allow the death of a child. Allowing is above all deciding. The postulation of Godescalco de Orbais and the double predestination it redefines the anger of God in Roth. In his novel NemesisAs he locates the origin of evil in 1940's Newark, thousands of children die of polio under a bewildering and fierce summer. In the middle, the community discusses the terms of sanitation and hygiene through profane arguments. Guilt, existence, God and social disputes are locked in a ruthless logic. The bearer of evil does not usually notice the tragedy either.

It could be said that moral conscience, an empty aspect in medieval societies as a result of the Church's interference in civil affairs and the effort of the nobility to install the necessary commandments to control the rude mob, produces this confusion about the property of things.

Doesn't Robin Hood ravaging the forests of Sherwood provide an ideal precedent to build that fear from the bowels of a charming wooded path, the same one that Little Red Riding Hood travels to visit her grandmother? Were not the nobles of the Kingdom of Nottingham who faced the brave archer who kept his belongings to deliver them to the oppressed left death around the crossing?

Whereas in the Middle Ages the concept of the police was a kind of legal and social order in cities, it quickly shifted from a civil order to a moral order when the Church highlighted its own points of discussion. It is clear that the Church will always try to order its bastions to balance both heretics and witches, as well as all those who consider it essential to obtain a heroic death and become part of the Afterworld as a kind of congratulation; honorary.

Regarding the scientific experience, for the cinema, the sciences are always presented as an aristocratic asset. The truth is that with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the winding roads of those thick forests at sunset were transformed into private and sublime gardens and instead of ambushing wild beasts, men who behaved like such appear and that ultimately unleashes the new tragedy .

Meanwhile in the city, progress begins to make visible the darkness of work, the industrial machinery, the streets dumping waste. Meanwhile, education is preparing to forge the primary value over individual rights, officiating as a prologue to the construction of good - to the detriment of ignorant evil - to complete the same line of experience together with reason.

In 1791, the physicist and physician Luigi galvani publish De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius, a treatise on electrical stimulation in muscles and nerves; itself, observations and experiences in frogs subjected to electrical phenomena. In addition to Galvani, the Venetian Alessandro Volta, who later discovered the electric battery, provides a fundamental discussion in this regard, since after his own experience only with metals, he establishes that muscle tissue is not needed to produce an electric current. Nothing was known about neurosciences yet, but these works - Galvani's monograph and Volta's experiences and discussions - became a matter of interest and both writers and disseminators quickly came to debate the news: electromotive force can be generated from three elements: nerves, muscles and a liquid, and a series of metallic conductors.

At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, while the industry was positioning itself as the greatest adventure of the century, a neuroanatomist, Franz Gall, associated disorders of the mind with the shape of skulls and their features: phrenology. Observations relate criminality as a degeneration biological. The mental faculty, insofar as it can be measured in protrusions; clearly identifiable areas of the skull. It is not just about installing a pseudoscientific adventure as proto-science. Speculation opens a tricky step: while it considers intelligence as a social attribute, it distances rich and educated society from criminal suspicion. Meanwhile, the regressive aspect to deficient primitive stages provides a genetic flavor on the evolution of the species. This belief takes so much force that the juristic environment of the time manages to systematize the physical characteristics of the skulls by means of a treatise.

For the rest, these arguments point criminality in the direction of race. In the middle of the XNUMXth century, Césare Lombroso, an Italian aristocrat who would later occupy both the Chair of Legal Medicine in Turin and the direction of the Pesaro asylum, draws a series of characters and signs regarding the theory of «born criminal » that can be transferred as communicating vessels between the physics of the body and moral values. Such characteristics, despite being merely empirical observations, also consider the possibility of a kind of error, let's say in the evolutionary chain or the results of some type of genetic disorder. Lombroso does not hesitate to associate psychiatry with criminal anthropology, a discipline that he himself created in Turin. The result is a kind of permanent relationship between the accidents of a body and the consequences of its mind. L'uomo delinquent (1876) observes the diverse typologies of criminality from the born delinquent to the moral; from the alcoholic to the passionate, etc.

While in genre literature - terror - the authors have developed the display of the hideous with unlearned gothic observations from medieval tales: The rusted hinges of dust and time creaked and finally the door gave way. or ...and finally that thing appeared before my eyes ... In the cinema, the horrible is usually solved by showing the reverse shot of a dislocated face that seems to be saying What the heck is that hideous thing I'm seeing?  The idea does not seem more than the need to create suspense. However, the operation notices something else: once the appearance of the monstrous is discovered in detail, we could relativize its substance. In psychology, the repetition of an act favors its reproduction until it becomes habitual.

The best known design of The creature created by Mary Shilley is portrayed in James Whale's 1931 film: Frankenstein. The body and face seem executed under a design rich in anomalies and strangeness capable of discerning what could be called physical normality from a biological perspective. But among Mary Shelley's novel, -Frankenstein, the modern Prometheus (1818) -, Césare Lombroso's theory, -L'uomo delinquent (1876) - and the James Whale film, -Frankenstein (1931)-, there is a gap of more than a century.

Let's pay attention to the characteristics of the Lombrosian born criminal:

1- Outstanding asymmetry of the face and skull. 2- Disproportionate ears. 3- Prominent lower jaw. 4- Very long limbs. 5- Sharp sight. 6- Exaggerated deep and superciliary eye cavities. 7- Low sensitivity to pain. 8- The climate, (heat as influence and propensity to crime) 9- Lack of capacity for remorse, impulse control and shame. 10- Social class 13- Creeds and education. 14- tendency to addictions: alcohol, tobacco and drugs 15- food.

In criminology, identikits they make up a common universe and, after all, the same speculation since the procedure of specialists to determine the possible facial identity of a criminal, even today when the Lombrosian technique is completely ruled out, is to reconstruct the features based on stereotypes and Rubbings based on oral testimonies. 

The original artists of the 50s were limited by a series of fixed categories that ordered their work. There is no doubt that the fragility of the system lay in the deliberate choice of components. Dozens of noses and mouths, dozens of foreheads and chins. Simply dozens, and consequently, restrictions regarding an aesthetic configuration. The final product achieved a predetermined puzzle where to observe and coordinate specific areas of the gesture, that is, the features: a nose (columbine), a jaw (prominent), some ears (you jump), eyes that look (in such a way), etc. To this end, the arms company Smith & Wesson designed years later a luminous device and the classification of two thousand acetate films that could be projected on top of each other.

This kind of taxonomy highlights the dangerousness of the subject simply under appearance; the description and behaviors of the perpetrator under the critical memory of the terrified victim. Some of this can be observed in the social gaze that discusses the actions of the Creature as a kind of involuntary mistake that sows terror at the same time that it deserves isolation and death without more. Nobody expects the horrible to stray too far from what has been learned from Central European culture. In any instance, the physical design of "The creature" o  «The Monster» –The name used in Whale's film– will remain iconic and unforgettable..

However, the physics of things as an aesthetic variable makes the results a bit capricious. Arguably, the author discards all paths to focus on just one. Literature and cinema are devices that allow different types of approach, having different strategies to probably reach the same place of understanding and tension. But nothing in appearance itself leads to terror. Raymond Chandler used to say that if we condensed the fragmented episodes of a story into a single sequence, (necessary to maintain the tension for a certain amount of time, commercial or not) we would obtain a less than hopeful result. He called it "false suspense."

A certain etymology of the word, it concedes that to suspend is to hold something in the air, that is, to keep an object out of physical reality, say, of its gravity. Therefore, although we can accept the extension of an event in time, the filling should not jeopardize the result. On Bullet time, Kinematics of explicit death We saw how the cinema is capable of recounting the death of a character by doubling and tripling the event from several cameras, but not replacing time, but adding it linearly. Therefore, in addition to seeing a shot in slow motion, the ammunition and the deflagration at the very moment the trigger is actuated, some directors will successively add other cameras in a linear fashion, that is, one image after another, expanding time logical of a projectile between the chamber of the weapon and the body of the victim.

Paradoxically, the description as a narrative form in the cinema argues with the author's languages. In action cinema it is very fast, so much more than any literature. In many aspects considered in genre formats, –both in literature and in cinema– the enigma of the face, the physics of things, It is mentioned little by little, it is introduced dropper, a dose that results from the need to maintain the suspense and thus produce spaces of imagination with the unsaid and even more, the unseen. In literature, the mechanism would seem simpler. I can highlight something very detailed without fully realizing it. The cinema, whose focus is very precise, solves it with the speed of the plane reduced to a few frames per second and while this speed prevents the possibility of understanding exactly, let's say, imagining or conjecturing with great amplitude. In other words, what literature takes a paragraph to discuss, cinema will do so in a snap.

Aftermath Laika, Buenos Aires, June 2021

[1] Synoptic Gospels: Mark Luke, Matthew, Danger of riches.