Perseus and Medusa.
Perseus is able to kill Medusa and use her head, with its power to turn all who gazed upon it to stone, to destroy Leviathan and free Andromeda.
It’s just struck me in a very straightforward manner that there is a lesson to this tale, we might not have considered. I certainly never saw it this way.
If we gaze upon our fears, like Medusa, this snake-haired embodiment of all we are afraid of, then we are “petrified,” turned to stone. Even if we resist paralysis, our attention is still trapped by those fears and can find nothing beside or beyond them.
Perseus was aware of Medusa’s power. He defeated her by only looking at her reflection in his shield.
How does this part translate?
I would say that it is enough to watch the reaction of fear in those around us. This is a reflection, that, if we are careful not to become caught there, placing it as a new center for our own trap, that we can use this knowledge as a guide through dangerous times.
What is wrong with gazing on fearful things?
The answer is two-fold.
We sap our strength and build an edifice of terror upon our perceptions of the power inherent in what we fear. In this way, it looms over us, blocking all exits and leaving us little energy to do anything but continue to pump up its presence. Related to this is another danger.
We hit what we are aiming at. We find what we are looking for. If we are focusing our attention on our fears they dominate our attention – the only thing we really have – and this effectively blocks any possibility of our discovering any avenue that might lead anywhere else.
Utopia. The word is literally translated as no place. Creating Utopian visions is an exercise in reverse magic. We try to negate what we fear by writing it out of our fantasy. This neither defeats our fears nor creates any viable alternative. We admit from the start, whether openly or just through an act of denial and surrender to a neutered formulation, that all we are able to envision can only exist no place, nowhere.
Dystopian visions appear to deal more directly with our fears, but they hold our gaze on the face of our Medusa. Beyond that, dystopian imaginings, if well crafted and compelling, work to bring the consequences we fear, that we see as implicit in our day, to life; as we unwittingly populate our mental field with a map for their coming to be.
The ancient’s feared Medusa and knew not to gaze at her horrors this way.
Modernism, this blend of extreme Narcissism and hubris, finds mirrors better employed in looking at the self. It has no respect for cautionary tales.
I was raised on dystopian literature. I find it hard to resist spinning out tales of where so many of the trends we notice all around us might lead.
I’ve begun to get leery of this predilection. I’ve begun to gain respect for those old admonitions.
There is a line we cross at our peril, between seeing what is dangerous and dwelling on the power of these forces to dominate our “futures.”
There is a dirty pleasure, best set-aside, involved in maintaining this lock on our attention and proliferating tales of dystopia.
Utopia is futile. Dystopia is dangerous.
There is another path. Odysseus, another intrepid ancient, might best illustrate this. We block our ears and we tie our hands to resist temptations we know to be harmful. We remain aware. We don’t hide from an awareness of what is out there striving to lead us into greater harm, but we focus our attention on finding a path that is clear of obstacles intent on drawing us in.
I am committed to thinking and writing about our precarious state and our multitude of predicaments. But, I am equally committed to maintaining whatever clarity I can muster to keep my attention free of the petrifying gaze of our Medusa, the Enormity we face.
Bouncing the rubble, to use that old War-Lover’s term for continuing to hit easy targets because we cannot resist feeling a destructive pleasure in doing so, is futile.
We cannot wallow in futility.
We cannot risk paralysis either.
Modernism rests on an attitude of mutual assurance that nothing can get between us and our fantasies. This may be its most terrifying quality.
Medusa’s writhing snakes are scary! It’s hard to avoid locking our gaze on their frightening dance!
There is nothing to be gained unless we can avoid that.
We don’t need to look upon them directly to know they are there. We can see their reflection and act accordingly. Appropriate action will come from a place that is not locked in petrified fear. Just as it won’t come from remaining trapped in fear itself.