Caliban’s Travels: Monsterist Island

Caliban’s weary wanderings in search of the haven of Monster Island throw him upon the shore of a puzzling simulacrum, Monsterist Island, where he falls into conversation with a decidedly unmonsterish native.

Caliban: So you don’t believe in monsters?

Monsterist: I didn’t say that. How could I, with you shambling before me as proof? We do know there are monsters, but we also know that this is a rather simplistic way of saying that we don’t know that there aren’t any monsters.
 
Caliban: What about your proof?

Monsterist: Well, a lot of interesting work has been done challenging what we can possibly mean by the idea of proof. 

Caliban: I’m sure. But in this case, given that I’m shambling right here in front of you, don’t you mean the evidence of your senses?

Monsterist: Don’t you see that you’re merely substituting the equally problematic terms ‘case’, ‘evidence’ and ‘senses’?

Caliban: What if I forego casuistry and rip your head off?

Monsterist: Then you would merely be conforming to your mythic stereotype – an easy category my colleagues and I have devoted years to critiquing in the most robust manner. 

Caliban: Would that be as robust as having your head ripped off?

Monsterist: Now, you see, this goes to the heart of the debate: this argument was very elegantly resolved some years ago. It is not the case that robust argument need be compared to head-ripping, rather that head-ripping should be understood as a primitivist type of robust argument. 

Caliban: Are you suggesting that monsterists evolved from monsters?

Monsterist: We don’t think evolution, with its assumptions of amelioration imposed merely by the introduction of succession, is a very useful concept. It’s rather that the style of robust argument allegedly favoured by monsters, should they exist, is problematically caught up with what appears to be an ill-thought through association between a fetishisation of violence and an attempt to attach aesthetic values (whatever they may be) to what must be understood as a strictly theoretical discourse. A discourse, I should add, with a venerable, recorded history, rather than some indistinct, fabulous genesis.  

Caliban: Discourse with this. [rips head off monsterist]

Monsterist: Scientific estimates of up to thirty seconds of consciousness following decapitation suggest I have just enough time to suggest your action is more emulation of past monsters than arguable proof that you yourself are a… [expires]

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About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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