Monstrous Empathy (To Not Getting Burnt)

Monsters do not seek the shriveled empathy grown in the moral philosopher’s over-weeded garden. Monsters ask to be met in the space where we are most human: where we hope against hope to be loved.

It has become increasingly apparent to me — or rather, I have been repeatedly and rigorously reminded, recently — that there are many people out there who never recognize themselves in the monsters which abound in our literature. They do not ache with the helpless, anchor-less rage of stepping into a world with no place for you. They cannot see that the monsters have been struggling, terribly, to find voices with which to speak and yet can find no words but those which bleed and terrify as they are screamed into the night.

These people believe that the monsters do not merely hide in shadow, but are made of the formless dark. They do not recognize that it is the light which creates the shadow, and that what is wrapped in darkness was there long before the match was struck. These men (for so have they all been) are well-intentioned, sometimes pious, and completely bereft of the compassion the monster has so long sought.

Most alarming, perhaps, is their willingness to lay blame and simultaneously deny compassion. I find them most often discussing Victor Frankenstein and his Creature. They condemn the doctor for his crimes against nature, and then his creation for the temerity of his anguish in the face of an unbearable accident of birth. There is no space for grief at being utterly alone in one’s existence. The desolation of seeing one’s self reflected only in the mirror is utterly foreign to them.

This clear relegation of the “monstrous” or “unnatural” to an indisputable Other – an uncompromising distinction between “human” and “not” – is a repetition of the greatest sin of Enlightenment. This error has wrought unutterable destruction on a vast proportion of humankind.

Those who have been categorized outside the bounds of humanity are innumerable. They are of every race, gender, form, social position, and intellect. They have been exhibited, enslaved, tortured, executed, lynched, murdered, incarcerated, institutionalized, abandoned, aborted, and cast out.

Worse still are those who think that the monsters were defeated, only now to return. In their ignorant terror, they delude themselves, repeating the myth that the horrors we are bearing witness to are of monstrous origin. But these horrors are born of those long used to holding the light which casts the shadows.

It is only now that we are seeing the monsters on their own terms, carefully exercising voices unused declaration, leaving behind the territory of howling to speak for themselves. The person who declares the monster categorically inhuman is waving a torch into the dark, hoping to burn something he has never truly seen.

Most importantly, monsters do not ask for the condescension of high-minded morality; they do not seek the shriveled empathy grown in the moral philosopher’s over-weeded garden. Monsters ask to be met in the space where we are most human: where we hope against hope to be loved despite the exquisite agony of existence. This is the empathy said to be felt by mothers for their children, and between those comrades, compatriots, and brothers who have loved such as to know their lives are meaningless without the bonds which hold them together.

Unlike men, monsters have known the cold of going without the assurances that such love is possible. They have stood perfectly still in the darkness and known what it is to feel truly, utterly alone.

When a flame belonging to another is held to our face, we are rendered unrecognizable even to ourselves.

It should not need to be said: it is time for man to step into the shadow and hold tight to the fear which blooms when we feel ourselves dissolve into that darkness, to recall the way it feels to be alone, and to remember the relief in finding a hand to hold onto in the dark.


This is all prose for the sake of poetry. I don’t usually let myself run free, all extended metaphors and florid prose, due to an undoubtedly misplaced dedication to the minutiae of rational argumentation. (For rational argumentation please see the following post.)

Author: despina durand

part-time goth, full-time critic

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