Fugitives, Monsters, Sanctuaries

Dr. Bayo Akomolafe reminds me that to know is to sacrifice, and that “To see is to risk blindness.” Wherever focus is directed, by its very nature, a boundary or demarcation is created. Language itself is a form of focus that conjoins and separates underlying wholes into parts, framing realities, and objectifying one’s perspective. The relationship between language and reality is similarly mirrored in the more organic, analogical nature of the cosmos when we use computational language to understand its functionality.

Perhaps as the tension between these two perspectives, let’s call them dynamic and static, increases, as with other tensions, we are increasingly subject to blind spots, or a noticeable incompleteness of an inability for compete and accurate apprehension. Maybe enough tension between perspectives of seeing and blindness can even serve as a reminder for future potential blind spots.

Bayo suggests that these tensions can also move us outside of the safety-net of whatever norms we’ve consumed, and into a place of what he refers to as the lost, a mythological place where we find opportunity to make contact with the archetypal powers or gods. From these places of relocation we often find ourselves directionless, or what Bayo refers to as being at the crossroads.

Grégory Lejeune, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

To wait at the crossroads is to be inbetween, lost, entering the place of what he calls the fugitive. The fugitive is one who has become estranged, alien, no longer able or willing to stay within the bounds and structures of what once made sense. The fugitive moment is also one where the lost find safe haven within what is not yet seen, where the blindness places us, and where we might find sanctuary in order to regain sight.

Without sight, the vulnerability of darkness subjects one to the unseen monsters of the unnatural where a deformation now begins. This monster, as Bayo notes, is not the western monster that seeks to destroy, but to deform:

“The word ‘monster’ derives from the Latin ‘monstrum’, which indicates a fall from natural order as well as a feat of nature that appears surprising to convention. A monster, usually a biological abnormality, happens when edges stray, when the eyes grow in the place where the hands should, or when a chameleon changes its skin colour to camouflage its presence.”

From these deformations might come strange abilities through the nourishing sustenance of sanctuary. But in many ways, the monster is also that which invites our fugitive self into the place of the lost, incorporating within us access to that which we formerly couldn’t see. The crossroads then, offer sanctuary as a centerpiece of exchange between what was, to what can no longer be, to what is now trying to come into being.

Pexel Images

Bayo writes of the archetypal significance of the monster as told through the African Yoruba myth of asé, or vital force. The monster is that power that can realign us to that force:

“The crayfish is bent because of asé; the bird flies because of asé; the moon beams its milky loyalty to the earth because of asé; a cowrie shell lands belly down to the delight of the diviner and the inquirer only because asé has ‘willed’ it. One might say asé is the movement that precedes everything that moves. Nothing happens but as the rippling work of asé.”

Bayo describes Eshu, a trickster god, as he who is, “a chieftain of indeterminacy”:

“It is said that Eshu is the keeper of asé. And he sits at the crossroads, not on a throne. That’s important. Crossroads. It means asé and Eshu are concepts of intersections. Aberrations. Where things mingle with other things in mangling encounters. Eshu is thus not only the one that attends to the indescribably vital force of asé, or the one that mediates between the divinations of an Ifá priest and the gods, but is behind all aberrations and perverse happenings. He is after all a trickster, a chieftain of indeterminacy whose balancing of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, acquaintance with shadows, and weaving of the mutuality of dark and light undercuts all claims to permanence and fixed identity.”

The monster reorients through disorienting, shaking up some misshapen, previously held sense of order through something beyond the human and the known. The monster is that which can transform through deceptive means. The cosmos, or ordering principle, comes from equally animating, but beyond human forces that reside within the cooperative dynamic of chaos and order.

“Reality ‘itself’ is an apocryphal deviation from the canon of stability. Nature is not natural. The moment you think you know where it ends, it secretes a new beginning.”

“Eshu is the scandalous one that sits at the crossroads to meet those that are lost, for it is only in becoming lost that we learn an openness to other paths.”

When Eschu was translated by westerners, he was likened to the devil and promptly banished to Hades, exemplifying that binary moment of splitting the world into two separate, warring, primary forces of good and evil. What Bayo makes clear for me, is this way of seeing polarity as cooperative rather than as two opposing sides at war with each other. From this angle, there’s no strategy necessary that seeks only to control, if not eliminate the chaos. Chaos here, is understood as an aspect of both the creative and destructive forces. The fugitive therefore doesn’t seek return within the terms of the culture, or especially any position that is antithetical to culture, and finds himself not lost, but relocated.

Read more from Dr. Akomolafe here:

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