No-one likes to be called an animal, yet animals are what we inescapably are. And from poor frightened stuffy old Bishop Wilberforce on there have always been people who think that being an ape is worse, somehow, than being any animal at all. Yet apes we are, and apes we remain. Walking down the street one can see the resemblance – in the turn of a jaw, in grasping manipulative hands, in the hairy back of the man who simply must wear a singlet. A newborn baby, a particularly clumsy walk, can illuminate as lightning.
The Woman and the Ape is full of such illumination. Høeg goes out of his way to underline the animal nature of his characters. The text is ripe with comparison and allusion, and provides some of the best imagery and character moments. For example, a young alcoholic wife, driven stir-crazy by the emptiness of her life:
“Madelene looked at the window frame, the park and, beyond that, across the city. From conversations overheard in her childhood home she had retained a vague and repulsive impression of what conditions were like for domestic animals on factory farms. She knew the meaning of such terms as spontaneous fracture, tongue rolling, somatotropin, urine drinking, manger biting, neighbour pecking and monotonization of mating behaviour. Now, in these terms, she spied herself.”
In truth it can’t be said that Høeg is particularly subtle about this – indeed the likenesses keep coming like a sledgehammer to the head – but it has a positive effect, and the continual reinforcement is likely intended. The saturation of simile and metaphor is relentless – not for one moment is the reader allowed to forget that before her is a cast of animals, a regular circus ring of them. The stage is set, and this ruthless undermining of our own puffed-up humanity – the humanity we perceive as somehow less animal in nature than the true animals – underlines the thread of masks and disguise that run through the text. If, as a species, we can perceive ourselves as other than what we really are, how, as individuals, can we be expected to fare any better? Other masks, and more personal, inhabit our lives and define our identities.
Check out this seven year old as he swipes the family car and does a runner in order to avoid being dragged to church. We understand how you feel, kid!
Were you forced to attend religious services as a child? Did you ever get out of it by doing something equally drastic? Comments below…
A certain Lucie K.B. Hall had once constructed an Atheist Taxonomy: The Five Varieties of Atheists (link apparently dead, but the page is at the Internet Archive), and various people at various places have come up with some additional possibilities.
She started off by excluding Buddhists, because she does not know enough about Buddhism to say much about it. In any case, philosophical Buddhists tend to be atheists or pantheists, but mass-market Buddhism often involves lots of gods, though less-than-omnimax ones.
Here is a quick summary of her types:
- Nihilistic atheists
- “Mad at god” atheists
- Philosophical atheists
- Scientific atheists
- Reared atheists
This article has more detail about them below the fold.
Keep in mind that it is possible to be more than one type of atheist; being one type or subtype does not exclude being another. Furthermore, these are not necessarily rigid categories. One can be a philosophical or a scientific atheist who has decided that the question is not worth thinking about much more, and who thus acts like a nihilistic atheist.
Filed under: Secular Life | Tagged: agnostics, atheists types nihilist philosophical scientific reared | 1 Comment »