Total Pageviews

Thursday, May 04, 2006

the path of the pins or the path of the needles

“Once a little girl was told by her mother to bring some bread and milk to her grandmother As the girl was walking through the forest, a wolf came up to her and asked where she was going. "To grandmother's house," she replied. "Which path are you taking, the path of the pins or the path of the needles?" "The path of the needles." So the wolf took the path of the pins and arrived first at the house. “

He killed grandmother, poured her blood into a bottle, and sliced her flesh onto a platter. Then he got into her nightclothes and waited in bed. "Knock, knock." "Come in, my dear." "Hello, grandmother. I've brought you some bread and milk." "Have something yourself, my dear. There is meat and wine in the pantry." So the little girl ate what was offered; and as she did, a little cat said, "Slut! To eat the flesh and drink the blood of your grandmother!"

The wolf said, "Undress and get into bed with me." "Where shall I put my apron?" "Throw it on the fire; you won't need it any more." For each garment--bodice, skirt, petticoat, and stockings--the girl asked the same questions; and each time the wolf answered, "Throw it on the fire; you won't need it any more." When the girl got in bed, she said, "Oh, grandmother! How hairy you are!" "It's to keep me warmer, my dear." "Oh, grandmother! What big shoulders you have!" "It's for better carrying firewood, my dear" "Oh, grandmother! What long nails you have!" "It's for scratching myself better, my dear." "Oh, grandmother! What big teeth you have!" "It's for eating you better, my dear." And he ate her.

- From Little Red Riding Hood: Werewolf and prostitute, by David Teasely and Richard Chase.

In the emotional pattern of LI’s life, the big change, in the last five years, has been the importance of hatred. Indeed, if it is possible for hatred to be at the center of any life – that center which is the field of affection, insofar as affection has gotten down among the tropisms, is the first human response, antedating consciousness – hatred has crept into the command of mine. Hatred for the governing class; hatred for the onward rushing into what I see as the destruction of, indeed, the world, the physical globe; hatred of a self perpetuating order of violence in which I seem condemned to live. Hatred every day.

And this isn’t uncommon. Mine isn’t an unusual case. Which is why it is odd, when one comes to think of it, that the consideration of hatred as a social fact so quickly dissipates into consideration of hatred's effects. And those effects, in turn, are quickly distanced from the emotion -- quickly structuralized. There is a journal now dedicated to hatred – the muses have been replaced by the academic journals, and their domains are infinitely sub-divided – but hatred, conflict, the configuration of the enemy, are all still mercury to the touch of the intellect.

So, I thought I'd start with Little Red Riding Hood.

Teasely and Chase’s article about Little Red Riding Hood, which applies close reading to the tale in the tradition of Darnton (and, though not mentioned, of Febvre), mentions an interesting fact:

“Two folklorists have analyzed Red Riding Hood to demonstrate that a nineteenth-century source, despite being altered from its original and unrecoverable earlier versions, can provide credible insights into an earlier period. Moreover, the variants reveal remarkable consistency. Folklorists have argued that a tale's symbolic features are retained and transmitted through the centuries because they remain meaningful to their users and because they refer to features of the real world as experienced by the members of the storytelling communities. If this were not the case, tales would have no function and would be forgotten.(3)

Paul Delarue, in analyzing the variants of the story, has found that the greatest consistency occurs in French tales that originated in a region encompassing the Loire basin, the northern Alps, northern Italy, and the Tyrol. In this area where the greatest number of werewolf trials occurred during the period of witch persecution, three symbolic features of the tale were frequently repeated: the choice of the path that the wolf and the girl selected, the cannibalism that occurs when the girl eats her grandmother, and the savage ending when the wolf eats the girl.”

If LI were going to do a “history” of hatred in the Western World, we’d certainly make a long excursus to consider the wolf and the werewolf. In Teasley and Chase’s telling, the story’s giveaway (in a version they prefer to the one in which we are happily delivered by the woodsman) is given to us by the enigmatic path of pins and path of needles. The path of needles, according to T and C, goes back to the needle worn as an emblem of the prostitute; the path of pins – by a much more obscure act of exegesis – is associated with the werewolf. The werewolf is, of course, the wolf times two – the intentional wolf, the man become wolf. The werewolf in the movies is such usually be accident – the disease model takes over from an older tradition, in which the werewolf is such by pact with the devil.

“The issue of the paths alerts the reader to the presence of a false choice: between the path of the pins and the path of the needles. The girl defies the social order by selecting prostitution, a non-procreative act. Explicit in the wolf's choice of the path of the pins is a similar threat to creation through the attacks of witches on children either born or unborn. By choosing similar paths, the wolf and the girl enter into an unnatural pact from whence the rest of the story, including cannibalism, unfolds.”

Elizabeth Lawrence, making a survey of the werewolf in literature and cinema, begins with the first literary werewolf tale, which is in the Satyricon. A servant goes out of a lodging house to visit his girlfriend. One of the lodgers, a soldier, accompanies him. Halfway there, they both stop in a cemetery to rest. The soldier then peels off all his clothes, pisses in a circle around them, and turns into a wolf. He goes off howling. As Lawrence remarks, taking off the clothes is taking off humanity – the human being the private animal, the one that hides or distorts its privates in various and sundry ways. And of course the doglike peeing, the marking of territory, is another threshold feature – the movement towards being something else – and not Rimbaud’s autre, not someone else.

Lawrence considers what that something else is:

"In order to understand the werewolf and the emotions it evokes, one must take a close look at the extraordinary history of human relationships with the wolf and the crusade of annihilation. The species was long ago extirpated in the British Isles and Scandinavia and wolf populations were decimated in its former range throughout the world (Lopez 13-14). As one wolf researcher points out, the destruction of that animal represents "the first time in the history of the planet [that] one species made a deliberate organized attempt to exterminate a fellow species." Ingrained hatred of the wolf was brought with the colonists to the New World. The American war against the species was "one of the most successful programs ever carried out by the federal government." The original wolf population in what is now the lower forty-eight states before the arrival of European settlers is estimated to have been two million. "By the 1950s, except for isolated populations of a few hundred wolves in the Upper Midwest, the gray wolf had been exterminated in those areas" (Mcintyre 69, 77).

"Ironically, at least "since the advent of death certificates, there have been no verifiable records of unprovoked attack on humans by [healthy] wolves in the North American continent" (Thiel 35). Yet countless injuries and deaths attributable to wolves have been recorded from the Old World. A partial explanation may be that these attacks were related to rabies epidemics. There is also the plausible theory that some of the aggressive encounters involved wolfdog hybrids, which are much less wary of humans than wolves. In particular, the eighteenth century attacks in southern France by the so-called "Beast of Gevaudan" can likely be traced to a wolf-dog cross (Trotti 126). Another factor is that wolves can tell when a person is armed. Modern wolves have had many generations' experience with firearms, and thus are much more cautious than their ancestors (Russell and Russell 158). Numerous causes underlie the hatred that motivated brutal wolf-exterminating campaigns throughout the animal's range. Culturally ingrained superstitions imbued the animal with mysterious frightfulness. Anti-wolf sentiment was inspired by the desire to protect vulnerable livestock and also to preserve the species preyed upon by the wolf, such as deer and elk, for human sport-hunting purposes. But ignorance of the actual ecological role of the wolf, and its value, also accounts for much of the tragedy. Overall, the issue at stake has always been a lack of knowledge about humankind's relationship to the universe, the age-old dilemma relating to determining "man's place in nature." “

Lawrence is right. That is an extraordinary history. It charges the whole notion of the desire to be a wolf, which is also inscribed in that history. Lawrence points out that the when the Boy Scouts came to the Lapp part of Finland, “… the Boy Scout movement was resisted by the children, who "objected strongly to being called Wolf-cubs."

All of this is simply an animalistic preliminary to what this post is really supposed to be about -- Richard Bessel’s extraordinary article, in last winter’s History and Memory, Hatred After War: Emotion and the post war history of East Germany. However, it looks like this post has gone on long enough. We’ll return to that article in our next post.

No comments: