Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview

13
Inspiration and Possession: Ambivalent Intimacy with the Alien

Clayton Koelb

Among all conceivable encounters with the alien, the discovery within one's self of some force or presence foreign to that self is potentially the most disturbing and therefore also the most dramatic. Literature and film have known and exploited this fact for years and have known how to make the most out of the revelation that some hated but powerful other, some literal or metaphorical fiend out of hell, has set up his household in our homes or, most horrible of all, within our very minds. The notion of possession, of the mind taken over by a superior alien power, is probably one of the oldest concepts of human culture, already old at the time of our tradition's oldest writings. It is clear that in many cultures, including the classical culture of our own tradition, possession by spirits was considered to be part of the ordinary functioning of the world, unusual perhaps, but not so unusual as to be thought unnatural. In a well-known incident reported in Mark 5, Jesus comes upon a man "possessed by an unclean spirit."

Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "My name is Legion," he said, "there are so many of us." And he begged hard that Jesus would not send them out of the country.

Now there happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hill-side, and the spirits begged him, "Send us among the pigs and let us go into them." He gave them leave; and the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs; and the herd, of about two thousand, rushed over the edge into the lake and drowned.1

I quote this passage both because of its testimony to the antiquity of our interest in possession, not to mention its canonical status, but also because of the peculiar and telling form of its rhetoric. The

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