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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sympathising with Caliban

As I was reading the book The Creative Fire by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I came across the myth of Caliban. Although I was familiar with the character of Caliban found in Shakespeare's play > The Tempest , I was faced with a different kind of beast.

In this myth, Caliban is condemned on both counts. First, his body has been changed to become an ugly reptilian-like creature, and second, he is forced to live in a hostile swamp - away from all human contact. However, as in The Tempest, Caliban is obsessed with a woman who he wishes for himself. In the original myth, Caliban sends one of his creatures to steal the soul of his love interest each night when she is asleep to make her love him. However, Calibaan's attempts to seduce the object of his desire are to no avail as she refuses to give in to his advances.

On reading this myth, I felt that I could identify with many of Caliban's thoughts and feelings. Yes, his actions were most certainly wrong and ineffective. But it would be too easy to condemn Caliban if it weren't for the fact that there were times when I was made to feel quite like Caliban.

Not that I have lizard-like features as such. I don't have an extendible tongue or the capability to climb walls, for example. However, I did feel that my physical impairment at times caused discomfort among some. Or even shock, perhaps... The fact is that it's not uncommon to find that the so-called 'deformed' body has been used in myths and literature to denote impurity of some sort or other. Moreover, the implication of the term 'deformed' also implies the notion of a 'form', I allegedly deviate from. In this sense, Caliban and many people who are considered 'deformed' or 'imperfect' can be outcasted and made to feel unwelcome simply because of how we appear to them.

But then, surely I don't live in a swamp? No, but then again, I can say that I do experience a similar form of isolation. This is because the environment I live in is difficult for me to negotiate as I encounter different obstacles ranging from bad pavements to lift-less buildings.

Not to mention the fact that there are also implicit cultural barriers that are not easy to overcome if you're disabled. And this brings me to the last point that I feel draws me nearer to Caliban. The fact that Caliban, for all intents and purposes, is denied love. True, he is obsessed with his desire to possess this woman. But I expect the fact that Caliban was also an ungodly sight to behold didn't help his case a single bit.

Even if I'll leave it to my readers to decide from my profile photo whether I qualify as an ungodly sight, I think that many ideas about disabled people we are exposed to as children exclude us from love or equal relationships to that of others. Indeed, we are always expected to be 'normalised', to fit in and to accept our perceived misfortunes. Like Caliban, we are made to feel frustrated in our pursuit of love because we are at times perceived, often in secret, as not human enough.

This affinity with Caliban that I feltt on reading the myth proper is not without its dangers. We can't be obsessed with goals we cannot reach. We don't even want to waste our life in pursuit of things which remain beyond our control. However, there is much to be said in defence of Caliban since some of us may experience a sense of loneliness and isolation akin to the one faced by him. However, unlike Caliban, we still have the chance to fight the 'swamp' unless we don't lose ourselves into a hopeless obsession to become 'normal' when we are already fully human as we are now.

But, admittedly, it's not always an easy thing to do. But that might make it even a more worthwhile goal.